You want me to use my phone in class?
Students and smartphones. Educators have legitimate concerns about their use in the classroom, and how the technology is quite frequently a distraction. Cognitive scientists study the effects of distraction on learning and point out how short the typical student’s attention span is. As an instructor, can I use those tools – especially cell phones – to my advantage? Can we use them to help students learn?
The answer is yes. I want students to use their phones in class, but not for scrolling through Facebook or checking text messages, posting on Instagram, etc. We use them as a classroom response system (and any wi-fi enabled device will work, so a laptop or Kindle or Google tablet or iPad will work, too). Think of them as a more powerful clicker type of system. Instead of being able to only use multiple choice questions, I can choose from 18 different types of questions. It’s all about using the phones as a catalyst for learning; the tool is Learning Catalytics.
As an instructor, you can pose a variety of open-ended questions that help your students develop critical thinking skills, while monitoring responses with real-time analytics to find out where they’re struggling. With this information, you can adjust your instructional strategy in real time and try additional ways of engaging your students during class. Students can review their work after class as well, and see your additional notes and feedback. It’s a great just-in-time tool for you–and it’s a great review tool for them.
Learning Catalytics also lets you manage student interactions by automatically grouping students for discussion, team-based learning, and peer-to-peer learning if you’d like. You can deliver a session in five modes; typically we think of the instructor-led synchronous mode, but you can also deliver it automated online or use self-test or self-paced options, or even teams as noted above.
This amazing and engaging tool allows you to search thousands of existing questions across many fields of learning; anything from art history to psychology to mathematics to physics to anatomy and much more. You can search questions loaded by Pearson Education and tagged by author or content. You can also search content shared by your colleagues down the hall or around the world. If you want still more questions, or you can’t quite find exactly what you want, you can easily create your own questions. You can embed images or dataset links, use an equation editor, provide additional feedback, and even leave notes for other educators.
The help site on Learning Catalytics is quite extensive; it’s good to explore the video resources if you are thinking about getting started.
One of the best things? It’s free if you are already using a MyLab & Mastering product. If you aren’t, it’s $12 (6 months) or $20 (12 months). It’s also easy to access student performance data by class or even by module or question.
I’ll admit, when I first saw it more than 6 or 7 years ago, I thought it was neat. I also figured I didn’thave time to add one more thing in my classroom. I was concerned students might not have access (what if our wi-fi went down?) and I didn’t know if it was really worth the time to set things up. At the time, I taught courses that had very little available in terms of pre-written questions, so I wrote my own.
The first day I ran some sessions with students made me a believer. The very last question I asked them in each class was what they thought about that day’s new tool. Yes, I loved the instant feedback in class, and I liked seeing them more engaged, but if they just saw it as a toy….maybe it wasn’t worth it. I wanted it to help them remember and develop new memory skills. (Interested in more about working memory? Read this article.)
Their replies cemented it for me. One young man wrote that it was the first time -ever- that he enjoyed a math class even though he had to work hard. Others wrote it was fun, it made them pay attention, or they liked being able to ask questions or let me know they didn’t understand without everyone else knowing it.
Thus began my journey. I’ve used Learning Catalytics online. I’ve done large workshops with nearly 100 attendees participating. I’ve done team-building in my classes both face-to-face and online. I’ve written a lot of questions. I’ve shown other faculty how powerful this is–and they teach everything from art to economics to math to English to career readiness. It’s a flexible and powerful tool.
And, not only does it engage my students, but it engages me. I like technology, but I also want it to be something that really benefits my students, not just makes them have fun. Learning Catalytics fits the bill-I like to think of it as “teach-nology.”
Want to see it in action?
Learning Catalytics was developed by Eric Mazur, the creator of Peer Instruction, speaker on physics education and interactive teaching, founder of SiOnyx, and a professor of physics and area dean at Harvard. He collaborated with Brian Lukoff, an educator, entrepreneur, technology designer, and engineer. Brian was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and a Stanford Ph.D. in educational measurement and technology. Eric also worked with Gary King, an expert on statistical methods, founder of Crimson Hexagon, Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and one of just 23 University Professors at Harvard.