Nine in 10 students say they have texted during class.

In 20 classrooms at the University of Michigan (UM), smart phones and laptops are no longer the bane of professors’ professional lives.

More than 4,000 UM students this fall will use a web-based interactive classroom tool designed by a university professor to make phones and laptops a way for students to offer feedback and ask questions instead of peruse Facebook news feeds and friends’ Twitter accounts.

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LectureTools, developed at the Ann Arbor campus’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, lets students instantly relay questions to their professors and instructors during a lecture, cluing in educators as to which topics need more explanation.

“The key is to engage students through their laptops or cell phones, so they don’t drift off onto social networking sites,” said Perry Samson, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences at UM and the developer of LectureTools. “We’ve shown we can do that.”

LectureTools became commercially available in August after being created in 2009.

Using LectureTools, a student can jot electronic notes synchronized to a professor’s lecture slides and respond to questions posed by the professor, who can display student answers to the entire class.

Instructors can upload video and other content from online repositories as Quicktime or Flash files and can include the material in a lecture accessible for students through the web-based LectureTools system.

Mika Lavaque-Manty, associate professor of political science at UM, said using LectureTools to interact with students helps professors involve students who might otherwise sit near the back of a cavernous lecture hall and check for tweets and Facebook notifications throughout class.


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