Since the University launched of a new version of LectureTools last fall, professors and students have found both benefits and drawbacks from utilizing the program in the classroom.
LectureTools was created by Perry Samson, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, and is a web-based program that allows students to access lecture materials on their laptops, mobile phones and tablets. Professors can also form interactive lectures in which students can ask and answer questions in real time, and responses can be displayed once students have finished an activity.
LectureTools has been rapidly replacing the use of iClickers in large University lecture halls as a more efficient method of tracking student participation and engagement.
“I tried using clickers in class, and they’re pretty good at getting student responses, but they didn’t allow me to ask the kinds of questions that I wanted to ask,” Samson said. “So I just started writing this code to allow students to respond to a wider range of questions.”
Nursing Prof. Ellen Smith said she incorporates LectureTools into her class in order to better engage her students. She added that she a hopes to improve student perceptions of her class, which previously received low student reviews at the end of the semester.
“The class evaluations have now improved dramatically,” Smith said. “There are definitely students who say that they have really enjoyed the LectureTools, and it has kept them more engaged. So I think that definitely has been a plus.”
Sociology Prof. Terrence McGinn added that the question-asking feature of LectureTools allows students who may feel uncomfortable participating in a large classroom setting to participate without feeling pressured.
Nursing sophomore Shelby Epstine said the program has helped her to feel more at ease participating in large lectures.
“(LectureTools) allows you to ask a question and then the GSI is able to answer it,” Epstine said. “This is helpful for me because questions are answered right on the spot.”
Smith said one of the drawbacks to LectureTools is that participation in activities requires students to have laptops or cell phones. They must have power for their devices for long periods of time, as well as access to an Internet connection or cell phone signal — which is often difficult for large lecture halls to accommodate — according to Smith.
“Sometimes (my students are) taking notes via LectureTools on the Web, and they lose their Internet connection,” Smith said. “Or, I’m asking them a question in class — and they get credit for class participation — and so the technology has to work in order for that to be effective as a technique, and sometimes it doesn’t work.”
LSA sophomore Katarina Fabre agreed that the LectureTools technology has been somewhat unreliable and difficult to use in University lecture halls.
“(LectureTools) tends to be very glitchy, and sometimes slides are hidden and won’t unhide,” Fabre said. “It can be very frustrating and just slows down the whole lecture.”
McGinn said the University is working on troubleshooting the cell phone signal in lecture halls to allow students who do not have laptops or are not connected to the Internet to participate in the activities on their mobile phones.
Additionally, Samson said his team has come up with two potential solutions, both of which would allow students to access full lecture notes offline.
“One (idea) is simply a button where at the end of class you can save everything as a PDF, so you can have your slides and your notes and you can download them to your computer, and when you don’t have Internet connection you can study offline,” Samson said.
Samson added that another idea to provide students with offline access to notes would involve giving professors the option of automatically e-mailing a PDF file complete with slides and notes to the class for future reference.
Samson said he hopes to have a solution to fix the Internet failures in classrooms soon. He added that LectureTools is undergoing further development, and he hopes that by next fall the website will be incorporated into online textbooks.
“As you’re typing your notes in class, we could be automatically making hints or linkages between the notes you’re taking and the information in your textbooks,” Samson said. “We’re just trying to think about what’s next.”