I am always looking for ways to enhance interactivity in the classroom at Emory University, where I teach neurobiology and biochemistry. If you are teaching larger classes of a hundred or more, you know that you have to be pretty creative to make this happen. Many educators have turned to using clickers as a tool to get real-time feedback on student understanding, but I have changed over to using a great tool called Learning Catalytics in my flipped-biochemistry class.
What is the tool?
This interactive student response tool developed by Pearson is an online system that allows educators great versatility in the design of questions and permits the use of multiple response devices like smart phones, laptops, computer pads, etc. My sleepy lecture classes have become fully engaged, group-learning environments where students are encouraged to peer-teach. I usually start by simultaneously posting the question on the classroom screen and student devices, and then walk around with my teaching assistants to check-in with student groups (2-4 students) and help them think about how to answer the question. I privately check on the percent correct values for responses to the question, and if it is low, I ask students to turn to neighboring groups and convince them they are correct. The answers are then posted anonymously and students can see how the entire class performed. This provides two advantages: first students that gave incorrect answers can easily see that they were not alone in their thinking and secondly, I use student responses to teach why certain answers were incomplete and what other pieces of knowledge were required to answer the question correctly.
What kinds of questions can you write?
There are 20 different types of questions that you can ask in Learning Catalytics including: composite sketch, data collection, image upload, region, sketch, and of course multiple choice. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of variability in how you can ask questions and what types of information you can emphasize. I have included examples of a couple below. The region type of question asks students to identify what parts of an image answer a question. In the example below, you can see that I ask students to identify parts of a bacterial cell but there is no reason the same template can’t be used to ask about musical notes in a score or to identify countries on a map. Students simply touch their screen or click in the correct region to answer.
The second example is of the sketch type – here I am asking students to draw a curve on a plot that correctly shows the effects of certain molecules on enzyme activity. As you can see, this format allows you to sketch an image on an image you provide so it can just as easily be used to draw out extra parts on a simple image you plan to share or any particular mathematical equations or shapes you can think of. Students sketch with their fingers.
Use the V0 versus [aspartate] plot for ATCase below to indicate how CTP and ATP affect V0 when [aspartate] = 5 mM.
Some helpful hints on how to use the tool.
I have developed some perspectives in using this tool that may prove helpful. When using images in your questions, you will want to make sure they are large enough to be seen clearly on the screen and on student devices. Resist the desire to include images that are too complex to be seen clearly. I recommend test running any images that are in question to make sure they work. Also, it is a good idea to include questions that overlap in terms of the items you wish the students to learn. In this way, when students perform poorly on a certain question, you can give them a follow-up question to assess learning.
How can you find out more?
The best place to start is to go to the Learning Catalytics website: https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/products-services-teaching/learning-engagement-tools/learning-catalytics.html.
There are videos about how to use this system and examples of how this system is used in courses by other academics. Although my work is at the post-secondary level, there is no reason why this versatile product cannot be equally effective in secondary schools. I recommend calling Pearson and asking them to send a representative to demonstrate the system for you and your colleagues. One of the many great aspects of using Learning Catalytics is that it does not require you or your students to purchase any new equipment – so you can start using it right away.
Just in case you are wondering, I am not employed by Pearson and there are no conflicts of interest in writing this article. I just happen to think this is a great tool.