How to hold students' attention in large lectures: Reach out through their laptops and cell phones

Aug 25, 2011

This fall, more than 4,000 University of Michigan students in nearly 20 classes will be utilizing LectureTools, an interactive presentation tool that harnesses the potential of laptops and cell phones to serve as learning aids rather than distracting devices.

Perry Samson, an atmospheric science professor who has taught courses with hundreds of students in them, designed LectureTools as a way to improve student interaction and retention in large lectures.

"The key is to engage students through their laptops or cellphones, so they don't drift off onto ," said Samson, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. "We've shown we can do that."

A U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching study of the research version of LectureTools found that its use significantly increased and attentiveness.

The research version has been available on a limited basis for the past two years. Now, Samson and his colleagues have commercialized the technology through a U-M spinout company also called LectureTools Inc. and based in Ann Arbor. LectureTools the company has improved the tool's interface and made the system easier to use for both professors and students. The upgraded system also allows students to engage through their cell phones.

LectureTools is a web-based student response, note-taking, and inquiry system. Through it, instructors can present students with interactive activities, which students can respond to using either their laptop or . Students can relay comprehension concerns about particular slides to their instructor, or submit specific questions that instructors or can view and answer as they arise. Answered questions become anonymously visible to every student in the class, and they are saved into an archive of student inquiry.

Students can type notes right in the system, alongside the instructor's slides, and they can mark slides they find confusing for later review. Likewise, the instructor can see slide-by-slide how many are confused. Together, these features create a central location for students to access all of their study materials, which can help them be organized and engaged, and give feedback for instructors to view during or after class.

"It really does make large classes seem small. It increases interaction in old-fashioned ways too," said Mika Lavaque-Manty, associate professor of political science. "More raise their hands. It's very cool."

LectureTools began as a research project, which received funding from the National Science Foundation. The company also utilized resources from the TechArb, an incubator space provided by the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship. And it worked extensively with the Venture Center at the U-M Office of Technology Transfer.

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More information: www.lecturetools.com/

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