Melanie Miller of Anne Arundel Community College says response systems help instructors gauge how well students grasp concepts and identify good review topics.

Sep 23 2011

Tactile Teaching

Student response systems draw students into learning through touch.


Learning a profession is never easy, especially for those studying to become paramedics, emergency medical technicians or first responders. Those workers receive rigorous training in challenging subjects ranging from anatomy and physiology to shock trauma.

Melanie Miller, department chair of the EMT program at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Md., knew she needed to find creative ways to keep students engaged, determine how much information students were retaining, and encourage collaboration and teamwork.

Miller found her answer in student response systems, a wireless response technology that lets instructors poll students and lead them in learning-based games. Professors use the feedback to better target lectures and increase understanding.

"We've found that it really helps our 30 paramedic students keep engaged in the lecture and lightens things up," she says. "And it gives faculty an idea of what students are comprehending and what needs more reinforcement before we test them the traditional way."

By Design

Miller decided on Qwizdom's Action­point software, which lets instructors design and present polls, surveys and quizzes; and track student performance, tests and activities.

The software runs on standard PCs and integrates with PowerPoint. The Actionpoint toolbar, when integrated, becomes part of PowerPoint, allowing instructors to create interactive PowerPoint presentations. The system also lets instructors ask questions on the fly, create answer keys, see which students are connected to the system, play interactive games with students and generate a variety of reports.

When Miller's students enter the classroom, they pick up one of the Qwizdom Q2RF student response systems, which connect via two-way 802.15 radio frequency with the Actionpoint software. The remote system has a three-row display of number keys that let participants answer yes/no, multiple choice, numeric, true/false and rating-scale questions.

Since implementing the first iteration of the Qwizdom student response system a few years ago, Miller says she has seen a real difference in the concentration levels of the students.

"There comes a point in every lecture when I use it to test whether they have gotten the concepts," she explains. "After I explain electrolyte imbalances or decompensated shock or something equally complicated, we'll go through a few questions to see if they understand. It gives me a general idea of how the class is doing, and it lets them know if they should focus more on that concept."

Alan Greenberg, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, isn't surprised by the success of student response systems. Greenberg says use of the systems is growing most rapidly in areas of higher education, especially continuing education for students studying for professional certifications.

"Areas like medical, dental, engineering and computer science lend themselves to these systems, because there are many areas students need to review, and instructors can use student response systems to poll and test students to make sure they retain the information," he says. "You then have a resulting ability to assess progress."

Remember This

Lisa Bilich, an assistant professor who teaches dental hygiene and first-year dental students at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Wash., also uses Qwizdom's Actionpoint to help her students understand and retain concepts. She uses polling and quizzing, as well as interactive games. Bilich's students also use Qwizdom's remote system to respond to questions and participate in games.

"The system works really well to see if students have been paying attention, and I assign participation points, which keeps them focused," she says. "Sometimes I'll use a game, like the car race game, which keeps them involved and motivated, and I even give prizes to whoever answers first. Other times, I ask a multiple choice question at the end of a section to see if they understand the material."

To keep track of who is getting questions right or wrong, Bilich has each student enter his or her unique ID number into the remote system at the beginning of class. That way, she can monitor progress.

Bilich plans to use the system for more than classroom instruction. Up next is a research project focused on dental hygiene students. With the student response system, researchers can collect data anonymously (without entering unique ID numbers) to foster the study.

For Sara McNeil, who teaches in the instructional technology program in the University of Houston's College of Education, student response systems are important because they mesh well with the college's mission.

"We are teaching teachers of the future, and teachers today have to be very comfortable with technology in the classroom," she says. "We pride ourselves on teaching students who will be technology leaders in their field."

For the Long Haul

McNeil is working toward building a "Classroom of the Future" for the College of Education, which will have a host of interactive technologies. So far, the classroom, which seats up to 50 students, has been outfitted with interactive whiteboards from Promethean. McNeil hopes to add Promethean's ActivExpression student response system within the next year. This wireless technology allows instructors to pose questions and get responses from students, both numerically and in full sentences. It also comes with ActivInspire interactive lesson development software for teachers.

Students using interactive response systems scored about twice as high on tests as those who simply heard the lecture.

SOURCE: Science, May 2011

"Student response systems are the next logical addition to our classroom of the future because they integrate so well with interactive whiteboards and PowerPoint," McNeil says. "Our teachers are excited about it, and we have the full support of our administration."

McNeil's vision – the classroom of the future – is something that will become more possible as interactive learning technologies become more mature and integrated with each other. Over time, that's exactly what Wainhouse Research's Greenberg believes will happen. He says student response systems will integrate more closely with other interactive learning technologies, such as web conferencing, video conferencing and lecture capture.

"You'll start seeing real creativity from instructors who can use these technologies together to develop even more effective interactive learning opportunities," he says.

Beyond the Click

Student response systems aren't the only tools to engage students in learning.

Interactive whiteboards offer another inviting approach. Unlike yesterday's static dry-erase boards and chalkboards, an interactive whiteboard can combine images, video and audio, essentially turning it into a giant computer screen. Many of today's interactive models, such as Promethean's ActivBoard, Dymo Mimio's MimioTeach and Numonics' Virtual Whiteboard, have pen and touch capabilities that let users write and draw across the entire surface.

For schools that lack the budget for interactive whiteboards, there are other innovative technologies that can create interactivity in the existing environment. The latest projectors from companies such as Epson, InFocus and ViewSonic incorporate sensors, interactive pens and software to transform simple whiteboards into interactive boards. Companies such as Dymo Mimio and AverMedia also have products to use with existing projectors.

Besides hardware products, software can also pump up classroom interactivity. Promethean's ActivInspire lets instructors use sound, motion and graphics to create interactive lesson plans. Qwizdom's WizTeach, which works on interactive whiteboards, projectors and wireless tablets, contains dozens of presentation and learning tools and more than 3,000 images and animations. It lets teachers create dynamic content as they teach, record and save lessons for use at a later time.

<p>Gary Landsman</p>

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