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

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

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

Guest Post: Dream Big - You Can Be Whatever YOU Want to Be When You Grow-Up!

Posted by Erin Klein on Fri, August 12, 2011

matt damon sosAfter viewing Matt Damon's speech (and follow up interview), I was so thankful about the positive press surrounding the support of teachers... especially considering the amount of chatter that isn't always so positive regarding our pay and dedication. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon, my husband, Jason, and I engaged in some rather interesting conversation surrounding today's current economic state. Like most, we were concerned when our nation's credit rating was lowered. We've been wanting to watch Inside Job - so we did.  Interesting enough, Matt Damon narrated this documentary.

This film got me thinking... who is to blame for our nation's financial crisis?

Then I began to think... who is to blame for our nation's educational crisis?

Is it the Teachers?

It only seems right that if students aren't performing well, it must be the ones directly teaching them, right?

If a bridge collapses, who is at fault?  

  • The ones that drive on it
  • The ones that constructed it
  • The ones who supplied/manufactured the faulty materials in which the bridge was constructed

What if you were given the assignment of teaching piano lessons... However, you are governed by the following:

  • You have to use certain sheet music (not the materials in which you prefer)
  • You have too many students to get to on a personal level
  • Some of your students have handicaps yet you don't have tools to accommodate
  • And most importantly... your success isn't going to be measured on how beautiful the students play the instrument nor how much growth they've made from the time they've entered the class but rather how well they perform on the standard sheet music exam

Honestly, ask yourself, how many hours will you:

  • Spend on teaching how to read sheet music
  • Spend on actually playing the piano 

Some people (myself included) will argue that if you teach in an authentic fashion, the students will naturally perform well on whatever test is given to them. True.  So, we don't have to teach test preparation and drill and kill methods 180 days a year - and we shouldn't test this way either!

So, how do we reach students when classes are overcrowded and students are at so many different levels?  I believe technology is a tool that can help in this situation. Many have discussed new methodologies such as The Flipped Classroom where student's homework consists of viewing lectures at home so that the 'homework' becomes classwork where the teachers can facilitate a more hands-on model of instruction. Certain software companies have created Learning Management Systems that help to make this an easy transition.  

I certainly do not believe that teachers are to blame. In fact, I believe teachers are the thread holding the system together. I do think that the system needs to change, though. Times have changed; however, much in our practice has not. In my opinion, teaching is evolving - and the field of education needs to catch up.  Teachers are ready; they simply need the tools and the training to incorporate these new methods into their classrooms. 

In closing, I pose a question: are we going to continue to prepare our students to become proficient at shading in bubbles, or are we going to prepare them to be able to use their resources, analyze information, think critically, and connect globally?

Erin Klein is a mother of two, a wife, and a teacher in Michigan. You can find her on Twitter @Mimadisonklein or read more of her writing on her blog, Kleinspiration. Like all guest posts, views expressed in this article belong to the author.

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Topics: Teaching with Technology, Large Class, Educational Technology, Guest Blogger, The Flipped Classroom