Answering the challenge to be more interesting than Facebook

Christine Bozarth

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Northern Virginia Community College

I taught General Biology II for majors and non-majors during summer 2014 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia. The class was condensed from a traditional 16-week class to a condensed 5-week class. I lectured twice a week for four hours at a time with short breaks during each lecture.

I had never taught such a condensed course and had never lectured for such a long period. To encourage active learning and to break up my lecturing, I decided to try Learning Catalytics. I was drawn to the range of question formats possible and to the use of laptops, tablets, and phones for something other than distraction.

I administered a post-course survey to evaluate the student experience with Learning Catalytics. During the course, I used direction, many choice, matching, multiple choice, region, short answer, sketch, and word cloud formats.

I found the direction format especially useful for questions on blood flow and nervous impulses. Both this format and the region format were useful for visual learners. In the post-course survey, 75% of students enjoyed answering questions where they drew on an image.

Example of a direction question: Draw an arrow showing the direction of blood flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle.

Example of a region question: Click on the part of the action potential where sodium (Na+) gates are open and Na+ is rushing into the neuron.

I found the word cloud format useful for polling students on their knowledge before covering material in lecture. For our unit on animal diversity, I used the word cloud format to show that when people are asked to name an animal, most people name a large mammal. In reality, of course, mammals make up less than 1% of animal species diversity.

Example of a word cloud question (at left): Think of an animal. Name the first animal that comes to mind. One challenge in using any web-based software in class is that students may be more tempted to use their devices for Facebook or email. Personally, though, I look at this as a challenge to be more interesting than Facebook! Despite this potential issue, 85% of students believed that Learning Catalytics helped prevent them from getting bored in lecture, 95% of students felt that Learning Catalytics helped them better understand the material, and all students recommended that I continue using Learning Catalytics in future classes.