The LectureTools Blog

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

Do Professors Determine Whether Laptops Engage or Distract Students?

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Thu, February 02, 2012

laptops in class

At Duke University. 95% of its students bring computers to campus, with 95% of those being laptops. Laptops are changing the ways students learn in class, as well as the way (and the places) students study.

Many students and professors alike agree that laptops can serve as distractions during class. So much so, in fact, that about a third of the sociology department faculty at Duke has banned laptops from their classrooms.

And not only are students who spend class surfing the web, emailing, and uploading photos to Facebook distracted, but these activities can also be distracting to other students sitting beside or behind them. But is banning laptops the solution to the problem?


Engaging laptops to improve student attentiveness

A laissez faire approach to laptops in the classroom will often lead to distraction.  Lecturing at students is a technique that has been used for hundreds of years – its effectiveness can perhaps best be represented by the age-old image of students sleeping in class.

But despite their potential to distract, instructors who change their style of teaching to reflect the new ways students are thinking and engaging with the world outside of the classroom are more successful at getting students to stay away from social networking sites and getting them to pay attention in class.

"I often ask people to look things up, confirm a date, find an image, etc.," said Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs at Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

Such strategies may require some planning before class, but can go a long way in making students more engaged in class. This is in no small part because having students interact with the class breaks up the monotony. Michael Munger, professor of political science and economics at Duke explains:

"The problem is not the distraction offered by the laptop," Munger said. "It’s the need of the human mind to have things broken up into pieces where concentration is possible, for focused attention is interesting and enjoyable. If the students weren’t looking at their laptop, they would be dozing or doodling."

If you ignore laptops, students will pay more attention to the Internet than they do to your course material. But, if you ban laptops, students can still easily find ways to distract themselves, like texting, doodling, or simply staring off into space. Next time you plan out a lecture, think about how you might be able to use the devices students are bringing to class for the powers of learning.


What role does the professor have in the benefits (or disadvantages) of laptops in the classroom?

Simply put, if students are asked to learn passively, i.e. through hours of dull lecturing, laptops in the classroom can only serve to distract. A handful of students will use them for note-taking, but many will be unable to resist the siren song of the latest emails and tweets.

Even taking laptops out of the equation means students will simply doodle on their notes, “secretly” text their friends, or simply stare off into space.

According to Munger, bluntly, "the fact is that laptops don’t waste students’ time; professors do."

Professors who engage devices in the classroom can get their students to pay more attention in class. More importantly, they can get students to engage and interact with the material. This will encourage students to research and think critically about the material, something that cannot be achieved if students are simply passively listening to lecture.

Thus, it not only matters what material is covered, but also how that material is covered. And in that capacity, laptops offer an excellent opportunity to challenge the status quo of lectures by interacting more with students, and asking them to interact with materials.

"Laptops can help achieve learning outcomes or they can distract from learning outcomes," Baker said. "The professor is in the best position to evaluate the use of laptops in his or her classroom."

Before dismissing the value of laptops in your classroom, think about how you might be able to engage laptops to improve learning outcomes. Simply giving some thought to how you might be able to encourage beneficial use of technology in your classroom can be a huge first step towards improving engagement, attentiveness, and learning outcomes.


making the switch ebookMaking the Switch: How 4 Professors at Michigan Embraced Laptops and Made Class Interactive

Download our free ebook to learn how professors at the University of Michigan are using LectureTools, an interactive presentation tool, to provide an in-class learning platform for student laptops.

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Topics: traditional teaching methods, classroom engagement strategies, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Large Class, student engagement, Laptops in Education

Why Banning Internet Access from Classrooms Won’t Fix Lectures

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Tue, October 18, 2011

no internet connection

A recent article about wireless devices, distraction, and engagement in the classroom noted that the University of Chicago Law School has eliminated Internet access in most of its classrooms.

On the surface, this move makes sense: most professors know that bored students with laptops tend to drift off onto email and social networking sites. But, when used properly, Internet access can improve engagement, and, perhaps most importantly, keep students on-task and off social networking sites.


Students are not dependent on Wi-Fi for connectivity or distractions

smartphone facebookDisabling wireless Internet in the classroom will certainly hinder the ability for many students to access the web. But the number of smartphones and bundled data plans is on the rise. At Ball State, nearly half of students reported owning a smartphone.

This means students can still access Facebook, Twitter, and the web. Additionally, even students without data plans can use their traditional “dumbphones” to text friends. Plainly, students are always connected, with or without campus Wi-Fi.

There was a time when doing newspaper crossword puzzles and whispering to neighbors were the only source of distraction. Even without the Internet, there is still no guarantee students will find a passive lecture more engaging than these unplugged sources of distraction.


The Internet has legitimate educational applications, even during class

At the very least, taking Internet access away from students punishes each of them, even those who were using their connectivity responsibly. Engaged students can find many on-task uses for the Internet during lecture.

The most obvious application for students in class is using one of many online note-taking tools to build review materials during class. In an increasingly online world, some students may opt for Google Docs over its desktop counterparts. Others might use a more specialized tool such as Evernote or Ubernote.

Curious or resourceful students might utilize Google to quickly brush up on or discover more information about topics that pass by quickly during lecture. Such curiosity could range from simple recollection to active learning and exploration.


sleeping studentInternet access is not the root cause of student inattentiveness

With so many websites full of games, instant messaging, and other tempting distractions, many see the Internet as an easy scapegoat for student inattentiveness. It is always important, however, to ask whether students would pay attention even without Internet access.

Engaging students and making class more interactive can make students more attentive, regardless of whether there is Internet access in the classroom or not. “Rather than seeing distraction as a challenge,” the Educause article concludes, “educators can see it as an opportunity to reflect upon and change the design of their entire instructional approach.”

Passive lectures result in worse learning outcomes than more interactive pedagogical styles. In those classes, it’s difficult to blame students for wandering off onto distracting websites and sending emails. Between ubiquitous access, legitimate uses, and passive lectures, turning off the Wi-Fi simply won’t solve problems with attentiveness during class.


Photos: noli's, Johan Larsson, rofltosh


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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Large Class, Educational Technology, Laptops in Education, Student Note-Taking

Infographic: How College Students Use Technology

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Wed, August 10, 2011

Walking to class with headphones over their ears, a laptop in their backpack, and a smartphone in hand, it's no secret that college students today are more connected than any generation before. Technology use is as much a part of daily life as eating or sleeping (perhaps even more than sleeping) for many college students.

A survey by eTextbook seller Coursesmart has already estimated that 38% of college students cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking their laptop, cellphone, tablet, or ereader. And, this week, the Ohio State University estimated that nearly 94% of its students own a laptop.

Any instructor knows these technologies can become a major distraction during lecture. But, instructors who deliberately engage their students' gadgets during class will find that their students will be more engaged, more attentive, and more likely to participate. With more computing power in their pockets, the potential for distraction is not the only rising trend: opportunities for research on-the-go, interactive content, and mobile learning are also on way up.

Students Love Technology

students love tech

Topics: emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Student Participation, Laptops in Education

You Don't Need an App for That: Schools Cut Costs with Mobile Web

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Fri, July 01, 2011

mobile web smartphoneMany colleges have iPhone apps that allow students and visitors to easily access campus maps, view campus dining hall menus, check campus bus schedules, and more. A recent article from the Chronicle discussed how some colleges are now turning away from such campus apps. As the smartphone market becomes increasingly segmented, Apple's iPhone no longer stands alone.

Data from the article reports that there are over 25 million smartphone subscribers in the United States with phones that run on Google's Android platform. Blackberry and Apple each have close to 20 million subscribers, and Microsoft's platform has around 5 million users. What this means for mobile developers is that for a given application, a 3 or 4 different versions might need to be designed in order to accommodate students and campus visitors who carry phones with competing software.


Designing for a Segmented Mobile Market

Developing apps for a number of different mobile platforms is costly. So much so that some colleges are beginning instead to focus on developing mobile web sites. Rather than having users install an app for campus information, these schools simply push web traffic to a mobile version of their websites. Unlike an iPhone app, a mobile website is compatible with any device that has a web browser.

Despite the compatibility of mobile websites, many smartphone users prefer installing apps instead of browsing the mobile web. Additionally, apps are more versatile when it comes to taking advantage of new features of smartphones and tablets, such as cameras, sensors, and GPS data. Still, most basic web content should be delivered through the mobile web, rather than by proprietary applications.


Saving Money in Higher Education by Supporting Existing Hardware

Schools shying away from platform-specific apps shed light on a broader issue in education: delivering content to a variety of devices. Universities already provide support for both Mac and Windows laptops. Supporting both platforms ensures that students can come to campus with their existing machines, or shop around for the best deal when it's time for an upgrade.

With tuition prices skyrocketing, instructors are looking for ways to keep costs down for students. One way to do this is to take advantage of educational technologies that use the devices students already own. For students with tablets or eReaders, eTextbooks can already save students money over the price of new textbooks, especially if the book's chapters can be purchased individually.

Another opportunity for cost savings is the arena of classroom response systems. In many cases, students are required to buy dedicated hardware – clickers – to respond to in-class activities and to receive participation or attendance points. If the institution upgrades to a new system or the student loses the clicker, they have to purchase yet another gadget.

Much as mobile websites allow compatibility with any Internet-enabled device, web-based classroom response systems allow students to use whatever gadgets they are already carrying to class, whether that means laptops, cellphones, or even some Wi-Fi enabled portable media players.

The web-based model means students using any platform can use the technology without purchasing new hardware and that institutions need not install proprietary infrastructure for each instructional technology.

For these reasons, supporting the mobile web and other web-based applications increases in importance with each passing year. And with access to information and services on almost any device, it is true what some of these colleges say: you don't need an app for that.


Photo: Johann Larsson


LectureTools Instructor DashboardFind Out How LectureTools Student Response, Note-Taking, and Inquiry Tool Improves Engagement Without Special Hardware

Schedule a live demo to learn more about how to improve student engagement and attentiveness using LectureTools, a web-based tool that works on any Internet-enabled device.

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Topics: emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, Classroom Response Systems, Educational Technology, Student Response Systems, Laptops in Education, Web Applications

Professors Spy on College Students to Study In-Class Laptop Use

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Sat, May 21, 2011

laptops in class

A St. John’s University law professor had researchers look over students’ shoulders and two University of Vermont business professors used computer software to monitor what students were doing on their laptops during lecture. Though neither study had quite the precision of a true controlled experiment, these results are notable because they relied on observations of students instead of self-reporting and surveys.


Using laptops for non-class-related activities

In the Vermont study, students cycled through an average of 65 new windows per lecture, of which over half were considered distractions. At St. John’s, most second- and third-year law students used their laptops for non-class-related purposes over half the time.

Any visit to a large lecture is likely to reinforce these data. Students are apt to drift to email inboxes and social networking sites. Facebook is a staple of many college students’ laptop screens.

Many times, students will simply pull up Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to copy down bullets when the professor advances to the next slide, and then return to surfing the web.

The study also revealed a significant deviation between student survey results and actual computer-use practices. Students tend to under-report the amount of time they spend on distracting activities in class.


Consequences of laptops for large lectures

In large lectures, student engagement is a serious challenge. With hundreds of students and only one instructor, it is easy for students to settle into a passive mentality. In today’s world, students are not only able to escape paying attention through newspapers and crosswords, but also by text messaging, millions of webpages, and social networking.

The laptop screen creates a physical barrier between the instructor and what students are doing. Students recognize that from the front of the room, instructors cannot see what is happening on their laptop screens. This provides lots of incentive for students to wander away from class-related activities.

Unfortunately, this also means students around the laptop-user can become distracted as their eyes are drawn to web content on the nearby computer screen.

Notably, however, students who checked email and distracting websites did not appear to score lower than their less distracted peers did on homework, quizzes, or exams. Only one activity created significant negative correlation with performance: instant messaging.

This reinforces the notion that many students are effective multi-taskers, though tasks that demand constant attention (like IM) are detrimental to student learning.


Engaging students through their laptops

“The problem is a lot of students use laptops legitimately, so anytime you ban laptops, you’re cutting off the ability of students to do that,” Sovern said in an interview. “So it’s a decision that, to my mind, should be based on the data rather than ego.”

Lectures that are taught interactively have been shown to improve student learning. Whether instructors are engaging students through Chromebooks, laptops, or traditional clickers, how effective the instructor is at facilitating interactivity determines how students are engaged.

Laptops enable students who are fast typists to take more comprehensive notes, curious students to quickly search for more information, and, with the right tools, confused students to seek clarification from teaching assistants or classmates.

There are many ways laptops can improve a student’s educational experience. The key to preventing students from spending the entire class on distracting websites is deliberately engaging laptops rather than ignoring them.

Banning laptops eliminates the potential of such technologies as powerful learning tools, and it is unlikely disengaged students will begin to pay more attention. They are still able to find distractions via mobile phones, nearby friends, or the student newspaper.

Ignoring laptops in the classroom allows students to utilize the technology; without guidance, however, many students will indeed spend much of class distracting themselves and their neighbors.

Encouraging students to engage with the class via technology increases student attentiveness and promotes active learning. Students will act rationally and pay attention in class if incentives favor appropriate use of technology.

How do you encourage students to use laptops appropriately during lecture?

Photo credit: billaday

Increase Student Engagement and Attentiveness

dr perry samson

Read Dr. Perry Samson's whitepaper, "Deliberate Engagement of Laptops in Large Lecture Classes to Improve Attentiveness and Engagement" and learn how student laptops can be harnessed as powerful learning tools to increase student engagement and attentiveness even in large learning environments.

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Topics: classroom engagement strategies, Teaching with Technology, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Educational Technology, student engagement, Laptops in Education, Learning Outcomes

Laptops in the Classroom: Google Will Lease Chromebooks for Education

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Wed, May 11, 2011

Google Introduces the Chromebook

google io 2011

During Day 2 of Google I/O 2011, Google announced that it will lease laptops running the company's Chrome OS to students for $20 per month. Google is calling the systems "Chromebooks", and has made a short, humorous video to introduce its new product.

The Chromebook differs from other laptops and netbooks because unlike its counterparts, which typically run either Windows or Mac OSX operating systems, it runs Google’s Chrome OS. Chrome OS is an operating system that is designed to run web applications: users do not install and run programs on their hardware.

Any web application that runs in a browser window on another system can run on Chrome OS. This notably includes the Google Apps productivity suite, which among other features, bundles word processing, spreadsheet editing, email, and calendar applications.

Relying on cloud computing rather than locally-stored programs means Google expects netbooks and laptops running its operating system to boot up in a brisk 8 seconds. Since data is stored in the cloud, it can simply be accessed from another machine in the event of hardware failure or theft.

For now, however, this cloud-based approach presents a limitation for the Chromebooks. Without a 3G-enabled device, moving away from Wi-Fi connections means users cannot work on their documents in Google Docs. By contrast, a user with a Mac or PC can edit documents offline using Microsoft Office or iWork at any time, independent of an Internet connection. Google plans to remedy this limitation by releasing offline versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs to its users later this summer.


Google enters the education market with lease program

Google has been working with hardware manufacturers like Acer and Samsung to develop netbooks and laptops that run the Chrome OS for some time. But today’s announcement of equipment leasing effectively positions Google as a leader in the educational technology industry. 

Educational users who lease a Chromebook will get a laptop they can use in class, at home, or anywhere in between for $20 per month. Business users can also lease the service, but will be charged a slightly higher rate of $28 per month. 

Subscribing to applications is nothing new. Microsoft Enterprise allows users to subscribe to the Microsoft Office productivity suite. “Software as a service” (SaaS) is a technology trend that is just getting started.

Google, however, is offering the Chromebook leases to education and business users for no up-front cost. Additionally, users do not need to purchase their laptop, and upgrades to newer systems are considered “regular hardware refreshes” that are included in the monthly subscription fee.


Implications of the Chromebook subscription program on education

No doubt that students at schools that are “early adopters” will begin to sport Google’s new hardware offerings on college campuses by next fall. Users who spend most of their time on campus are likely able to access free Wi-Fi almost everywhere they go, meaning that the lack of offline support for many web applications would not pose as much of a challenge to students.

Without the need to pay up-front for using the Chromebook, many IT departments may also find financial merits to the subscription program.

Buying and maintaining a new laptop with similar processing power to Google’s offering would cost several hundred dollars from day one just for the hardware, excluding the additional cost of software like Microsoft Office and the cost of support. Traditional users who purchase and own their hardware must pay for any hardware upgrades, unlike Google’s “regular refreshes.”

For the price of roughly a single new textbook or less per semester, some are sure to take up Google on its offer. Interactive classroom technology is becoming ever more accessible to students. 

Chrome App Store eBooksAs Google gains share in the higher education market, the applications that most Chromebook users are likely to turn to, such as Google Docs, will frequently be used in the classroom. The Chrome App Store will also offer students a Google Books application designed to download and read ebooks.

While encouraging students to utilize such web-based systems in class may lead to the temptation of pointing browsers at distracting social media websites, these kinds of emerging technologies in education have the potential to revolutionize student learning.

The collaborative learning and editing that is possible through Google Docs, for example, provides an opportunity to facilitate peer instruction and increase student engagement, even in large lectures.

How do you think Google's Chromebook subscriptions will change education?

Topics: Hardware, emerging technologies in education, interactive classroom technology, Educational Technology, Laptops in Education, Cloud Computing