Instructors constantly look for new ways to make lectures and class time more engaging for students. Most students have access to some form of technology, such as a mobile device, laptop, or tablet—and are already using this technology in the classroom. How can teachers use this technology to improve students’ learning and engagement? One way is through LectureTools, a new program being explored at Ohio State. Using a web based platform, LectureTools offers teachers opportunities to create interactive presentations that encourage student participation. I was introduced to this technology recently, when I attended a session about it at this year’s Innovate! conference.
One of the key features of LectureTools is the ability for students to ask and answer questions on-line during class; instructors can either respond to students’ posts later or in real time. Instructors can also incorporate interactive questions like multiple choice, or visual image questions for students to respond to. Instructors can use students’ immediate feedback to adjust a course’s content, if needed. LectureTools also allows students to take notes directly onto an instructor’s course lecture slides.
LectureTools includes a metrics function that enables instructors to measure how students use the program. Instructors can use the analytics to optimize how the program is used for the course. For example, one Ohio State professor using LectureTools surveyed students about their preferences using the program. Students reported that the two program functions they used most were features that allowed them to ask questions and to annotate their class notes, directly on top of course lecture slides.
There are a few limitations with this emerging technology. While LectureTools is free for instructors, students have to pay a fee to create an account. Fees begin at $15 per course. An entire year costs $45, and a five-year subscription is available for $60. Registration fees are based on time frames rather than the number of courses, so a student’s account can be used to work with multiple courses at a time.
LectureTools currently is not synchronized for tablet use, deterring many students from using the program. The company expects that an iPad app and other tablet features will be available in the coming months. A company representative also reported that program developers are still addressing disability compliance concerns.
Some potential program users have wondered whether this technology, while offering some instructional benefits, might be more distracting to students during class times. For example, how would instructors know whether their students were on task or instead using Facebook?
Despite these constraints, LectureTools seems to be a promising technological tool that could help make traditional lectures more engaging and interactive for students.