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September 4, 2013

Website helps instructors write motivating messages

Passnote app

PassNote, a new app created by Purdue University, helps teachers and professors write more effective motivational messages to students. The free online app is open for anyone to use. (Purdue University image)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Teachers and college faculty members who want to motivate students may sometimes struggle to find the right words.

And even when the right words are found, students will soon tune out messages if the same words are used repeatedly.

Now, a new application website from Purdue University is available to help instructors write student messages by pulling together sentences and phrases that have been shown to be effective through academic research.

The app website, called Purdue PassNote, is free and available for anyone to use. It can be found at http://purdue.edu/passnote.

Kyle Bowen, director of informatics in Information Technology at Purdue, says the messages are based on academic research in communications and education on the most effective message lengths, word choices and requested actions.

"This is the first app that we've built that comes with its own bibliography," Bowen says.

The app was designed using research on effective academic communications conducted at Purdue by Matt Pistilli, who led the research team behind PassNote.

For example, research has shown that the ideal length for a corrective message to a student is about 54 words, or roughly twice the length of a Twitter message. Any longer, and the students often stopped reading.

"That limit is Twitteresque in that it forces you to carefully select each word," Pistilli says. "But if you are concise you can actually say quite a bit in a message of that length."

To use the app, instructors first select a topic, such as attendance or missed assignments, and then select a level, indicated by red, yellow or green tabs, that reflects the student's behavior. The app then provides a selection of sentences or phrases that the instructor can drag and drop into a window to construct a message.

The message is automatically copied into the user's clipboard, so the instructor can then paste the message into an email, an online learning program, or even into a Twitter or Facebook direct message.

"The technology helps the instructor to provide actionable feedback no matter what technology they are using," Bowen says.

Pistilli says the application will improve as more instructors use it.

"We'll be looking at which phrases get used, which ones are never used and what the final messages look like," he says. "We'll take this information and combine it with the direct feedback we get from users to continually improve the tool."

At Purdue, the PassNote app will be combined with the Signals student success data analytics tool to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of the messages to further improve the tool.

PassNote is one of eight classroom apps created by the Purdue Studio project. The apps can be used by instructors or students to enhance the traditional classroom experience.

Writer: Steve Tally, 765-494-9809, tally@purdue.edu, Twitter: sciencewriter

Sources: Kyle Bowen, 765-496-7486, kbowen@purdue.edu, Twitter: @kyledbowen

Matt Pistilli, 765-494-6746, mpistilli@purdue.edu, Twitter: @mdpistilli