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Physics Prof Uses Smartphones to Engage Students

Peter Beyersdorf

Peter Beyersdorf

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Cell phones are usually discouraged in the classroom. But you won’t find Department of Physics and Astronomy Associate Professor Peter Beyersdorf asking his students to put their phones away.

“Students have always liked being engaged in interactive classes,” Beyersdorf said. “Anytime you can make class fun, it has benefits to learning,”

At the end of every class, Beyersdorf asks his Physics 51 students to turn on their smartphones to take a quiz.

“The students can either go to a URL or take a picture of a QR code to get to the webpage,” Beyersdorf said.

According to Beyersdorf, hardware devices that allow students to electronically answer multiple-choice questions, known as multiple-choice clickers, have been around for sometime.

However, questions about who buys them, who brings them to class, and what to do with the students who forget theirs or have a dead battery remained.

Once services that allowed interactive learning became available on cell phones a few years back, Beyersdorf started to implement cell phones as learning devices. This has paid off for sophomore aerospace engineering student Chao Lao.

“After seven years, watching professors lecturing and writing on the black board gets kind of boring, but when technology is put into use, it makes it a bit more enjoyable,” he said.

According to Beyersdorf, the results of the quizzes give him an overall assessment of the class and keep him interested in developing new material.

“For the most part, technology isn’t changing the way people teach and learn, it’s giving them more avenues and opportunity to tap into learning in less traditional environments,” Beyersdorf said.

In addition to using cell phones, Beyersdorf records all of his lectures and publishes them as podcasts on iTunes U.

Beyersdorf serves as a faculty-in-residence for technology innovations for the Center for Faculty Development. Once a month, Beyersdorf teaches faculty about new technology being adopted at SJSU.

“Most of the faculty that come to these workshops are quite interested in engaging their students, but often times are not comfortable using these new technologies,” Beyersdorf said. “I try to encourage them to use technology to deliver the material they are already using and to try new things out.”