Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Embracing the large lecture environment

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I sat in a 360-person lecture hall at Purdue University for a few of my science and math classes as an undergraduate and I will never forget the large lecture environment. Students crowding over The Exponent (the campus paper), eating, sleeping, talking, and taking notes. Though there were many amazing professors at Purdue, I had a hard time as a student learning in most of my larger lecture halls. Later, teaching in a larger lecture hall, I realized how challenging it can be to FEEL the audience. It can feel like an echo chamber or it can feel chaotic or, in the best of classes, it can be a dynamic learning environment.  It takes some time to develop that large lecture rapport. Reminiscing on my time, I find myself thankful for the ability to currently teach in smaller class sizes. But changes may be on the horizon. Budget cuts, program changes...higher education today is a shifting, uncertain place. I want to be ready for any opportunities or changes that may come. If you're a regular reader, you know that I will (of course) turn to technology to see what might be available to me when it comes to enhancing the larger lecture environment.

So, I have spent a few weeks exploring LectureTools. I found LectureTools while doing a search on lecturing, lecture capture, and student engagement. I initially thought I was exploring another lecture-capture program, but was surprised by the content. If you have a large class, or a student population who seems connected to their digital device, you might find LectureTools helpful to enhance your learning environment. Let me share what I learned and explore some basic uses.

LectureTools is not lecture capture. It is a tool designed to help student engagement during your lecture. It offers a variety of ways for profs to build in interactive elements into the lecture -- students, typically via laptops or cell phones, can participate easily despite the size of the course. Professors prepare materials (stored in the cloud) that can include image maps, free response, rank orders, polls and during the lecture students can respond. Perhaps most useful (in my eyes) is the feature where students can take notes, note their confusion, and type questions the lecturer can address. So even students who may not typically speak up have the chance to be heard. {See more about the note-taking features:}.

An unexpected treat with the notes feature is the ability for the professor to go back, see where many students expressed confusion or interest, and modify future lessons or review information.  The site is intuitive to use and there are a lot of demonstrations, videos, screen shots, and the ability to request (and rapidly receive) a demo is easy. They also have a very interesting blog. It is worth a few moments to check out their website and explore the demo videos and overviews if you're teaching a class larger than mine (30 people) or if you are interested in exploring new ways to incorporate interactivity with students.

As a professor, I like the fact that I would be able to save previous lectures and use them in future classes. The interactive tools are very easy to incorporate (just clicks of buttons) and the tool could help those professors struggling to reach students in a large classroom environment. While in class, ideally, a TA would assist or monitor during discussions or live chats (also available). LectureTools is currently adapting to the changing landscape of higher education, too. They are currently working with new features to help add smart phones and iPads (safari-based devices).

My thoughts on LectureTools: it is an interesting way to reintroduce technology-based communication to enhance the learning environment. It would, however, work the best in larger courses and where students own their own laptops/cell phones, and where the professor can utilize a TA to help monitor (and rapidly respond) to questions/thoughts now available through the interactive capabilities of LectureTools.

Keep your eyes open for the upcoming safari-based changes from LectureTools and see if you can change the sometimes cavernous feeling of the large lecture hall by harnessing the true potential for interactivity among all of those students.

1 comment:

  1. I think it always depend on the person on how he would view this set-up. For me, I think it's better to have a private tutor if you know that your kids' classroom is as big as this. There's always a tendency that they would not pay attention to their classes.