A few thoughts on classroom interaction – Mary Power

Student engagement, participation and attendance are all pieces of the same puzzle in my mind. A puzzle that becomes more complex as class size increases. I’d like to share a couple promising ideas using technology that I have seen recently and that I believe can be used to help solve this puzzle.

While having lunch with chemistry instructor and friend, Dara Gilbert, we got to talking about how much she enjoyed using the Tablet PC that CTE had loaned her. She said she really believed that it helped keep the students engaged and on task during class. It also helped her keep lectures more spontaneous than when she used fully completed PowerPoint slides. To make the experience even better she wished she could walk around the class handing the tablet to students to have them solve problems; however, the projectors in our classrooms only talk to the podium. Mulling this over later I thought about the possibility of desktop sharing. I enlisted our math liaison, Paul Kates, to help me try it out in a classroom. We initially tried the desktop sharing feature in UW-ACE, not very successfully I am afraid (but I later found out this was probably due to outdated Java on my tablet). We then moved to a free download called TeamViewer, which worked very well. Once loaded, the connection between the two desktops was almost instantaneous.  Until portable devices can communicate directly to the podium or projectors I think this might be a good workaround and I am looking forward to hearing how it works in a real classroom.

This term I have also spent some time talking to a young entrepreneur, who happens to be a current UW PhD student,  who’s company has developed a model for interactive learning called TopHat Monocle CAT. The CAT stands for computer-assisted teaching and with TopHat students can use their laptops, and eventually handheld devices, in the classroom to answer questions, take quizzes, and even complete interactive simulations. The instructor can track all the data live to see how well concepts are getting across, as well as have it for grades if required. They have beta tested on campus in two courses this term and will have three more this summer.  They also have a presentation at the Opportunities and New Directions conference here later this month, which will be worth checking out.

I am sure there are many other exciting things being tried/used in classrooms to keep the learning happening – some using technology, others not.  I would love to hear what people are doing both on campus and off! — Mary Power


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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Mary Power

As Senior Instructional Developer, Blended Learning, Mary Power develops programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with faculty liaisons, Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), and Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services (ITMS), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. Mary is also involved in research projects related to the impact and effectiveness of blended learning.

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