Two tips for the savvy instructor from the clueless professor:
1) Timed emails. I just came across one redeeming feature of Blackboard (the "learning management system" that my university uses): I can use the announcements feature to time an email to students in a course. At least at USF, faculty can send a copy of the text of announcements to students through a checkbox in the create-announcements page. Then, if you set a specific day and time for the announcement to be visible to students (by default it is "live" instantly), then the email goes out to students the same time the announcement becomes visible.
In other words, I can use Blackboard to send out emails at a time of my choosing (and thus plan nags… uh, reminder emails to go out at critical points in the semester). This is something I've wanted for a good long while, because I can then set up emails at the start of a term, and they go out on schedule.
2) Polleverywhere for from-anywhere comments by students. I have had a Polleverywhere.com account for a few years and have occasionally used in classes as an alternative to clickers — most commonly I have used it to draw out students' preconceptions during class, as I did below in a class last week:
One of the points of a class session or two devoted to family history is the way we assume that the Baby Boom years represented the norm in American history, when in many ways–as in early marriage–the immediate postwar years were the exception. So in this case, I ask students who have cell phones to take them out and send a brief text to report what they think the answer to a question is. Then, once I have them committed to a consensus that the vast majority of young women were married across long stretches of U.S. history, I hit them with the fact of late marriage patterns. (The correct answer is the one boxed in red at the bottom… which no student selected.)
But Polleverywhere can also be used for text responses, and once I realized that Blackboard allowed timed emails, I set up a query on Polleverywhere that lets students comment anonymously on the reading assigned over the weekend. I have wanted there to be some way for students to comment on reading from wherever they are, whenever it strikes them, but without having them to get a Twitter account. This allows students to send a question the second they have it, if they have a cell phone handy with text messaging. They don't have to have a computer open (though they can also respond through a browser form). I did not send out the prompt and the answer code immediately–many of them are working through some quizzes on this week's readings. But they will get the email Sunday inviting them to comment on the readings. I will quickly see whether this flops or shines…