UD profs use latest technologies as teaching tools
Clickers are wireless keypads used with a receiver that enable engagement, polling and verification of understanding, especially in large lecture classes.
4:03 p.m., June 19, 2007--The recently released Horizon Report identifies and describes emerging technologies and their potential impact on teaching and learning both in and out of the classroom over the next 1-5 years.

The Horizon Report is a collaboration between the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, an Educause program.

Key technologies identified in the Horizon Report include social computing, personal broadcasting, cell phones, educational gaming, augmented reality and enhanced visualization and context-aware environments and devices.

Among the newly emerging technology-aided teaching tools being used by UD faculty to engage class participation, measure student attitudes and assess student learning are personal response systems, known as clickers.

Tom DiLorenzo, chairperson and professor of psychology, said the use of clickers works well in large-enrollment classes where students may not get a good handle on the material with which they are presented.

“When you ask students if they understand or don't understand something, they often do not say anything, so there is no way to really assess what they have learned or not learned,” DiLorenzo said. “The clickers provide feedback and are a great way to determine which materials the students understand, and which concepts they are not getting. Now, I can tailor my time to cover things they don't understand about the material.”

For homework assignments, teachers can download questions into clickers for students to answer though a WebCT format, DiLorenzo said.

“I use clickers as a homework tool,” DiLorenzo said. “I might give students several multiple-choice questions that they can access through WebCT or group e-mail.”

Helene Intraub, professor of psychology, said that she hoped that the use of clickers would encourage the more passive students in her classes to think about the material being discussed and would provide the necessary feedback to allow her to tailor her lectures to meet the needs of a particular class.

“I found that in classes of 50 or more, there were always a small cohort of about six students who would always raise their hands, 15 or so who would periodically raise their hands, and a sizeable number who just sat quietly and took notes,” Intraub said. “I tried to get a good sense of whether they were understanding the intricacies of the lectures by looking at their facial expressions, asking if there were any questions, or using some other less than adequate means. The only time I could get a full understanding was in test results.”

Intraub said that when used correctly and based on the nature of the material being presented, clickers have the potential to become a very valuable tool for engaging students.

For students, putting in an answer and getting immediate feedback via the answers given by their classmates enhanced student engagement, Intraub said.

Senior Jenna Cohen uses a clicker in Prof. Helene Intraub’s spring semester psychology class. Photo by Sarah Simon
“This was particularly the case when the histogram showed the breakdown of responses, but not the correct answer. Students could then discuss amongst themselves why they had voted one way or the other,” Intraub said. “These discussions provided me with insights about what aspect of the concept students had not grasped. This was very valuable.”

Carrie Smith, assistant professor of psychology, said clickers are helpful in facilitating classroom discussion and participation in courses involving race, gender, drug or alcohol use and other sensitive issues.

“I taught a sexuality course without clickers,” Smith said. “When I would talk about certain sensitive topics, you could see that the students were really interested, but they did not want to say something that somebody else in the class might disagree with. They don't want to be socially incorrect.”

While faculty members have found the use of clickers in the classroom helpful in engaging students and helping them prepare for class, not all students are happy with the idea, DiLorenzo said.

“It's new, so there is a certain amount of frustration with the use of clickers,” DiLorenzo said. “The use of clickers forces students to prepare for class. Teaching the old way, professors just lecture and the students take notes. Now, they have to read and think before class, and some students say it is too much work.”

DiLorenzo was a member of the Personal Response System Committee that included Jennifer Lambe, assistant professor of communication; Diane Herson, associate professor of biological sciences; Carlton Cooper, assistant professor of biological sciences; and Fred Engst, an instructor in food resources and economics. Formed by UD Information Technologies, the committee met from May-June 2006 and reported their findings in assessment criteria, selecting potential vendors and establishing standards for the use of clickers on campus.

Faculty who have incorporated the use of clickers into their classrooms also include Mary Kramer, an instructor, and James Wingrave, assistant professor, both of chemistry and biochemistry, and Patricia Walsh, assistant professor of biological sciences.

The ultimate classroom

James Hoffman and Robert Simons, professors of psychology at UD, have combined problem-based learning and technology to develop an “ultimate classroom” for active learning of statistics in “Measurement and Statistics” (PSCY 209) with Fathom, a user-friendly software package for visualizing statistical data.

“What we particularly realized, and what statistics teachers all over the country probably have realized, is that statistics is not really a class that engages students the way a class in something like art history might,” Hoffman said. “Rather than having students think that someone is going to tell them the answer, they learn they can discover the answer themselves.”

With its emphasis on communication, the ultimate classroom uses the traditional problem-based learning strategy of dividing the class into groups of four to eight students working at multiple workstations. Each workstation is equipped with a remote control keyboard connected to a ceiling-mounted projector that transmits data to an off-site server. Each workstation's work is displayed on a series of screens around the room.

A projector at each end of the classroom located in 002 McKinly Hall displays the professor's work on an interactive whiteboard. Faculty can use the board to select items for class discussion and to draw on the whiteboards with electric pens displaying different colored inks.

“One of the nice things about this technology is that it really tends to engage all of the students in the group with what is going on,” Hoffman said. “It's also more of a team-based approach, prompted partly by the fact that everybody has easy access to the screen.”

With its emphasis on communication, the ultimate classroom uses the traditional problem-based learning strategy of dividing the class into groups of four to eight students working at multiple workstations. Each workstation is equipped with a remote control keyboard, and each group’s work is displayed on a series of screens around the room.
Simons said that students working as a team become very involved in whatever project they are working on, and they also don't want to let the other team members down.

“It's real like the real world, because students have to get along with others to succeed in solving problems,” Simons said. “The students absolutely love the classroom. They know it is a special place. A good number of students come early and leave later. They also stay engaged.”

The ultimate classroom, designed by IT-User Services, allows teachers to set up an electronic bulletin board at each table, as well as a homework bulletin board, where everybody can see the assignment questions.

“This helps students to come up with good answers and identifies team members that can be counted on to help complete the project,” Hoffman said. “We were blown away by how well the students did. It's nice to be surprised by excellence in a job.”

As with the use of clickers in the classroom, some of students favor traditional lecturing methods over the ultimate classroom problem-based learning approach, Hoffman said.

“Some people do not like working in groups,” Hoffman said. “Others think that the professor is supposed to be walking around and lecturing constantly.”

Mobile phones

In its overview of technology likely to be adopted in the 2-3 years, the Horizon Report devotes a section to “The Phones in Their Pockets.” It focuses on the increasing capability of cell phones, or mobile phones as they are called outside of the United States, and their possible uses in the classroom.

The report notes that cell phones now offer e-mail, instant messaging, web browsing, video services, and states that the same venues now being used commercially could also be used to carry educational materials.

Mark Serva, an assistant professor of management information sciences and accounting who has incorporated the use of wikis and podcasting into his class assignments, said that he uses five criteria to evaluate the viability of using new technology in the classroom. These criteria include:

  • Usefulness--It must help reinforce the learning objective of the class;
  • Ease of use for students--Technology can be useful, but if you spend a lot of time teaching students to use it, students can be swamped by the difficulty of learning to use the technology;
  • Acceptability--Students must be willing to accept the technology you are asking them to use;
  • Instructor implementation--Professors must have the time to spend getting the technology to work for students; and
  • Cost.

“The toughest issue is the usefulness, because it determines whether or not the technology can fulfill the learning objectives,” Serva said. “Technology in itself is neither good nor bad, but it can help learning.”

Students tend to learn better when exposed to a variety of things, and understanding and using technology can help students make informed decisions later in their careers, Serva said.

“Students tend to look at things with fresh eyes, and I think it is better when they actually use the technology rather than being told about it,” Serva said. “I think they definitely appreciate this approach.”

A projector at each end of the classroom in 002 McKinly Hall displays the professor’s work on an interactive whiteboard. Faculty can use the board to select items for class discussion and to draw on the whiteboards with electric pens displaying different colored inks.
Besides phones, clickers, wikis and ultimate classrooms, the use of educational gaming, including simulation, virtual environments, social and cooperative play and alternative reality games, are projected by the Horizon Report for possible adoption in the classroom in the next two to three years.

Sample usages noted in the report include a mathematics class where simulation and games show how environmental rules are influenced by player-generated variables. In a nursing class, students were able to explore topics like pain management and view the effects of drugs and drug interaction without using a living patient.

Kalmia Kniel, an assistant professor of food virology and parasitology in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, began using gaming technology to help students complete a final group project for a class, Food-borne Diseases: Investigating Outbreaks.

Kniel said that she felt the class would showcase the roles of the players involved and would show the students just how complicated such an investigation really is.

“The idea of moving this traditional board game to an electronic format was always intriguing, but a bit overwhelming,” Kniel said. “Beth Kinney [a researcher in IT-User Services] from PRESENT helped to make this a reality.”

Kniel said that students work with a short version as a study tool that can be used at home, and a larger version of game technology as part of their work on group projects. Both versions are accessible on WebCT.

“Students go through the game individually and gather clues. They meet with their group members using WebCT and in-class discussion to share clues and develop investigations into the outbreak in the game,” Kniel said. “The class time used for these discussions became quite valuable as students inquired about many interesting points that I had not even imagined they would. They asked good questions that we were able to develop into good in-class conversations pertinent to what we were studying.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes