The LectureTools Blog

The 3 Best Times to Ask Your Students Questions

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Fri, December 09, 2011

peer instruction

You probably already know that polling students during class makes lecture more interactive, while improving student learning. Asking students to work through problems in class increases engagement and attentiveness while providing an opportunity to practice with the material.

Timing can turn a good "clicker" question into a great one. Strategically placing in-class activities can be a great student engagement strategy.

Here are 3 of our favorite times to ask for student responses:

1. Before covering a new topic

At the beginning of lecture, or between key ideas, ask your students an ungraded question. This gives them a low-stakes opportunity to share their pre-existing conceptions or beliefs, and also will keep their attention as they follow along with your lecture to discover whether they were correct or not. For example, before beginning a discussion about tornadoes, ask students where they think the most tornadoes typically occur.

For more open-ended discussions, your opinion poll might not have a correct answer. Rather, students can share their opinions. Show the results to launch a discussion about why some students answered the way they did. For example, a political science instructor once asked his students when they felt the United States became a democracy. Some students answered key dates in US history (women's suffrage, the Civil Rights Act), while others indicated they still believed there was work to be done. While the question had no "right" answer, it certainly provided ample opportunity for discussion.


2. After a multiple choice or image quiz question

A well-written multiple choice question can assess student comprehension, but cannot reveal why students chose the answer they submitted. This means that some students may have submitted the correct choice by chance. Additionally, there might not be much insight as to why other students missed the question. For image quizzes, it can be easy to miss nuances that caused students to select the wrong region.

To help solve these pitfalls, pose a free response question that asks students to defend their answer to the previous question. Your students will think critically through articulation while giving you insight into their logic. As an added bonus, some students may discover the flaw in their logic on their own when pressed to defend their answer.


3. After letting students discuss a question

Sometimes, you might ask a question that many students will answer incorrectly. In this case, consider using peer instruction. Ask your students to turn to a neighbor and give them a few minutes discuss the question. Once student discussions begin to wrap-up, pose the same question again. When you show the results to the class, the answers will have shifted. If most students have answered correctly, move on to the next topic. Otherwise, have students discuss in small groups or as a class.


Photo: velkr0

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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Large Class, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Student Response Systems, Student Participation, Clickers

How Technology Empowers the Shy Student to Participate in Class

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Fri, August 05, 2011

shy studentWhether in a lecture hall exceeding 500 seats or in a small class of 20 students, college students are often reluctant to participate. For some students, the fear to participate is the largest factor, though for others, the passive nature of lecture inhibits participation.

The benefits of active learning -- including participating in class, applying new material, and thinking critically about new ideas – have been well documented. Despite these benefits, however, passive learning prevails, and students rarely participate in class.


Why Won't They Participate?

The easy answer to the tendency for college students to settle into a state of passive learning is that many are shy or afraid to raise their hands. Students are unlikely to answer a question if they fear their peers will judge them based on their answer.

Even instructors who routinely ask their students to interact during class find for many students, fear inhibits the ability to participate.

“I’ve always used lots of questions, I demand interaction,” said Dr. Ken Balazovich during an event this spring. “What [students] don’t want to do is make a wrong answer in front of 400 people.”

For other instructors, teaching style prohibits interaction. The lecture format by nature encourages passive learning. When students have a question, there is often no natural pause during the session that seems appropriate for speaking up.

It may only seem polite that students would be unwilling to interrupt lecture with a question, but without time for Q&A, it is difficult to assess students’ comprehension. Additionally, many students in the class may have the same question. Students have a lot to learn from hearing the questions of their peers, as well as the instructor’s answers.


Teach with Technology to Increase Student Participation

With students afraid to ask a “dumb question” in front of their peers, hesitant to “interrupt” lecture, and simply unwilling to participate, actively engaging students might seem like a hopeless cause. Many technologies, however, facilitate easier interaction with students, and encourage them to participate.

Student response systems are one solution. As we’ve mentioned numerous times before, interactive lectures taught with student response systems improve student learning. Questions posed to students break up the monotony of lecture, and allow students to self-assess their understanding while engaging with material.

Perhaps the biggest difference between using a student response system and traditional methods like a show of hands, however, is that students have a certain level of anonymity with student response systems. They can discreetly answer the question using a clicker, laptop, or cellphone. Answers are typically displayed as an aggregate to the class, without names attached. Students prefer to answer in-class questions with technology for these reasons, and thus, are more likely to participate.

Technology can allow students to submit questions as they arise, avoiding situations where students forget their question before it can be asked. Additionally, monitoring the backchannel can create a way for students to ask questions and receive answers without fear.

With college students and young adults most likely to be online, your students not only appreciate, but expect technology in the classroom. And it just might help the shy student to participate.


Photo: Jonathan Pobre

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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, Student Response Systems, Student Participation, Clickers

Study Finds Students Prefer Technology-Based Student Response Methods

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Mon, July 18, 2011

show of handsStudents agree that in-class concept questions are useful, and that technology is their preferred response method.


We have already discussed Wieman’s findings that teaching interactively improves student learning. Now, a new study in the July 2011 issue of Teaching of Psychology has found that while students prefer using clickers to respond to conceptual questions in class, clickers offer no advantage over using flashcards or hand-raising when it comes to learning.

Dr. Joelle Elicker and doctoral candidate Nicole McConnell conducted the research using Introduction to Psychology courses at the University of Akron. The experiment compared three groups, each taught with in-class conceptual questions that provided students more opportunities to engage with material and instructors a way to assess student learning during class.

The only difference between the groups was the method students used to respond to the questions: one group responded with a show of hands, another by holding up flashcards corresponding to the different answer choices, and the third through use of clickers.

Students reported that using clickers, the sole response method that utilized technology, was their favorite way to answer questions. Flashcards were the least popular option, and one instructor suggested students felt this response method seemed childish in a college classroom.


Perceived value of questions and student learning independent of response method

Despite the popularity of clickers over flashcards and hand-raising, the experiment revealed that the response method’s impact on student learning (measured through exam scores) was not significant.

Elicker and McConnell also collected data about student perceptions of the questions' usefulness for learning. Much like the actual learning, the questions were perceived as equally helpful, regardless of response method.

These results reinforce the notion that such in-class conceptual questions benefit student learning. Students, it seems, find value in such interactive teaching methods regardless of response method. But all else equal, students prefer to use the technology of classroom response systems over traditional methods.


Why response method was unrelated to student learning in Elicker study

Skeptics may point to the study’s finding that learning outcomes are independent of student response method. The simple explanation for this is that the study used only multiple choice questions provided by the textbook publisher.

While multiple choice questions can be valuable tools, students can engage with multiple choice questions regardless of response method. Simply put, regardless of whether the student is pressing a button to respond in favor of ‘answer B’ or holding up an index card that corresponds to the same answer, the thought process and practice with the material (or random guess) has already occurred prior to the act of responding.

While traditional clicker systems are typically restricted to multiple choice questions, one would expect that the impacts on student learning would have been far different had the full potential of emerging educational technologies been utilized.


Accounting for the potential of emerging technologies to improve student learning

Index cards, clickers, and hand-raising are all able to convey that a student has selected a particular answer. Imagine, however, if instead of clickers, students were using their laptops and cellphones in class. These devices have much more capability than a traditional classroom response system.

Using powerful software would have allowed instructors to teach interactively using not only multiple choice questions, but also to solicit answers for free response questions or to integrate online media. Instructors could even ask students to do quick research online during class and have students break into small groups to discuss their findings.

Flashcards and traditional clickers simply are unable to relay these complex and open-ended responses. While students could raise their hands to share with the class, in a large lecture this poses the limitation of only hearing from a handful of students in a sea of hundreds.

Finding that students report value from interactive questions and a preference for using technology to respond will have important ramifications for the future of education. Keeping students happy and engaged in large classes offers greater opportunity for learning, and unleashing the full potential of the devices students are already bringing to class will only provide even more such opportunities.


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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, Student-Instructor Interaction, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, instructor interaction, Student Response Systems, Clickers, Learning Outcomes

3 Ways to Use Classroom Response Systems to Teach More Effectively

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Fri, June 24, 2011

peer group discussionClassroom response systems can be used to facilitate peer instruction by having students break into smaller groups for discussion. (Photo: Felix42 contra la censura)

It is an unfortunate truth that many instructors use classroom response systems only to take attendance. It is also true, however, that clickers can be a valuable tool for supplementing and facilitating interactive teaching techniques that can improve student engagement and student learning in classes both large and small.

While there are a number of ways to use classroom response systems, below are 3 of our favorite ways to teach more effectively with clickers:


1. Facilitate Peer Instruction

Instead of having students discuss the question with the whole class, peer instruction facilitates these discussions in smaller groups. Ask your students to turn to a neighbor to defend their answer. More students will get involved in the discussion this way, and any fears of speaking in front of the large class are nullified.

To see what effect peer instruction has had on student comprehension, poll your students before the small group discussions and again after to see how student responses have changed. As an added incentive, peer instruction allows students to hear a different perspective or style of explanations. Additionally, some students find instruction from their peers to be more effective than lecturing from the instructor.


2. Monitor the Backchannel

Though most people quickly think of classroom response systems as a way to pose multiple choice questions to students, an alternative use of the system is to use the clickers to monitor the backchannel. Have students let you know when they are confused with their classroom response system to enable immediate feedback that need not wait for occasional quizzes or exams.

Some instructors who use systems that allow students to resubmit answers could simply leave a poll open for the duration of class, where students can rate their comprehension on a scale 1-5 by answering A-E respectively. Alternatively, after asking a clicker question can ask a follow-up question asking students how confident they are in their answer. More advanced classroom response systems provide separate mediums for monitoring the backchannel, where students can report confusion independently of the clicker function or submit questions.


3. Create Times for Telling

One way to engage students is to use clickers to make them more interested in the information that follows, or to create moments for telling. The underlying principle behind this use is that posing a question that many students will likely get wrong will make the subsequent explanations more interesting.

Students who missed the question will want to know why their answer was incorrect, while students who were able to submit the correct answer are more likely to listen for any pieces of the picture they may be missing because so many of their peers were wrong. Questions of this type do not serve to assess student performance, but rather to encourage students to engage with lecture to learn from mistakes and misconceptions.


Learn How the Classroom Response System in LectureTools Facilitates Interactive Teaching

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Request a live demo today and learn more about how to create interactive slideshows and how to present engaging lectures using classroom response and student inquiry features of LectureTools.

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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, Student Response Systems, Clickers, Learning Outcomes