Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

LectureTools startup launches iPad app to keep students engaged and organized

A new iPad app that aims to make large lecture classes feel smaller is believed to be the platform's first integrated, student-response, note-taking and inquiry system with cloud-based storage, say the developers of LectureTools. 

The product, created by a U-M startup of the same name, spun out of research by Perry Samson, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, who has won awards for his teaching practice.

  Watch LectureTools’ video about its new iPad app.

The Web-based LectureTools system has been available for laptops for several years, and more recently for cell phones. Thousands of U-M students in dozens of classes have utilized the research version of the system since it became available two years ago.

As educational institutions from kindergarten through college increasingly explore iPad-in-class initiatives, app developers and educators say LectureTools' latest foray could be transformative.

"LectureTools is the first end-to-end learning platform in the app store and we look forward to seeing how campuses, K-12 schools, and corporations use our application. We think that this app provides an opportunity for iPads to be used in a more direct, engaging way," says Jason Aubrey, LectureTools co-founder who graduated from U-M in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in political science.

The system is an alternative to the traditional clicker-based student response system, and it harnesses the potential of mobile electronic devices to facilitate active learning, rather than to serve as distractions.

Through LectureTools, instructors can present students with interactive activities, including multiple-choice, free-response and image-based questions, and students can respond using their mobile device, now including iPads. Students also can relay comprehension concerns about particular slides to the instructor, or submit specific questions that instructors or teaching assistants can view and answer as they arise. Answered questions become anonymously visible to every student in the class and they are saved so they can be reviewed later.

Students can type notes right on instructors' lecture slides and mark slides they found confusing or important for later review.

Together, these features create a central location where students can access all of their study materials to help them stay organized and engaged.

A powerful feature that sets the LectureTools iPad app apart, developers say, is its cloud-based storage. Anything added to the app instantly is available online through students' LectureTools Web accounts. This is important in situations where students only have access to iPads in the classroom, but not in the evenings for homework.

"Research shows that use of laptops or cell phones in class can increase student engagement, despite their potential for distraction, when Web applications that encourage student participation are employed. Now that iPads have become more popular with learners, we've expanded our technology to take full advantage of these devices," Samson says.  "If you give students a chance to participate, they will."

The research version of LectureTools received funding from the National Science Foundation. The Ann Arbor-based company utilized resources from U-M's TechArb business incubator and worked extensively with the Venture Center at the U-M Office of Technology Transfer.

Instructors interested in using LectureTools must create accounts online before they invite students to download the app.