How Flipd Nudges Behavior: A Chat With Psychology Professor Dr. Alicia Drais-Parrillo

  • Alanna
  • 01 May 2018
  • 08:10 PM

Flipd is a platform that helps reduce digital distractions and phone use during class. Not surprisingly, however, educators using Flipd have discovered that it can also help shape and change behavior well beyond the lecture hall. One such person is Dr. Alicia Drais-Parrillo, a psychology professor at Penn State University, who has been using Flipd with hundreds of students for the last three semesters and closely observing its impact.

In this article, we explore why Alicia uses Flipd, how she has introduced it successfully to her classes, and what influence she hopes it will make on her students.

>>> Book a demo to learn more about Flipd <<<

The Audience Has Changed

A University of Nebraska study of 675 students found that the top reason students reach for their phones during class is to fight boredom. When asked why she thinks this is the case, Alicia is unequivocal. "We're dealing with an audience that may not know how to deal with a moment of not being entertained," she says.

Alicia continues to explain that she believes lectures are more engaging now than ever before — with new technologies, videos, powerpoints, break-out discussions, polling, and other activities, lectures have changed significantly from their sage-on-a-stage predecessors. The problem, she argues, is that smartphones and new digital technologies have left modern students accustomed to a much faster pace and more instantaneous feedback, which competes directly with the way we learn.

For the psychology professor, the implications here are troubling. "I worry about their ability to delay gratification," Alicia explains. "When you have self-control, that's often a key indicator of success." She references the Stanford marshmallow experiment, a famous study that explored delayed gratification and the impact it has on children. In the study, researchers offered a child the choice between eating a marshmallow immediately, or waiting fifteen minutes to be rewarded with two marshmallows instead. In additional studies that followed, researchers found that children who delayed gratification longer tended to have better life outcomes.

"This is our marshmallow," Alicia says, illustrating that our phones are that same reward most of us have trouble resisting.

Instant Feedback Loop

In addition to distracted phone use in class, Alicia has noticed another trend among her students. "Students now feel the need to check their grades more frequently and to question me on even the smallest points," she says, articulating that these often superficial indicators have become increasingly important to her students. Arguably, this type of behavior has been reinforced by the instant feedback loop users get from social media likes, immediate replies, and other forms of digital validation that we've become accustomed to.

She's also concerned by the impact this could be having on young people as they move beyond college — beginning careers that require skills around focus, self-motivation, and long-term commitment, which have not been fully developed. "They may have trouble completing tasks in a timely manner," the psychology professor says. "They may struggle to put aside distractions."

A Teachable Moment

Alicia says that she and all educators are in an important position to help students learn qualities that make them better people. And if teaching students about self-control and managing distractions are such qualities, Alicia believes Flipd is an important lesson for them. "I'm not their parent, but I've signed on to teach them," she says of her students. "I'm here to put you on the right path — and while it's up to you to stay on that path, I'm going to do everything I can to help you along the way."

Similar to the marshmallow experiment, Flipd gives students the choice to use or not use their phones, nudging students to break a habit and make phone use a more conscious and intentional choice. "I would love it if everyone could just do the right thing, but that's not going to happen," she laughs, observing that human psychology tends to be exploited by technology if users have not learned better behavior. "So this is our chance to influence them."

>>> Register on Flipd to view a sample class <<<

Where Flipd Fits In

For Alicia, Flipd is one way that she influences her psychology students to make better decisions. She's been using Flipd to motivate and reinforce positive digital behavior by offering students an engagement bonus for using it and, for three semesters, her students have disconnected from their phones for more than 30,000 minutes.

But Alicia doesn't make Flipd an all-or-nothing deal — she asks students to use Flipd for up to seventy-five percent of class time to earn the extra points offered, meaning that students are free to use their devices a quarter of class time if they want to. Alicia likes that Flipd can teach students a valuable lesson while offering up this sort of grade insurance simultaneously. "I think Flipd is a really good learning opportunity for these kids," she says. "I tell my students that it's going to help them, and that it's a really good thing we can all benefit from."

While a lot of educational technology may not be useful to students outside of a classroom setting, Flipd is designed to help users in a variety of ways that extend well beyond the lecture hall, like to study, sleep, read, or write. And, according to Alicia, who tells me her own children use Flipd at home too, reaching this point is the goal. "When students are coming to me and showing me how many hours they’ve spent Flipd Off at home to study and do other things," she says, "that’s success."

>>> Find out more about Flipd for your lecture <<<


Dr. Alicia Drais-Parrillo is a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University where she teaches courses such as Developmental Psychology, Introduction to Social Psychology, Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships, Multicultural Psychology, and Introduction to Personality Psychology. She has Master's degrees from West Virginia University in both Child Development and Elementary Education, as well as her Ph.D. from Penn State. In her time away from academia, she has worked for a non-profit research group leading projects focused on child welfare issues, in addition to consulting as a developmental specialist for child-centered businsesses. If you'd like to connect with Dr. Alicia Drais-Parrillo, she can reached at aad129@psu.edu