Visit one of Animal Sciences’ lectures and you won’t see students quietly sitting in neat rows scribbling in their notebooks. Instead, you’ll see them furiously working their cell phones, iPads and laptops. Rather than texting and checking Facebook, they’re using their devices to view lectures and access supplemental information, solve problems posed by the instructor, take tests with instant feedback, cooperate on projects, and digitally interact with the instructor.
Increased class sizes and education costs, and a digitally fluent student body, have helped open doors for education-focused technology. Animal Sciences is among the first at Mizzou to embrace this trend.
The Division uses a web-based system that helps instructors encourage discussion, get a feel for how the classroom is following a complex subject and discover which students are mastering topics during and after a particular lesson or presentation. It also automates some laborious tasks – like grading paper quizzes – giving the instructor more time to interact with students.
Three Smart Classrooms
The system is housed in three smart classrooms in the Animal Science Research Center – the Wet Teaching Lab, the Auditorium and a lecture room where the desk chairs are designed to scurry around like roller skates.
In the Wet Teaching Lab, the most noticeable change is in the high-tech teaching podium. Here, the instructor can use a tabletop camera to zoom in on a dissection specimen or reproductive system. The camera’s images are shown on each of three high-definition screens in the lab – the main screen can be annotated by the instructor as if with a magic marker. Pre-staged movies, charts or other visual data also can be brought onto the screen to supplement the video image.
Bill Lamberson, professor of animal sciences, said the system also can be hooked up to a microscope. Before the smart screen, students would have to come to a microscope individually to see a slide.
“It was always difficult to know exactly what the student was seeing through the microscope,” Lamberson said. “Now, we can show the entire class the slide and point out what is important. We can teach more material faster, but better yet, it improves the quality of teaching.”
The 270-seat Auditorium has a similar system where most nutrition, physiology and general courses are taught. But the traditional 50-minute lecture is not what’s happening here.
An Interactive Way to Deliver Instruction
In the new system, course materials – lecture notes, videos, slideshows, handouts and charts – can be posted online before class allowing students to preview the materials. This also allows use of curriculum that reach students with various learning styles and give students the opportunity to review repeatedly until the concepts are understood.
Lamberson said this reduces the time the instructor needs to devote to lecture and increases the time available to interact with students. Students can learn at home and practice at school, he continued, freeing up valuable class time. If the rote learning is done primarily at home, class time can be dedicated to individual work, group discussions or peer mentoring.
Lamberson said he typically lectures for 10 to 15 minutes and then provides questions or problems to the students’ devices to see how well they are absorbing the material. Students provide answers via a private website that is created for each course — there’s even a dedicated address so students can text-message their answers. The technology is designed to format itself based on the device, so anyone with a laptop, phone or tablet will find it easy to participate.
The real-time aspect of feedback is very useful, Lamberson said. It allows the instructor to zoom down to an individual student or check class-wide response percentages. If the class is comprehending a topic early, the instructor can go to the next one. If the class is struggling, the instructor can spend more time or bring movies or charts that better illustrate the idea.
Some instructors use an opening quiz and a closing quiz to see what kinds of improvements the class made from the lecture. Lamberson likes the ability to create on-the-fly, real-time quizzing. The software allows him to craft numerical problems or questions with word answers. That question can be immediately pushed out – with a timer counting down the minutes until the students’ deadline.
It’s not just multiple choice questions. Instructors can create drag-and-drop questions where students link an answer to the appropriate question. Videos or animated demonstrations can be pulled in that allow students to interact with imagery. There’s also a function for fill-in-the-blank questions.
Lamberson said the software provides immediate and automated answers – letting students who have achieved comprehension go onto the next subject. Students who get it wrong can go back and review the course material and try again.
The service also has a feature that assigns homework and tracks in-class grades – a big time saver for the instructor who can offload homework to an automated system. The system also is a painless way to gauge attendance.
Students can ask questions via their devices during lectures without interrupting. The system can be set up so questioners get instant feedback from other students.
Another time-saver Lamberson likes is how the software allows instructors to import content that other professors have created. Mizzou Animal Sciences professors can share their materials with colleagues at other institutions, or re-use material from semester to semester.
Lamberson said the level of monitoring and interactivity is limited only by the instructor’s goals and comfort level with the technology. Lamberson and Anne McKendry, associate professor of agronomy, were the first at MU to use this process.
Roll, Roll, Roll Your Classroom
Adjacent to the auditorium is a lecture room where the chairs look like overgrown roller skates. They move that way, too.
The idea is to take full advantage of the digital interactivity going on, Lamberson said. It is also a good space to handle problem-based learning (PBL). PBL is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving. Rolling themselves into groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding and monitoring the learning process.
A Collaborative Project
The smart classrooms were funded through a joint effort by CAFNR’s Academic Programs Office, Animal Sciences and the Office of the Provost. CAFNR’s Educational Technology Unit supports it. CAFNR’s Educational Technology program provided support to instructors and students using these technologies with their Academic Technology Liaison graduate students. The two software systems used are Top Hat Monocle and Tegrity.
Top Hat is a Toronto-based company whose software is used by 65,000 college students at 150 universities across North America, including Harvard and Johns Hopkins. Normally, Top Hat makes money by offering the service to professors for free while charging students a subscription fee of $20 per semester. Animal Sciences picks up the cost at MU.
Tegrity is a lecture-capture system owned by McGraw Hill.
Top Hat reports that classes using its system have seen a 3 to 5 percent improvement in average grades.
How do the students like the setup? “I think they like it,” Lamberson said. “They ask me why Animal Sciences students have the best classrooms on campus.”