The LectureTools Blog

Will MOOCs be the End of the College Campus?

Posted by Christopher Machielse on Wed, February 27, 2013

MOOCs allow students to access courses from anywhere
Photo: Ed Yourdon

From Coursera to edX, “MOOC” has become one of the top education buzzwords of 2013, with some of the most powerful brands in higher education like Stanford, MIT, and the University of Michigan offering courses for free. These Massive Open Online Courses have been growing in number over the past year, and with over 2.7 million “students” on Coursera alone, it is easy to see why MOOCs have become the topic de jour.

With courses being taught online for free from the Harvards, Stanfords, and MITs of the world, will there be a place for the physical college campus experience in the future?

MOOCs share some characteristics of disruptive technologies

Wired notes that MOOCs have certain traits that have traditionally been held by disruptive technologies. MOOCs are serving people who aren’t already enrolled in college, making content free and accessible to those who otherwise would miss out. Additionally, with materials online, students have some flexibility with their schedules that students who must be in a brick-and-mortar room at a specific time do not.

MOOCs also are now at the point where their quality is allowing them to be desirable to “upmarket” users as supporting technologies like bandwidth and online sharing have proliferated. While they are not yet sufficient to meet the needs of many college students, they are beginning to approach a more rigorous standard that will increasingly meet the needs of consumers.

 

Why MOOCs aren’t ready to replace “traditional” colleges just yet

On paper, MOOCs sound like the revolution in education that we have been waiting for. But it isn’t that simple. While the features of MOOCs – captured lectures, the ability to discuss material with fellow students, and practice assignments – parallel or are similar to the traditional classroom, MOOCs have yet to see the same success.

Most importantly, only a small fraction of students who enroll in MOOCs go on to complete the course. This phenomenon is so pronounced that it caused Richard McKenzie, a UC—Irvine professor, to leave his Coursera “Microeconomics for Managers” course because of his 37,000 students, “fewer than 2 percent have been actively engaged in discussions.”

Professor McKenzie viewed uninformed or superfluous responses from students in discussion forums as an impediment to the learning of the students serious about completing the course. In this arena, MOOCs may not meet the standards of the traditional university because students in many cases may not be coming from the same level of commitment as their college-enrolled counterparts. Without tuition to pay or an official transcript, many who register for MOOCs could be enrolling simply out of curiosity – the stakes are low. Unlike the full-time student in a university who could be wasting tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for not devoting their full attention to a course, a Coursera user can leave a course at any time with no real consequences.

Though some MOOCs are beginning to offer certifications for students who want to prove their work in online courses, even the co-founder of Coursera doesn’t think they will reach the value of a traditional degree from one of the MOOC-provider’s partner institutions.

 

Lessons from MOOCs that can be applied to higher education via blended learning

MOOCs aren’t ready to replace the classroom experience for the majority of students yet. But, there are a few qualities of MOOCs that can be used in a blended learning class (i.e. combining both face-to-face instruction and online elements) to improve student learning and satisfaction.

Among these are providing ways to students to ask questions and get answers digitally. Personal capture (PCAP) and lecture capture videos are also great resources for students to access when studying after class, even if they are on a physical campus. Ultimately, digital tools and practice problem sets can enhance student learning in any course setup because they increase the opportunities for students to engage with material, think critically, and learn in the way that is most effective for them

 

How Students Consume Complex Concepts with Blended Learning

Attend our free webinar -- Snacking on Substance: Active Learning Cuts Rich Course Content into Bite-Sized Chunk -- to learn how students at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine consume complex concepts with some help from lecture capture and a student engagement system.

Topics: Active Learning, traditional teaching methods, Online Education, MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, emerging technologies in education, Teaching with Technology, Educational Technology, Web Applications

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.

Get the eBook

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

Rethinking the Value of Learning Styles in the Classroom

Posted by Erin Klein on Fri, December 23, 2011

learning styles

Recent research has revealed that, despite each person having unique thinking patterns, our brains are much more similar than we originally believed. Still, the concept of distinct learning styles persists: many educators subscribe to the idea that each student has a distinct learning style that should be approached in an equally distinct way.

An alternative to learning-style-based teaching

Scientists are still debating the existence of learning styles, but combining both audio and visual learning tools in the classroom has proven to increase student engagement because it adds variety to the learning environment. Using a variety of technological teaching and learning tools like videos, message boards and learning games can keep students engaged and offer them a way to have fun with their lessons.

In addition to variety, interaction is also an important learning tool because it allows students to look at the concepts they are learning from multiple angles. For example: a student may think he understands the Pythagorean Theorem, but another student may approach it with a question that he had not thought of before. By bringing distinct minds together and allowing them to work through a problem together from different approaches, learning can become more engaging and effective.

The role of technology in teaching and learning

Technology has made it much easier for students and teachers to reach goals, regardless of location or distance. Many online degree programs are able to keep students engaged while allowing them to interact with one another through digital platforms. In many cases, students can choose from several teaching mediums, such as images, graphs, audio recordings, and interactive reading materials. By stimulating the mind through each of these approaches, students are more likely to comprehend and retain the information more effectively than they would if they were sitting in a full lecture hall with little or no interaction with the material, the instructor, or their classmates.

Although learning tools like these can be used to engage students enrolled in online learning programs, they can also be used effectively in physical settings. Large lecture halls and classrooms can benefit dramatically from the use of digital learning tools, which can allow students to submit questions to the instructor and their classmates, while also using hands-on software to put their knowledge to the test.

For example: a group of 300 students is taking a statistics class with one instructor. It would be impossible for an instructor to accommodate the learning preferences of each individual student without the help of digital tools. However, with interactive graphing tools on their laptops, access to lecture notes, and a comprehensive messaging system that enhances communication with their peers and the instructor, students can effectively engage themselves in the lessons get a firm mental grasp on the new information.

Students may have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to academics, and some students may have to work harder at learning a mathematical concept than a language concept—or vice-versa. However, these strengths do not necessarily indicate that a student with exceptional skills in language would benefit best from strictly reviewing word math problems without a focus on numerical or graphic alternatives. Instead, learning should be achieved by utilizing a variety of different teaching methods to slowly piece the concept together in the brain.

Photo: jisc_infonet


About the Author

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He has a keen interest in blogging and social media. He also writes for www.professionalintern.com.

Want to contribute?

If you would like to contribute to the LectureTools Blog or have any story suggestions, please contact our bloggers at blog@lecturetools.com.

Topics: traditional teaching methods, Learning Styles, classroom engagement strategies, interactive classroom technology, enhance student engagement, Engaging Students in the Classroom, Educational Technology, student engagement, student engagement strategies, Guest Blogger

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