As teachers, we know that if we can engage our students in the learning process, everyone wins. Engaging students in their learning necessarily means interactive teaching methods. These are the methods that have the students think and do during the lesson. Engaging the student in learning also means that we need to be able to follow their learning continuum and adapt our teaching approaches in response to this path (AKA: assessment for learning). Individualizing the learning for each student in a class of 30 is already a challenge. Individualizing the learning in a class of 300 is more than a challenge. But that is what we expect in undergraduate education. And in some schools – they are finding solutions.
Solution: Technology in classrooms
But like all educational tools, they are only as effective as their appropriate use.
There are a number of studies and initiatives that demonstrate useful approaches and effect on student engagement and learning using technology in the classroom. Recently, a study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) was published in a top journal . A study on 2 physics classes was conducted. Each class had over 250 students. The researcher compared the amount of learning students experienced when taught by traditional lecture and when taught using interactive activities. The interactive class had no formal lecture. Instead the instructor guided the +250 students through a series of activities including paired and small-group discussions and active learning tasks using remote-control “clickers” to provide feedback for in-class questions.
Not surprisingly, there was a difference. Some of the findings:
- Attendance improved by 20% in the interactive class
- Student engagement doubled in the interactive class
- Students in the interactive class scored almost twice as well on the physics test
Interactive teaching approaches make a difference. But how and when to incorporate interactive technology in teaching is not always self-evident to all teachers. Especially when a teacher has not received support on how to deliver interactive lessons.
The Carl Wieman Science Education is a 5-year ($12M) project that targets improving undergraduate science education. In addition to research on effective practices, the group has and continues to produce useful resources for science instructors including an Instructors Guide to the Effeffective Use of Personal Response Systems (Clickers) in Teaching and a series of video clips to support instructor learning.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the effect of these voting devices in the classroom is not about the use of technology. It is about how and why this technology is used that makes them effective. So once again – it relies on the teacher developing their lessons with the student at the center.