New interactive teaching tool to be available for large lectures

LectureTools, a new interactive educational technology system developed at the university, goes beyond "clickers" to connect instructors and students in large lecture classes.

Perry Samson, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, developed the tool to facilitate a more engaging and active learning space for his 190-student class, Extreme Weather. Instructors used LectureTools in four other classes as well last semester.

LectureTools soon will be available as a standalone service to interested U-M faculty members. Faculty will be able to use LectureTools in courses, and they and their students can access it as a special feature through their CTools site. Interested faculty should contact Samson.

"LectureTools integrates lecture notes and student response systems," Samson says. "Students learn better by being actively engaged in the lecture, offering their own feedback and discussing with their peers, as LectureTools allows them to do."

In this new tool, students' laptops serve as the clickers of a student response system. Laptops enable a wider suite of question types than typical clickers that essentially let students answer a poll question and post the results in real time.

Students using LectureTools can take notes and make drawings directly on lecture slides, a unique feature. They can anonymously ask the instructor's aide a question through a chat window during class. They can rate their own understanding of each slide, giving the professor valuable feedback. If available, they can also watch a video podcast of the whole lecture after it's over.

"We're utilizing all the students' propensities and abilities to multitask," Samson says.

Ultimately LectureTools will include the option of access to a new type of online textbook.

Samson believes laptops in class are the way of the future, despite that some professors still ban them out of a belief they're distracting. Preliminary findings based on student surveys show laptops aren't hindering learning in Samson's class. Sixty-five percent of more than 140 students surveyed agreed their attentiveness, engagement and learning in class increased because of laptop use with LectureTools.

One of LectureTools' newest features (produced by engineering undergraduate Matt Viscomi) allows students in the large class to more easily find people they live near or share interests with. They can subsequently create personal study groups, Samson says.