I recently finished teaching an intersession introductory microbiology course. It was a relatively small class (at least, for me) – just over 50 students – and it was a blended, flipped class. (I may post more about the flipping/blending later.) For the in-person classes, I used a couple of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) web-based classroom interaction systems: Lecture Tools and Learning Catalytics. (In previous offerings of the course, I used clickers.) In this post, I’ll refer to these types of systems as WRS (Web Response Systems). We had access to both systems (at no cost to the students*), and used Lecture Tools regularly.
As I discussed in an earlier post, I had hoped I could use this experience to help me make decisions about moving away from clickers to a WRS. The fact that I met my students in class for only three hours once a week for six weeks was perhaps not the best way to gather a lot of data, but it was nice to try out new technology in a smaller class. Here are some of the things I observed/learned:
– Although most students had a laptop, tablet, or smartphone with them, 3-5 students didn’t bring a device to class each week. I had those students hand in answers on paper, and I want to find a better way to deal with this in future. There’s no way for me to know when they wrote down their answers (we discussed the questions/answers in class), and I’d like to make their experience closer to those of other students. This sample is probably way too small (and possibly not representative enough) to generalize from, but if a similar proportion (~8%) of my Fall classes lack/don’t bring a device, that means I will have somewhere around 40 students not participating in the system (and whose submissions would need to be hand-graded/recorded).
– There was a bit of a learning curve for me to use these systems, but it wasn’t too bad. Colin Montpetit, an oCUBE colleague who had used Lecture Tools last year, shared valuable tips ahead of time which was enormously helpful.
– Students appeared to quickly catch on to using the systems on their devices. I didn’t have to play a tech support role after the first time we used each system.
– Only one student in the class regularly used the SMS (text messaging) answering option in Lecture Tools**.
– Internet/wifi connectivity is really important if you’re using a WRS. (Yes, it’s obvious, but still bears mentioning!) Ditto with the ability to project a second display. A couple of times I realized that I should have had some sort of backup plan when I encountered technical problems. (Luckily, nothing was hugely catastrophic.)
– At least some of my students did seem to be more willing to submit questions online in Lecture Tools than to speak up in class. (This is similar to what Perry Samson, creator of Lecture Tools, says he has found in his courses.) This, along with the ability for students to flag a slide as confusing in class, is really powerful, just-in-time information when you’re teaching! Sure, sometimes a good clicker question can indicate where there are problems in understanding, but you have to already be aware that this confusion is likely to exist … and there’s no guarantee that the confusion isn’t related to an earlier problematic concept.
– As a long-term clicker user, it took me a little while to get away from using mostly multiple choice questions and to realize I could use other (better!) types of questions for some concepts.
– Short answer questions are great for gathering student misconceptions. That could be useful.
– I like on-the-fly questions (and missed using them in a tech-enabled way).**
– Students seemed to mostly be on-task when using the WRS or working on problems in class. (The first time I walked around the room and saw EVERY DEVICE SCREEN was on Lecture Tools or other course-related content, I almost cried!) Still, from time to time during the course, I’d see a student on Facebook or playing Candy Crush – these devices are still going to be possible sources of (or outlets for) distraction. I’m trying not to take it personally.***
– Students seemed to like the WRS more than clickers (but I am planning to send out a survey, as this observation is anecdotal).
So … what next?
Overall, I think a WRS is superior to using clickers in many ways and I’m seriously thinking about using an WRS in the Fall. I still have some concerns: robustness of the wifi network, the expectation that all students will have/bring a device (including what to do for those who don’t), and the reports that students learn better when they take notes by hand rather than on a laptop (Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014). (There are also a bunch of studies that discuss other problems with laptops in the university classroom, particularly in terms of distraction, but I note that most of these seem to be in classes/artificial situations where laptops are not deliberately engaged in class-related activities.) I have some thinking to do, and more information to gather. (And, hopefully, some low-cost tablets to try out soon!)
I’ve appreciated posts from other educators, such as Jung Choi (e.g., his experiences in the flipped classroom using Learning Catalytics), and Robert Talbert (e.g., posts featuring Learning Catalytics) and I am curious to hear more, including from other people who have tried (or are considering using) these systems in their teaching. (I’m also happy to try to answer questions based on my own experiences, if there are any!)
Mueller, P.A., and Oppenheimer, D.M. 2014. The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychol Sci. 25(6):1159-1168. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/6/1159
* The University of Windsor is running a pilot project with Lecture Tools. Pearson Education kindly allowed me trial licences to try Learning Catalytics.
** Here are a few points about Lecture Tools vs. Learning Catalytics. Please note that I didn’t do an exhaustive comparison – this is just what I noted during the term. Some caveats: I used Lecture Tools considerably more than Learning Catalytics. I’ve also heard that there is a new version of Lecture Tools coming out soon, so there may be some new functionality I didn’t see. It’s also possible that there are some features in either system that I just never found/figured out.
- LectureTools allows SMS answering for MCQ and short answer questions.
- LectureTools doesn’t have a mechanism for on-the-fly questions. Learning Catalytics does.
- Both Learning Catalytics and Lecture Tools offer you the chance to give a variety of different types of questions to your students. (LC includes more types of questions than Lecture Tools).
- Both Learning Catalytics and Lecture Tools provide a way for students to contact the instructor if they have a question or are confused.
- LectureTools is definitely more of a presentation system (you upload your slides), while LC isn’t really designed for including a bunch of non-interactive slides. LectureTools also is set up so that students can make notes for slides in the system.
- Learning Catalytics includes a number of features to facilitate peer instruction (which I did not explore, but do look neat), and has some asynchronous delivery options.
*** I’m trying not to take a lot of things personally … Got any suggestions? 😉