While many University professors eschew the use of laptops and cell phones during class, a growing number are embracing the technology to enhance learning.

Through the program LectureTools, about 2,800 students in 35 classes at the University are to taking notes that sync to each PowerPoint slide in a lecture. The University released a new version of LectureTools this fall, which enables students to mark slides they think are confusing or important. The program also allows students to ask and answer questions anonymously using a laptop, cell phone or tablet computer.

LectureTools was created when Perry Samson, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, heeded the requests of his students who wanted his large lecture to be more interactive. Samson developed the program and started using the first version of LectureTools five years ago.

Schools around the country including Indiana University, The Ohio State University, Michigan State University and Texas A&M University are also using LectureTools. Because of the high demand for the program, Samson and his team have made LectureTools into a commercial product, though professors at the University of Michigan can still use it free of charge.

Challenging the assumption that laptops are always distracting to students, studies conducted by Samson demonstrate increased student attentiveness during classes when using LectureTools. The Center for Learning and Teaching also conducted studies that have shown similar results.

“We’re seeing that there is generally an upside, and students are able to ask questions and interact more, and we have far more discourse in class than I’ve ever had in my 32 years teaching here,” Samson said.

Samson added that this semester he is experimenting with allowing students to access LectureTools on their laptops during his lectures. He has a team of Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program students helping him study the benefits and drawbacks this has for students.

Though he didn’t disclose details of upcoming LectureTools projects, Samson said he and his team have plans for improvements to the program.

“There’s something coming that could literally change classes, and the way you study that would integrate LectureTools with a variety of other resources,” Samson said.

Mika LaVaque-Manty, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and an associate professor of political science and philosophy at the University, has been using LectureTools for three years. Though he said it took him a while to adjust to the multitasking it requires, he also said it has helped him improve his teaching methods and make his classes more interactive.

“Students feel more comfortable about raising their hands or they feel comfortable about having a five-minute conversation during a large class because of LectureTools,” he said.

The only drawback is the time it takes for students and teachers to get used to the program’s functions, LaVaque-Manty said.

“Some students have different kinds of learning styles so they prefer old-fashioned pen-and-paper note taking, and that’s totally fine by me,” LaVaque-Manty said. “I make LectureTools optional.”

Josephine Kurdziel, a lecturer IV of biology at the University who has used LectureTools for three years, said the program makes it possible for her to gauge students’ understanding of concepts in large lectures. The program enables her to get students actively engaged in the material, especially because LectureTools allows students to anonymously ask questions and receive answers from her and the graduate student instructors during lectures.

“If students are just kind of there and the instructor isn’t asking many questions, they’re just passively listening, and that isn’t the most effective way to remember material,” Kurdziel said. “You have to kind of work with the ideas.”

LSA freshman Lindsay Rothfield said LectureTools is useful for taking notes and following along during class, but she wishes it had more features.

“It’s very limited in how you can organize so you can only put bullets, and I like to organize my notes with many different bullets and dashes,” she said.

LSA freshman Maxwell Geisendorfer said LectureTools is useful to him in his political science class. His only complaint is that occasionally a slide doesn’t show up.

“Other than that, it’s just generally useful, especially in such a large lecture hall,” he said. “There are almost 300 people in that class so it’s like each person has a more personalized way of looking at the lecture notes.”

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