Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Learning Innovation Fund Awards

Dr Eilish Mcloughlin - enhancing the learning environment using classroom response systems

Principal applicant

Dr Eilish McLoughlin

School or Unit

Physical Sciecnes

Additional Applicants

O. Finlayson, Chemical Sciences, odilla.finlayson@DCU.ie

G. McMahon, Chemical Sciences, gillian.macmahon@DCU.ie

P. van Kampen, Physical Sciences, paul.van.kampen@DCU.ie

Amount requested


Summary description

The pedagogic benefits of participation by students in lectures are unquestioned, but achieving the necessary levels of participation is very difficult, particularly in large classes. In this project we propose to implement and assess the benefits of an interactive classroom setting. In essence, the technology is that of the TV game show ?Who wants to be a millionaire??, with keypads that transmit student responses to a receiver/computer. This allows the instructor to offer alternative answers to a variety of questions, record and graphically-display the students? responses in real time, which can then serve as the basis for further discussion of the topic. This technology has the capability to involve every student, provide instant feedback during the learning process to individuals and the whole group, track performances over time, and alert the lecturer to non-attendance or non-participation by individuals.

Project URL


Strategic Objectives

Objective 1: Creating and sustaining a dynamic learning partnership: The Networking University', Objective 2: Development of a significantly enhanced learning environment : the campus as a Learning Hub', Objective 3.2: Development of learning communities', Objective 3.4: Assessment

Strategic Context

Traditional methods of teaching science are often knowledge- or memory-based. On the other hand, interactive learning promotes deeper learning, develops students' critical thinking abilities, collaboration and communication skills, which also lead to increased knowledge and its retention. This project builds on experience gained from pevious related awards, e.g. for development of a computer based learning (http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2000-2001/small-project-00-awards/ref8/; http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2002-2003/sml-prj-0-awards/ref22/) and promotion of group work (http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2000-2001/small-project-00-awards/ref20/ ; http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2001-2002/small-project-00-awards/ref7/; http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2001-2002/fellowship-sem1-awards/ref3/; http://odtl.DCU.ie/tlf/2002-2003/fellowship-0-awards/ref6/) which have made positive impacts on teaching within the faculty. Experience shows that classes are dramatically more interactive with more student questions during a class period, and

the level of the questions being higher. There are also higher retention levels of information presented in the form of a question followed by discussion around the variety of answers given. Textbook: ?Clickers in the Classroom - How to Enhance Science Teaching Using Classroom Response Systems?, by Douglas Duncan, University of Colorado, Pearson/Addison-Wesley.

Implementation Plan

Q: How will the project be carried out, and by whom?

The essential hardware and software will be assembled and an interactive classroom will be set up for teaching class groups of up to fifty students. In this trial phase second and third year class groups from Applied Physics, Analytical Science and Science Education taking Chemistry and Physics modules will be involved. Drs Finlayson, McLoughlin, McMahon and van Kampen will adopt the system in at least one module each for the academic year 2006-07.

Q: What specific objectives of the LI Strategic Plan will it address?

1. A distinguishing feature is the dynamic nature of the lecture as a teaching-learning event, thereby:

?Creating ?. a dynamic learning partnership: The Networking University?.

2. Likewise, the development of interactive classrooms would constitute:

?Development of a significantly enhanced learning environment??

3. The sense of a community generated by a class group simultaneously participating in a secret ballot, but knowing in real time how the rest of the class is voting, and having an opportunity for discussion then and there, would meet the objective:

?Development of learning communities?.?

4. Finally, assessment would be formative, feedback would be immediate, the students own performance in comparison to the whole class group would be known, hence the proposal meets the objective:

?Assessment ..will be used as a driver of good educational practice?.

Q: What is the pedagogical basis for the project?

In their use of wireless keypads in large physics classes, Burnstein and Lederman (The Physics Teacher, Vol 39, 2001, 8-11) found that when students? keypad responses accounted for more than 15% of the overall grade, student attendance increased dramatically, they stayed alert during class, and made ?genuine? attempts to prepare for the quizzes. In a study of 6000 physics students who took a standardized test at the end of the course Hake (American Journal of Physics, 66, 1988, 64-74) found that students using PRS scored 25% higher on the post-instruction exam than those who did not. Draper (http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/ilig/interim.html 2002) suggests that there are seven possible ways of using the technology in the classroom, 1. Assessment, 2. Instant feedback on learning, 3. Instant feedback to the lecturer on their teaching, 4. Peer assessment, 5. Community building, 6. Demonstrating human response experiments and 7. Encouraging debate. See links in section 8

Q: When will the project begin/when completed?

The project will commence in summer 2006 and will be implemented in the academic year 2006-07.

Q: Do you foresee any possible obstacles?

No obstacles are foreseen. The hardware is relatively simple and user comments on the software indicate relative ease in becoming familiar with it.


Q: How will the project improve learning for students?

In previous reported studies of the impact of PRS handsets into teaching; student retention, participation and learning have all been positively impacted. The students could assess their own progress in relation to classmates and some liked the ability to contribute opinion to the lecture and see what others think about it. They felt the lecturer had a better understanding of what to cover and what pace suited the class. For the lecturer it gave an instant measure on how well they were putting their ideas across, the ability of the class and an improved planning of time devoted to difficult material.

ID Logging into the system can be used to directly monitor student attendance and participation. One of the key features of this system is that feedback is instantaneous and can be easily exported into Excel for ongoing monitoring.

Q: How will you evaluate the extent of improvements?

The applicants will assess the impact of this technology on active participation in the lecture classes, and prepare a standard survey for all practitioners to collate the opinions of the students and the lecturers. The impact on retention will be evaluated by having colleagues not involved in this project undertake identical tests of retention (e.g. by short questions one week after a topic is first covered), and by the proposers carrying out similar tests on class groups for which the technology is not used.

Q: Are there opportunities for feedback?

The very essence of this project is the strong element of feedback ? immediate and widespread to the key stakeholders ? students and staf

Dissemination and Sustainability

The principal means of dissemination will be:

1. Publications and conference/workshop presentations on this innovative methodology.

2. Collection of case studies from different lecturers on how they used PRS handsets will be available online.

Compilation of a literature review to encompass the DCU experience over the year 2006-07 and international experience to date for third level science.

3. Wider dissemination of this project will be pursued at second level in conjunction with the NCTE, ISTA and Shaws

The sustainability of the project should be secure, given that the hardware is well tried and the replacement costs of the personal item is low (25 US dollars). This means that sustaining the practice will be within the compass of individual schools/faculties. However, it is hoped that the anticipated success will lead to the implementation of interactive classroom teaching as a widespread DCU activity and for much larger class groups.

Detailed budget

Supplier H-ITT class response system (http://www.h-itt.com/)

1. Fifty personal hand-held remote units at euro20 each: euro1000

2. Base unit: euro200

3. cables/adaptors: euro200

4. Computer: euro1000

5. Software: free

6. Summer internship for two summers (total of 6 months at euro1000 per month) euro6000

7. Contingency: euro600

Total Euro9000

Project is across two schools, and outcomes will be of university wide applicability, so funding at university level is appropriate

The total of euro9000 fopr a team project is not excessive. The bulk goes to an undergraduate student who will have the benefit of summer internships for two summers.

Other Information

Users comments:

"Principles of Biology went to a large section, team taught format in 2000-2001. During the fall semester, many students had a hard time keeping up with the material, and many said they had some difficulty with the differences in exam styles of the different unit instructors. We decided that having regular quizzes would be one way to help with both situations, but the idea of hand grading the quizzes would have been daunting. By using remote quizzing in the spring semester, we were able to give 3-6 quiz questions each lecture, give the students immediate feedback, and have their responses automatically graded and recorded. What was more pleasing was that the students seemed better prepared for both the subjects and styles of the exam. The classes' exam averages were about 10% higher in the spring than the fall, and it appeared that attrition was lower in the spring. We are really sold on remote quizzing."

- Dr. Fred Spiegel, Vice Chair Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas

"I like the immediate feedback the remote control technology provides. I can tailor my lecture to concentrate on the concepts the students are finding difficult and not waste time on concepts they were able to grasp from the text. You can't get that kind of 'on-the-fly' feedback from paper quizzes."

- Janet Mosebach, Department of Accounting, University of Arkansas

Students get

- Interactive participation during lectures

- Instant feedback to allow self-assessment

- Confidential student-to-teacher responses

- A vested interest in the answers

- Motivational incentives for correct responses

- Immediate correction of mistakes

- Increased confidence through knowledge

- A familiar handheld technology

- A more interesting learning environment

Professors get

- 100% student participation and attendance tracking

- Instant feedback to allow modification of the lecture

- Immediate validation that students understand the material

- To assess student progress without extra paperwork

- An instructor remote that provides the freedom to roam

- A simple, easy-to-use technology, campus-wide

- Integration with existing class materials and PowerPoint

- A more effective learning environment

Some links:





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