The LectureTools Blog

LectureTools Acquired by Echo360

Posted by Chelsea Jenkins on Wed, November 07, 2012


An Active Learning Platform

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In 2005 Dr. Perry Samson started LectureTools at the University of Michigan as a research project with one goal: to revolutionize the classroom and to engage students with their laptops and cellphones, regardless of class size. 

LectureTools launched commercially in August 2011 and has since been adopted by professors at over 30 universities and colleges across the United States, Canada, and Asia. Today, we are excited to announce that we are joining forces with Echo360, whose lecture capture technology is in use at over 600 schools across the globe and backed by Steve Case's Revolution Growth.

LectureTools: An Active Learning Platform on Vimeo.

Echo360 provides not only resources, but also a like-minded vision and talented employees that will help us achieve our long-term goal of building an active learning platform that revolutionizes the way people teach and learn using technology in and out of the classroom. This is not the end of LectureTools, rather, a new beginning, and current accounts will not be affected. LectureTools will always exist and it will continue to improve as a stand alone product. It will also be developing an integrated solution with lecture capture and other active learning features. 

We would like to extend a special thank you to our early adopters, who have given us amazing feedback and their continued support. We look forward to continuing our work with you and the Echo360 team.


To a new beginning, 

The LectureTools team.


Samson is also a co-founder of the Weather Underground, which sold in the summer to the Weather Channel, with a group of former students. LectureTools also sprouted with a dedicated group of recently graduated U-M students including Jason Aubrey, Bret Squire and Sharanyan Ravi. Aubreyco-founder of LectureTools, joins Echo360 as a product manager while Squire and Ravi join as developers. 

We would also like to say thank you to a few key players in the LectureTools story – University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan TechArb, University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer, The National Science Foundation, our advisor Jim Sterken, and the instructors and students who have helped us grow.



Make your class more interactive: click below and become the next addition to our team!




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Topics: Online Education, LectureTools News, New Features, classroom engagement strategies, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Student-Instructor Interaction, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, instructor interaction, instructor communication, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Student Response Systems, student response, Flipped Instruction, educational networking, The Flipped Classroom

A Supplement of a LectureTools Testimony

Posted by Chelsea Jenkins on Tue, October 30, 2012

LectureTools: An engaging presentation tool to use in the classroom

Jim Barbour, associate professor of economics, uses LectureTools in his introductory-level courses.

Jim Barbour, chair of the economics department and associate professor of economics, uses LectureTools in his introductory-level courses.


While searching for an alternative to clickers to use in his classes, Jim Barbour, chair of the economics department and associate professor of economics, stumbled upon LectureTools.

Run by a five-person team in Ann Arbor, Mich.,LectureTools is an engaging, web-based program that allows instructors to create interactive presentations.

“I was looking for something that was more robust,” Barbour said. “Think of [LectureTools] as a combination of clickers, Facebook and Twitter all rolled into one.”

Special Features

By uploading preexisting PowerPoint presentations to LectureTools, instructors can enhance classroom materials by incorporating multiple-choice, short-answer or ordering questions, as well as images and videos onto slides. Students can access presentations on their own devices by logging in to the program.

“All of this is like a clicker on steroids,” Barbour said. “But now, you don’t have to keep track of the clickers, and you don’t have to charge them up.”

Instructors can incorporate multiple-choice, short-answer or ordering questions, as well as images and videos onto slides.

Instructors can enhace classroom materials by incorpoarting multiple-choice, short-answer or ordering questions, as well as images and videos onto slides.


LectureTools is free for instructors, Barbour said, while students must pay a flat $15 fee at the beginning of the semester.

LectureTools works best on laptops, tablets and smartphones, Barbour said, though students can still participate if he or she has a mobile phone with texting capabilities.

Barbour said out of the seventy-odd students he has had in his LectureTools-based classes, only one did not have a laptop, tablet, smartphone or phone with texting capabilities. Because of this, Barbour is lending his Kindle to the student.

“There are places [students can] checkout [laptops] from the school, so I’ve run into that once out of 74 students,” Barbour said. “It’s probably going to be a problem less and less as we go forward.”

Students can control the view of their individual screens, take notes on slides, mark slides as confusing, bookmark slides to review later and direct questions to instructors by typing inquiries into a comment box.

 Students can control the view of their individual screens, take notes on slides, mark slides as confusing, bookmark slides to review later and direct questions to instructors by typing inquiries into a comment box.


While logged in to LectureTools, students can control the view of their individual screens. Students can take notes on the slides, and because the program is web-based, students’ notes are saved online and can be accessed later.

Freshman Michelle Rich, a student in Barbour’s introductory-level economics class, said she likes the flexibility of LectureTools in that it allows her to control what slide is displayed on her screen. She said she likes the interactivity of the technology too, because it helps her to better learn the material.

“LectureTools is helpful, but I am still adapting to this new way of learning,” she said. “I really like how my professor asks us questions through LectureTools because it tests us while we’re learning.”

Students can mark presentation slides as confusing, and they can bookmark slides to review later. Further, students can direct questions to instructors by typing them into a comment box, and professors receive those inquiries instantly.

“It’s another way for me to communicate with the class, and that’s really what I’m interested in because at the core, we are storytelling creatures,” Barbour said. “This allows me to tailor the story as I go to match what the class seems to need. Any good instructor always does that.”

LectureTools records all student activity and converts the data into a report, which is sent to an instructor approximately 20 minutes after class is over.

Students in Barbour's economics class collaborate on a short-answer question.

 Students in Barbour's introductory-level economics class collaborate on a short-answer question.

By Sam Parker 



To use LectureTools and start increasing engagement in  YOUR classroom click here:



Topics: Mobile Devices for Education, classroom engagement strategies, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Student-Instructor Interaction, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Large Class, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, instructor interaction, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Student Response Systems, Student Participation, educational networking, Enriching Scholarship Conference, Laptops in Education, Learning Outcomes, The Flipped Classroom

How Tech Changed My University Classroom

Posted by Chelsea Jenkins on Thu, September 06, 2012



As a (now contentedly former) English professor at a large public university in the American South, and, obviously, a longtime student myself before that, I have seen firsthand how technology transformed the classroom...and then transformed it again. This is a big mistake we make when thinking about technological change: thinking that the world can be divided into “before” and “after” a given technology, and that once the latest thing is ubiquitous, we’ll get to stay still. Unfortunately this is not the case, for it’s not one shift that makes the difference but multiple simultaneous, overlapping, and qualitatively different revolutions that may soon be made obsolete themselves.

When I was a child, we still watched filmstrips in class. Yes, actual strips of actual film. I remember watching the first President Bush’s inauguration on TV in a classroom, though I can’t remember if it was cable yet or simply broadcast. Then video infiltrated classrooms, with the beloved clunky TV cart that heralded a day off from book-based study (Marshall McLuhan once warned that introducing television into education would blow the classroom apart -- I’m not so sure he wasn’t right).

Thanks to the famed visionary forward-looking genius of Apple (and/or their self-serving canniness), green screen and then full-color Macs proliferated in my schools. I was in college when cell phones became popular, but few people had laptops.

By the time I started teaching, nearly every student had a laptop, though as those years went on, fewer and fewer bothered to bring it to class. Why? I wish I could say it was because of their desire to put away anything that might distract from my words of wisdom.

In truth, the cellphone and laptop had merged, and their iPhones were now a one-stop shop for research, socializing, and pure time-wasting. We now have the iPad and, interestingly, tablets seem to be trending smaller and iPhones bigger. Will the two products merge? Where does our future lie, and what does it mean for education?

My most recent classrooms featured computer podiums hooked up to a projector. This was moderately useful in my Introduction to Fiction class, where I mainly used it to call up YouTube videos so that authors like James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, and Vladimir Nabokov could explain their work in person. I also found biographical documentaries of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce, who did not live to see the television era, let alone get grandfathered into YouTube.

But it was the other literature class I was teaching, Introduction to Drama, where technology really brought the subject alive. Unlike prose fiction, after all, drama is not in its essential form a “text,” but is meant as a blueprint to be interpreted and brought to life. So after reading, say, Euripides in our anthology of plays, I could show my students a slideshow on the development of tragedy, a documentary clip demonstrating the spatial quality and remarkable acoustics of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens, and four or five different interpretations of the same scene from Medea taken from live and cinematic versions in English, Greek, and Japanese. This truly showcased the mind-blowing potential of the wired classroom, and all that was missing was an interactive element to make it more hands-on for my students.


Stephanie Brooks is a freelance writer and blogger who mostly enjoys covering all things education, including at, but also regarding traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. When she's not writing, she can be found at the gym working out to Zumba and cooking healthy recipes at home. She welcomes your feedback.


Lecturing with an iPad eBookFree eBook: Lecturing with an iPad

Students are far less likely to stray when you are able to roam the aisles. Download our free eBook and learn how to use your iPad to untether yourself from the podium and start teaching more interactively.

Topics: Apple, classroom engagement strategies, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, instructor interaction, instructor communication, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Flipped Instruction, Guest Blogger

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Flipped Classroom

Posted by Chelsea Jenkins on Wed, August 29, 2012



The "flipped classroom" has been making waves in the educational world for some time now. With the introduction of the Khan Academy, the concept of the flipped classroom has become one of the hottest debates in the academic world among primary educators, professors, and administrators alike. As education-based technology and online platforms continue to grow and improve, more and more devices, programs, and concepts are entering the educational world and shaking things up. Where at one time the concept of online learning, computer-based assignments, and the virtual classroom were scoffed at, today online education and technology in the classroom are top priorities for schools, teachers, and researchers.


Within our increasingly digital world, most of us agree that education and academia must respond to the changing atmosphere of society. By and large, we accept that online learning and certain academic technologies are worthwhile. However, with all the hoopla over the Khan Academy and the flipped classroom, there remain both positives and negatives to the approach.


The Advantages

Many of the advantages of the flipped classroom have been covered throughout the blogosphere and elsewhere. There are many things to praise about the concept of the flipped classroom. With positive results from many teachers and school districts throughout the country, there's no denying that the approach can (and has been) successful in certain cases. Students are able to approach material and take it in at their own speed. By covering lecture material at home and from a video-based platform, students can privately view the material. This allows them to approach things at their own pace without worry of peers noticing them moving slower or faster. Students can stop, pause, rewind, and fast forward material so that they can examine things in their own way.


By taking the lecture portion of the classroom home with them, students are able to utilize their teachers' one-on-one attention more successfully in the classroom. Students sit through lecture, gather questions, and prepare themselves for the day with the teacher to tackle "homework". Because the actual exercises are done in the classroom rather than at home with this model, students have their teacher available for questions with problems when they occur.


The flipped classroom also allows teaching to adapt more easily to the different teaching styles that individual students may be most successful with. By putting lectures in a video format, students can listen to the lesson and watch the video illustrate the lesson. Of course, this largely depends on how successful the actual video lecture is. You want a lecture (like the Khan videos) that explains concepts verbally, but also draws them out in images and pictures. This provides adequate learning opportunities for verbal learners and for visual learners. With in-classroom lecturing, the visual aspect of lecturing can be significantly more difficult to accomplish.


The Disadvantages

Of course, as with anything, there are going to be some disadvantages to the flipped structure of learning as well. Just as classroom lecturing works better for some and doesn't work for others, the flipped classroom method is not going to accommodate every individual perfectly. The biggest set back today to the flipped classroom method is that not all students and schools have access to technologies that can really work for this method.


Students from lower income areas and lower income families may not have access to the computers and internet technologies that the flipped classroom requires. The structure really hinges on every student having personal access to his or her own personal device. This simply is not the case for every student and every school district. Students who do not have personal home computers or access to the internet would be forced to use public computers at a library or at the school. This, to some degree, eliminates the personal and private experience of taking in the lecture. What makes having lectures as homework so powerful is that students can do it on their own time and in their own way. At a library computer or school computer time limits typically exist and access can be limited if it is busy. This is problematic.


Another downside to the idea of the flipped classroom that many people bring up is the fact that students would be spending all of their "homework time" plugged-in in front of a computer screen. Not only do not all students do well with learning from a screen, but this also adds to a student's time in front of a screen and sitting sedentary. While this concern isn't singular to the flipped classroom, the teaching concept doesn't help our young students to get up and get away from their computers, televisions, and iPods.

Flip your classroom with LectureTools! Check out one of our flipped classrooms by signing in as a student:


PW: 2012

Mariana Ashley is a blogger and freelance writer who often writes for about online college life. Mariana is passionate about all things education and loves writing about the latest trends in the world of academia. She welcomes comments via email at

Topics: Learning Styles, classroom engagement strategies, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Student-Instructor Interaction, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, instructor interaction, student engagement, student engagement strategies, student response, Flipped Instruction, Guest Blogger, Learning Outcomes, The Flipped Classroom

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.


Photo: theirhistory


Learn How the Classroom Response System in LectureTools Facilitates Interactive Teaching

LectureTools Instructor Dashboard

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, 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 LMS Integration to Teach Interactive Lectures

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Mon, May 16, 2011

LectureTools was only one of many presenters at the 2011 Enriching Scholarship conference. The University of Michigan’s USE Lab also hosted a panel presentation: “Exemplary Teaching: Using CTools to Enhance Interactive Teaching.” During this session, four U-M faculty members discussed how they use interactive classroom technologies through CTools, U-M's version of Sakai, to improve student learning.

Using technology in a large political science lecture

One of the speakers was Dr. Mika LaVaque-Manty, a political science professor who is known for innovative uses of interactive classroom technologies.

View his talk below, or watch it on YouTube:

LaVaque-Manty centered his talk on the idea that you can "use [CTools] as a shell for a lot of things," meaning that he not only uses tools available through CTools, but also external tools integrated with CTools.

LaVaque-Manty highlighted three of the ways he uses CTools to teach interactively in a 250-student introductory political theory lecture.

3 Ways to Use LMS Integration to Teach Interactive Lectures

1. Facilitate interaction and peer instruction with a chat room

CTools Chat RoomThe first tool LaVaque-Manty discussed (3:30min-6:35min) was the CTools Chat Room, which is both a real-time and an archived chat application.

Students are able to ask substantive questions, which can then be answered by a graduate student instructor. The chat room feature is built into CTools and requires almost no configuration.

LaVaque-Manty also talked about holding “Chat Office Hours” through the chat room feature. He found that students were unlikely to ask questions during this designated time, but would ask questions throughout the day. He would address these questions when he was able to log on, but often, other students would jump in and answer their peers’ questions.

Effective use of the chat room demonstrated students’ skills at navigating familiar technologies. LaVaque-Manty, however, cautioned about the “myth of the tech savvy student,” which emphasizes the importance of simplicity and ease-of-use for technology in the classroom.


2. Integrate reading quizzes with LMS

One challenge in college courses is to ensure students complete assigned reading. For LaVaque-Manty’s political theory lecture, students are required to complete reading prior to each lecture, or approximately 26 times per semester.

To address this challenge, LaVaque-Manty has added a “Reading Questions” tool to his course’s CTools site (6:35min-10:15min). This function is an application of the UM.Lessons assessment tool, which links to the class roster and can be configured to use student uniqnames and Kerberos passwords.

Students are required to answer a few quick, substantive questions about the assigned readings prior to class. LaVaque-Manty also asks students how difficult they found the reading, enabling him to assess comprehension issues.

Prior to class LaVaque-Manty is able to quickly review the results in an online report and can adjust his lecture accordingly.


3. Use LectureTools to increase instructor-student interaction

LaVaque-Manty finished his talk by detailing how he utilizes LectureTools in his large lecture courses (10:15min-14:20min). Using LTI integration, LaVaque-Manty has added a gateway to LectureTools in his course’s CTools site.

Students are able to take notes associated with LaVaque-Manty’s slides and can report comprehension issues with material on a given slide. LaVaque-Manty can track comprehension during lecture in real time.

The student inquiry tool allows students to ask instructors questions. During class, LaVaque-Manty uses an iPad to monitor the question stream while his graduate student instructors answer the inquiries.

LaVaque-Manty said he believes that traditional student response systems “don’t work for humanities.” Thus, he utilizes the “smart” clicker function of LectureTools because of its various question types.

image map resultsAs an example, he showed results of an opinion poll posed as an image map question. Students were presented with a timeline marked with key years in the history of the United States and asked “When did the United States become democratic in your opinion?” The results revealed a wide variety of opinions about when the US became democratic and even whether democracy has been reached. Such questions can create opportunities for class discussions, even in large lectures.

LaVaque-Manty has found that with LectureTools, “students are interacting with me much more than they were before in a 250-student class.” He also noted that students are reporting greater satisfaction and he believes there is “clear evidence that students are learning.”


View the rest of the talks from the “Exemplary Teaching: Using CTools to Enhance Interactive Teaching” session on the U-M USE Lab’s YouTube Playlist and learn how other instructors are using technology in the classroom to facilitate interactive lectures and engage their students.

Topics: classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, instructor interaction, student engagement strategies, Enriching Scholarship Conference, LMS Integration

Nobelist's Study Finds Interactive Lectures Improve Student Learning

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Fri, May 13, 2011

engaging students with classroom discussion

A new study by Carl Wieman, a 2001 Nobel physics prize winner, has found interactive lectures that engage students greatly improve student learning. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist has gathered evidence to support that the teaching style of a class is more important than who the instructor is. That is, a teaching assistant or graduate student using interactive teaching methods can deliver a more effective lecture on a topic than a tenured professor who uses traditional methods and is an expert in the field.


Comparing interactive and “traditional” lectures

The results of student learning in two different classes were measured by comparing test scores.

One class had little lecturing: instead, students participated in small group discussions, demonstrations, and question-answer sessions. Instructors were able to view real-time graphic feedback on student learning and on comprehension problems.

Additionally, students in this class responded to in-class quizzes using clickers. Clickers have been shown to actively engage students, to help instructors gauge levels of student understanding, and to provide feedback to student questions.

The control group was a “normal” lecture taught using traditional methods.

Wieman attributed the differences in the students' performance to the style of teaching as it relates to learning processes.

"It's really what's going on in the students' minds rather than who is instructing them," said lead researcher Carl Wieman of the University of British Columbia, who shared a Nobel physics prize in 2001. "This is clearly more effective learning. Everybody should be doing this. ... You're practicing bad teaching if you are not doing this."

Students in the “interactive” class scored significantly higher than their counterparts from the traditional lecture on a quiz about what they had been taught that week. Attendance and attention rates were also higher for the "interactive" class.

Although previous research supports these findings, this study is particularly notable because it was written by a Nobel laureate.


Student engagement strategies for large lectures

Wieman also declared "Lectures have been equally ineffective for centuries. Now we have figured out ways to do it better."

In traditional passive lectures, students are less attentive, more likely to skip class, and less engaged. Introducing interactive teaching methods, however, can help fight these tendencies.

Rather than simply lecturing at students, encouraging interaction allows instructors to more effectively monitor student learning and teach with a rapid feedback cycle. Classes taught in this manner also promote discourse among students, which increases opportunity for peer instruction. Students become more engaged, more attentive, and more likely to attend lecture.

While interactive classroom technology is not by itself a solution to problems of disengagement and inattentiveness, use of social media, clickers, or applications like LectureTools can help support effective teaching techniques for improving student engagement.

Student response systems can test students on concepts during lecture. Instructors can use the results of these “quizzes” to gauge student comprehension and adjust lecture accordingly, if necessary. These tools have an increased variety of uses if instructors are able to ask students for written free responses or test spatial concepts through image maps.

Technology can also be used to facilitate discussions and to encourage question-asking via social media or student inquiry.

The implications of Wieman's study will likely further implementation of such interactive classroom technologies at many institutions seeking to deliberately engage students and improve student learning.

Topics: traditional teaching methods, classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Engaging Students in the Classroom, instructor interaction, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Learning Outcomes

Increasing Student Engagement: The Challenge of Traditional Ways

Posted by Cameron Guilmette on Wed, April 27, 2011

Engaging Students in Lecture using Traditional MethodsAnyone who has ever spent more than a few minutes in a classroom knows that there are numerous ways for an instructor to check whether or not students understand what’s going on.  For this post though, we won’t even attempt to tackle all of them.  Instead, let’s begin by talking about the most basic way that we discover if something is or isn’t understood. 


Asking Questions

If something is unclear or confusing, we ask a question.  While we know that this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation, it is an intriguing idea.  After all, as students and instructors, we know that asking questions is an extremely effective way to communicate our understanding about something to each other.  But how often do we actually reflect on the moments when we ask questions?  How do we ask and phrase questions?  To what extent does the predicted response affect how and when we pose questions?


Challenges of Large Lectures

It is important for us to stop and think about these ideas from time to time, particularly for those of us who have ever experienced a classroom with 200, 300, or 500+ students.  These large learning environments indisputably impact assessment in the classroom, so in turn, contexts like this inevitably limit how and when questions arise.  For instructors who want to constantly engage students in a large lecture, this can be frequently frustrating.  Even if we actively plan when during the course of a lecture we’ll pose questions, there’s no guarantee that a student will be brave enough to respond amidst an audience of several hundred peers.  On the other hand, instructors understand that they cannot realistically accommodate a class where each individual student poses at least one question without compromising the content of that day’s lesson plan. This can make classroom assessment a challenging task.


Thinking About How to Increase Student Engagement

Here are some questions that we’ve come up with to help us think about how we can maximize student engagement without significantly sacrificing the pace of a lecture: 

  1. In large lectures, how can instructors and students work together to demonstrate and check for understanding? 
  2. Are there tools or resources that we can bring to a large lecture in order to better facilitate student and instructor communication?


We look forward to your responses!

Topics: traditional teaching methods, enhance student engagement, instructor interaction, student engagement

Social Media Increases Student-Teacher Interaction and Credibility

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Wed, April 20, 2011

Personal tweets from professors have been found to increase their credibility with students.

Personal tweets found to increase credibility marks

A recent experiment by Kirsten A. Johnson, an assistant professor of communications at Elizabethtown College, revealed that students find professors that have personal tweets to be more credible. Credibility was determined by student ratings of three different fictional "professors" on Twitter in areas of competence, trustworthiness, and caring. One Twitter stream consisted entirely of personal tweets, another of entirely professional tweets, and the third of a mixture of personal and professional tweets.

"I think that students, particularly undergraduate students, want to make a connection with their professors that goes beyond knowledge," said Johnson.

The connection many students make with professors and teaching assistants over social media has become an easy way to increase student-teacher interaction.

The potential of social media

You don't have to look far to realize that we are in the midst of a social media revolution. Students already use these technologies in the classroom, though perhaps not always for educational purposes. At the same time, social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to share content, ideas, and knowledge.

Students can informally engage with material, connecting with both classmates and faculty on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and SlideShare. Even a superficial personal relationship could help engage students in a large lecture, where students typically never meet their instructor. Some who advocate the opportunity social media provides have dubbed the use of social networks for educational purposes "educational networking."

Adoring students have already created Facebook Pages for literary characters like Holden Caulfield and Jay Gatsby. Institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the University of Michigan Museum of Art also use Facebook and Twitter to engage with fans, encourage discussion, and share information. These informal discussions range in complexity but all allow anyone to participate and engage with their ideas, whether they are using a laptop in class or surfing the Internet at home.

Social media and technology both in the classroom and at home present a golden opportunity to increase these kinds of interactions between students and educational experts, as well as facilitate peer instruction between students who join in such academic social media discussions.

Have you incorporated social media in your classes? If so, let us know in the comments.

Topics: social media tools in education, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, Teaching with Technology, instructor interaction, educational networking

Educators Urge Schools to Embrace Technology in the Classroom

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Tue, April 12, 2011

Students can use laptops or other Internet-enabled devices to improve their learning in large lectures.

Encouraging technology use in the classroom

At a conference on digital media and learning hosted by Columbia University’s Teachers College, Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey, urged schools to embrace student use of phones and other electronic devices in the classroom. Experts from around the country convened at the conference to discuss how schools can benefit from embracing, rather than shying away from, technology.

In New Milford, Internet resources have been used to engage students and their families. Facebook is used to share stories with the community without the filter of traditional media, and discipline policies are in place for students who misuse websites.

With 93% of young adults and teens online, access to powerful and engaging learning tools online is rapidly proliferating. University of Michigan professor David Cohen also noted that schools often have the potential to utilize technology to improve student learning, but usually don’t take advantage of the opportunity.

The value of the Internet as a learning tool

As experts recommend educators embrace the technology their students are using rather than banning it, it is important to recognize the value of smartphones, laptops, and other Internet-connected devices as powerful classroom assets instead of as distracting liabilities.

Without such Internet access, students are only able to have questions answered if they can overcome their fear of speaking out in class and raise their hands, which can be a particularly common problem of large lecture classes. Now, students can use technology to submit questions electronically, or follow their curiosity by reading news, reports, and information from around the globe.

Additionally, these technologies offer many opportunities for more engaging classes. Instructors can now “show” rather than “tell” their students by supplementing discussion with online video or audio clips, or having students engage with material through interactive activities.

Has technology changed the way your students learn? If so, let us know in the comments.

Topics: interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, instructor interaction, student engagement