Photo courtesy of Jeff Lehman

Before taking Celly to San Bernardino Cave and Technical Rescue Team, educator Jeff Lehman discovered Celly through an education blog and incorporated our service into his classroom at Grossmont College. He has some really great things to say about education and technology and we're happy to have him on our blog!

Contact Jeff on Twitter @jefflehman

Tell us about yourself!

I began my teaching career teaching high school science in 1990, and made the move to the community college in 1993. Since 1996, I have been teaching Chemistry at Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA and haven’t looked back. Early in my education I knew that I wanted to teach, and, so far, it has been a great career. You are surrounded by smart, creative colleagues, and while the material doesn’t change too often, I get a whole new batch of students every semester. I don’t know if there was any one thing that inspired my career choice. My father taught elementary school for more than 30 years, so I grew up in that environment, and, like most people, there were a number of teachers who probably shaped my decisions as well, but in all honesty, I don’t ever remember considering anything else.

Since first using a class newsgroup in 1993, I have been in the midst of educational technology. Along the way I have found that no amount of technology makes bad or mediocre teaching better. Those in the field need to hone their teaching skills prior to jumping on whatever technological bandwagon happens to be in town. There is a reason that classrooms, for the most part, look the same today as they did 100 years ago. People are the same. Nothing can replace the relationship between instructor and student. It is the core of the learning process. Think about the teachers that had the most influence on your life. What is the common thread? Those teachers were most likely excited about their subject; they were rigorous and held you accountable; and they were genuinely interested in your success. Technology doesn’t do that; people do.

Tell us about your classroom! 

One of the nice things about teaching at the community college is the great diversity of students. While most fit into the classic 18-22 year old college age bracket, there are many students who are looking to retrain for new careers, or drastic changes in their educational path. For example, each year I get students who pursued Humanities, English, or History degrees and suddenly decide that they want to go to medical school or nursing school.

Smartphone penetration is increasing, but in my anecdotal observations, it is not 100%. I regularly use “clickers” (classroom  response systems) in my classes during lecture, and a daily quiz. Many of these “CRS” vendors tout smartphone solutions, but there is no way that I can adopt technology that requires a smartphone. I suspect that once phones are a bit more commoditized, it will be possible. For now, we’re not ready.

How do you use Celly in your classroom?

Student engagement is very important for success. Engagement comes in a variety of colors, and my goal has been to keep chemistry at the top of their list. I send them a quiz question before each quiz. I remind them of upcoming due dates. I announce congratulations regarding good exam scores. I send them links to current, interesting science research. Between classes I want them to be thinking about the class. I only send 1-4 messages a week, so it doesn’t dilute itself into oblivion. Also, the information has to be of some value.

A number of years ago I realized that students don’t read their email. Now, this is a broad stroke statement, but it is mostly true. Since 2007 I have used Twitter in an attempt to augment email, but there are a number of shortcomings that complicate Twitter adoption for the classroom. Twitter’s “fast follow” feature was a boon since you didn’t need to set up an account to get updates, but I have found it to be a bit “wonky” with a handful of students complaining that they wouldn’t get updates. Also, with Twitter, since I don’t follow any of my students, if they want to interact with me, they have to post things to their feed. Maybe they don’t want those conversations on their Twitter feed.

One nice thing about Twitter is that I can display tweets as a widget on a web page. Those students who don’t want to receive tweets by whatever means can still see what is going on by looking at the variety of web pages for the class. Twitter also has the advantage of having apps for every platform. Still, it isn’t as flexible as Celly since it doesn’t have good email integration. If a student would prefer to use email to receive updates, it takes a bit more fiddling with Twitter.

Ideally, a student should be able to choose the mechanism to receive any communication: Email, SMS, web, etc. Aside from the lowest-common-denominator mode of SMS, one of Celly’s advantages is the ability of the end user to choose how they interact with the product.

With Celly the conversation is much easier to follow, and there is more of a community of students. I can easily curate comments, and direct the conversation. With Celly “Receptors” I can still use the course Twitter accounts and other source material such as my various RSS feeds. Also, “Hashlinks” enable me to quickly message all my courses simultaneously. This is handy for campus-wide announcements or information that will benefit all of my students. Finally, the scheduling of messages simplifies my timed announcements, and it is integrated into the various Celly clients. With Twitter it is client dependent, and not as easily implemented.

Celly’s Strengths

  1. ALL features are accessible via SMS
  2. Many options for sharing “cell”. I have included the link and QR code on my syllabus.
  3. Easier-to-follow conversations
  4. Separate from other social media channels. I don’t like to mingle personal and professional
  5. Completely opt-in.
  6. Channel agnostic. Email, SMS, web, and mobile app are all options.
  7. Receptors and Hashlinks are evidence that the authors of this tool have spent time thinking about use cases. Either that, or they are receptive to user comments.

These are great features.

How has Celly changed your classroom? Were there any unexpected benefits or fun surprises?

I don’t think that any single technology has changed my classroom. In 1994 I began using the web as an informational repository, and that was “cutting edge”. In 2013 I am doing the same thing, but it is the way we do business nowadays. Has it made things “better”? That is debatable. Often we confuse possession of information with understanding. We’ve had access to all course information in textbooks for many, many years. Has anything changed? Certainly! But, I am uncertain if there is a positive correlation with achievement. Still, Celly gives me one more way to interact with my students, and interaction is one key to success.

What new features would you like to see in Celly?

  1. Link shortening
  2. Embeddable widgets for web pages
  3. Cleaner mobile and web UI. Not all features are immediately noticeable. This includes a bit more screen efficiency on the mobile UI
  4. The ability to edit scheduled posts. As it is, I have to delete, then recreate
  5. The ability to require a real name with a user account. Usernames have to be unique, but it would be nice to have an associated real name. That way, when “SurfMonkey96” sends me a message, I know who I am talking to.

What other emerging methods or tools are you using that have made a big impact in your classroom?

I first used a newsgroup (remember those?) in 1993, and my first class web page went up in 1994. Since then, all of my technology use has been focused on student engagement and communication. In 1996 I ran a discussion board off my office desktop, and in 1998 launched my first WebCT server. Recently I have been making extensive use of a classroom response system, H-ITT, to administer non-multiple choice quizzes each class session, and to collect student responses during lecture. There is a variety of research that shows that frequent quizzing is one of the better ways to keep a student’s nose in the material. I have found that immediate feedback on student work seems to have a larger impact on the psyche of students and their perceived class performance than feedback that is even removed by a few days. This is one of the reasons that I have been using electronic homework for a number of years. When a student gets something wrong, and is immediately notified, they seem to be more bothered by the wrong answer than if they were told the following week that they were wrong.

Thanks Jeff! You can find him at the below links:





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