Profs on Speed Dial

A recent pilot project at a community college in Georgia found a link between student retention and faculty accessibility. So what did they do to tip the odds in favor of student success? They gave the profs smartphones and encouraged students to text and call their teachers on demand. The college asked profs to respond promptly, within 24 hours if possible.

This experiment is costly, about $1,000 per prof, but administrators say the ROI is significant. Early results show a student retention rate that is double that of similar schools in the area. Is this solely because of the mobile phone plan? Likely not, but the link between faculty accessibility and student self-efficacy is well known. Just being able to talk to the prof or text a quick question can make a world of difference to students. It extends the learning environment, and my guess is that most students would opt for text over voice most of the time—which can be a far less intrusive and more efficient communications method anyway.

A similar study of digital media use at a community college in Texas found that when students are connected to campus life and a friend network on Facebook, they have a greater likelihood of staying in school. Being plugged-in to classes and campus community via social and mobile technologies is not a luxury—it’s a key tool for student success and retention. This research casts doubt on the effectiveness of tech fasts that some campuses attempt regularly.

So what about the professors? Did they enjoy being on-call for their students? By and large, instructors in the Georgia pilot program found that students were respectful, reasonable, not overly demanding via mobile phones. Moreover, the expectations of responsiveness were not overly burdensome, as long as students did not demand immediacy, some profs said. And in a culture where “instant isn’t fast enough” it can be difficult for plugged-in profs and their digital native students alike to manage expectations about availability and accessibility of people and information.

But it’s not just Gen Y who benefit from agile connectivity online. As a bonus the faculty reported increased productivity as a result of the mobile learning initiative. Turns out much of the “outside-of-class communication with students can be handled via the mobile devices, allowing faculty to deploy their energies on other things,” said a college spokesperson. Just another example of edtech tools increasing flexibility for faculty–in much the same way that video lectures, or coursecasting can do, when profs can’t be at their own lectures due to conference travel and the like.

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About Sidneyeve Matrix

Professor, blogger, trendwatcher. I share research & news about digital culture & commerce on Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter.


  1. This is an excellent post about a fascinating project. I am currently myself experimenting with using Yammer as the main platform for one of my History courses at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. The course has only been running for a week, but it is already very clear to observe that the students seem appreciate being able to ask quick questions and get extremely rapid answers. My impression is that they would probably not feel as free to do so if they had to write an email or phone especially for this purpose. This is not done by using a smart phone, but having access to a smart phone would be a way forward.

    • Thanks for adding your experience Pascal. I’ve never used Yammer but will check it out. Cool to hear about your tech-forward initiatives. You’re an always-on type of professor I think. Me too. I agree, Gen Y does seem to appreciate these new ways of demonstrating student-centredness.

      I’m using FB messaging and but not texting yet. I was wary to go the SMS/BBM route with 700 students, but am about the change my mind on that and give it a whirl.

      Am thinking this is one way to push the envelope a bit further on professional mobile media use…perhaps calibrate student expectations for “supervisor” accessibility before they hit the job market full time.

      On a related note, I’ve noticed I am far more likely to lapse into textese than my students are.

      All interesting. Thanks for thinking through this with me Pascal.


  1. Texting Teachers and Profs on Speed Dial: increasing student retention with mobile learning

  2. Mark Bell says:

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  4. Joe Nowak says:

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  6. Digital access to profs improves student retention via @sidneyeve

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