Using a Student Response System to Increase Engagement

Ever wonder how many of your students are grasping content as it is currently being delivered?  In looking over the sea of students in the classroom, I notice a vast collection of electronic devices – cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers.  Learning tied to technology could make a connection to not only content, but also a closer connection between the educator and student.

Fishing for Fun

In the quest to guide student learning, I feel a need to know that students are grasping key concepts necessary for learning outcomes and application to life beyond graduation.  Whether classes are small or large, I find only a handful of students verbally participate.  We know that students retain more knowledge when students are actively engaged versus passively listening or buried in their electronic devices.  Group activity can become predictable with strong students overshadowing quiet or weak students.

While fishing for an educational activity that is gratifying, low risk, and allows each student equal participation, one does not have to look far.  An innovative and interactive means to checking what students know and understand with high learner gratification is an audience response system.  Audience response systems can provide immediate evaluation of knowledge and foster meaningful discussion.

There are a variety of audience response systems that are categorized as hardware-based systems and internet or cloud-based systems.  I began using the hardware-based audience response system, TurningPoint, in 2010 while assisting faculty in the Nursing Program Simulation Lab.  The assigned labs in nursing courses are viewed as a bridge between the didactic and clinical courses.  By loading 5 to 10 questions into a power point using the TurningPoint software, we were able to engage the student in a review of didactic courses in preparation for lab or assist the learner in identifying their mastery of knowledge at the conclusion of lab.  As an instructor in the Simulation Lab, I found nothing sexier than technology, especially when it is fun and mysterious!

Fast forward to 2015, I fished for a cloud-based system to use in the classroom setting.  Poll Everywhere is free but limited to 25 users; this would not accommodate my classes with 44 students and the free version had limited features.  MQlicker and Top Hat are systems with no limit on audience size.  I decided to explore Top Hat since it is available through CSU Channel Islands’ Teaching & Learning Innovations and allows an interface with the Learing Management System (LMS), CI Learn.

Hook, Line & Sinker

While hooked on the use of TurningPoint Up, the use of a hardware-based system can be cumbersome.  I created power point slides in TurningPoint, lugged clickers to the classroom, and conducted the interactive learning session after distributing the clickers.  After the classroom session, I collected the clickers, and lugged them back to their stored location in the Nursing Program.  The distribution and collection of clickers seemed time consuming.

Hence, I decided to go “high tech” and free myself of clicker equipment, and constructively use the mobile tools students bring to class – cell phones, tablets, and/or laptops!  The design and platform of Top Hat allows faculty and students access both in the classroom and outside, in other words face-to-face or asynchronous.  Like other audience response systems, the content (e.g., questions with answers or topic lists) must be manually loaded into Top Hat.  Unlike the other audience response systems, Top Hat is tied to the CI Learn.  The questions or topics in Top Hat are tied to a course, allowing access to content when made available by faculty, and has capability to interface with grade center.  The questions or topics can be used in subsequent repeated courses since they are maintained under the faculty’s account.

The Catch

I have found the product features identified by Top Hat live up to their positive expectations.  Top Hat enhances attentiveness of all students through a techy connection to course content as well as between educator and the student.  I have found a renewed enthusiasm to learning leading to increase knowledge through active participation, greater in-depth discussion, and reinforcement of what is known and not known.

Top Hat LogoThe use of Top Hat assists me in gauging the degree of understanding at specific times throughout the course, such as during or after delivery of units of content or in preparation prior to examinations.  The use of multiple choice or multiple selection questions fosters critical thinking.  Students have actually asked for questions to be available outside the classroom hours, which is a feature in Top Hat.  In addition, Top Hat allows for anonymous responding or tracking of individual responses as well as data analysis.  Content may be better suited for open ended questions or discussion points; this can also be done using Top Hat.

Attempting to identify the understanding of content by each student during a class session can be time consuming and often unattainable due to time constraint.  Top Hat can evaluate student understanding in real time within 15 – 20 minutes!  The links below provide additional information on Top Hat.

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