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Professors train to use in-class apps to engage students

Jason Koski/University Photography
Professors in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management are learning to embrace smartphones in class for their educational value.

Professors tired of fighting the battle against students texting and posting on Facebook during class are finding ways to embrace technology and use it as a learning tool.

Deborah Streeter, Cornell's Bruce F. Failing Sr. Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, is leading workshops around the country helping educators engage students in classrooms through technology.

"Whether or you like it or not, students are texting and using mobile devices in class, even when you prohibit it," said Streeter, who found this happening in her own classrooms and heard the same from other professors. "Students don't consider it to be rude to text during a lecture, and they think they can do both, but we know that they're losing focus and not processing information."

Instead of fighting against this "tidal wave" of technology, though, Streeter sees many ways to harness these tools to engage students through cell phone polling, in-class texting and mobile apps that complement their coursework.

Streeter's "Flip the Switch" workshops have taken place in Philadelphia and upstate New York; another is planned for Washington, D.C., in the spring.

Streeter has always been an avid believer in the benefits of using technology in the classroom, creating the eClips collection of video and audio clips about business and entrepreneurship in 1996. Today that collection has more than 16,000 clips and is used by educators and business leaders across the globe. So it was an obvious extension for Streeter to move on to working with mobile devices in the classroom.

For her workshops, she works with Cornell colleagues Romi Kher, a Cornell Ph.D. student, and Jamie Kalousdian, Dyson's manager of media production, to research apps and methods. Streeter tries them out on her classes before sharing them at workshops.

"Texting provided reliable and fast anonymous feedback from the class that started in-depth discussions that were really helpful in evolving the issues talked about," said Isabella Spyrou '11.

In her own classes, Streeter uses cell phones for polling and collecting comments and feedback during class. "Students are more willing to offer personal reflections and insights when their comments can be anonymous. You create a more inclusive discussion and get radically different -- and more honest -- answers than you would if people had to speak their responses," Streeter said.

Streeter also asks students to use their cell phones to conduct research -- such as finding competitors for a company's products -- and then text their results to her during class. She incorporates online technology, including digital video, to bring real-world examples into the classroom and present diverse points of view. And she has a variety of mobile apps she's discovered to enhance her lectures.

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Kathy Hovis is a writer/editor for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.


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