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Engaging a 2,670-student-class by utilizing technologies

Have you ever taught a large class with 200 or 300 students? If so, you should know how difficult it is to teach a large class.

What about, then, teaching more than 2,000 students in a classroom? How can you handle that?

One recent article in the Chronicle in Higher Education really inspired me to rethink about teaching a large class.

John Boyer, who teaches "World Regions" course at Virginia Tech explores how technology can help engage students from 600 to nearly 3,000 students in a big classroom. And it was shown that students do learn from the class while some people doubt the effectiveness of the class in terms of student learning.

To me, the most interesting thing he does is the 'virtual' office hours.

Before starting the office hours, his assistant sends out alerts through Facebook and twitter. Then, students including his former students attend the office hours either off-line (i.e., come in person and sit in his office couch) or on-line.

Then, he takes questions through instant messages and 'broadcasts' his answers via 'Ustream', a free Web platform that lets anyone broadcast a video feed through a Webcam.

Isn't that cool?

Another way of utilizing technology is to let student tweets tagged with the class hashtag. ,

Also, he often invites students to text their responses to a poll to choose a topic for the day (FYI, 'Chime In' is a similar system developed by the U of M CLA IT group that lets students respond to a poll via internet or text messages).

Oh, and I should tell you one more thing he does. He has been inviting famous people (e.g., Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar's pro-democracy leader) to do a Skype interview in his class. To make that possible, he recorded videos showing the large crowd of students blowing noisemakers and chanting their names and posted them on Youtube.

What a bold and great idea!

I believe it was not only the technologies but also his knowledge in interactive teaching methods that helped engage a large crowd of students into learning.

I think these techniques, especially virtual office hours using Ustream, can be useful in all types of classes (off line, online, or hybrid).

If you have time, I do recommend to read through the original Chronicles of Higher Education article.

The result of U of M iPad Project


College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at U of M initiated an iPad pilot project in 2010 fall, providing iPad for the entire freshman class (about 450 undergraduate students) in the college. (If you want to know more about the project, read this previous blog posting)

Now the college published a Year One report explaining what they learned from the project.

In the report, they explain what they learned from using iPad in classrooms in six broad categories:

1. Reducing the digital divide: Instructors expressed optimism that the iPad could reduce the digital divide in the classroom. They emphasized finding apps that are free or very inexpensive for students.

2. Increased Media Production: Instructors frequently asked students to create media using their iPad, including development of individual photo journals, e-documents, speeches with image projections, short movies on a course theme, photomontages of images, and pictures or videos for class presentation.

3. Increased Personal Productivity: Instructors were positive about the convenience
and ease of accessing email and calendars on the iPad, and many used the iPad to schedule appointments or send email to students "on-the-spot" during class.

4. Increased information Literacy: Instructors and students agree that information access and consumption is one of the primary strengths of the iPad. And students used iPad to do many kinds of class preparation and research activities resulting in increased information literacy of students.

5. Sustainable classroom: To reduce the use and related cost of traditional course materials and to take advantage of the features of the iPad, some faculty, for example, used an e-version of required texts, encouraged students to access and annotate course readings via a reader app, and checked and sent assignments using their iPads.

6. Learning Beyond the classroom: Several faculty members developed curriculum that used the iPad to change the learning context. For example, in an introduction to psychology course students used the portability of the iPad and the college's online survey tool to collect data in the community related to their research questions.

For more information, read the executive summary of the report or the full report.

Video Ant: A video annotation tools

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of the Higher Education, it is found in a new study that many online instructors aren't taking advantage of interactive instructional tools like online video. Instead, the professors are relying on static (i.e., text based) course materials and assignments. These text-based course materials aren't likely to motivate students very much.

For instructors who are using or planning to use video in their courses, I would like to introduce the 'Video Ant (', an easy video annotation tools created by U of M.

video ant screen2.jpg

Using video ant, students can critique and annotate their idea about a video on Youtube or Media Mill.

You can find more information and video tutorials of Video Ant in Video Ant Blog.

As an example of utilizing the Video Ant, Tani Bialek, an instructor in OLPD let her online course students find a video on Youtube related to the course topic. And then, students are required to discuss, critique, and annotate it. The annotated videos are then posted on the Moodle site for all students in the course to view.

Read more about Bialek's story in another TEL blog entry.

Engagement and Wonder

The Chronicle interviewed Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, the famous (at least in my world) and inventive professor who creates engaging, learner-oriented lessons with YouTube, Twitter, Google Docs, and many other types of technology. (See his World Simulation project for just one example.)

The key theme of the article is that it is not technology that makes these lessons amazing; it is the fact that the technology helps create an environment of wonder, exploration, and connectedness. We know this already, from the literature and best practices - students who are engaged with other students and their professor are more likely to be successful (see Quality Matters among many others), students learn better when they can scaffold (Bloom's taxonomy, e.g.) and apply what they learned previously to new situations, etc. But it is an easy point to lose track of in the exciting world of tablets, simulations, and mobile learning.

Good teaching is good teaching. Technology can facilitate good teaching. Technology for technology's sake is not useful and can distract from learning.

Finally, follow Michael Wesch for inspiring uses of technology to create engaged learners.

Online instructor shares best practices for teaching online

books-on-comp.jpegTeaching a hybrid or online course requires different teaching strategies, in part because instructional methods can feel limited to the technology tools available. Using the tools commonly available in a course management system, like discussion, glossary and wikis to engage students and achieve positive learning results can feel like a major challenge. Choosing the appropriate activities and relevant tools to meet specific learning objectives is especially important in learning environments where face-to-face contact is limited or non-existent.

To provide an example of an instructor's success in creating meaningful learning activities using the tools in Moodle, Digital Campus spoke to Tani Bialek, an online instructor of 6 years. Bialek teaches both online and hybrid courses and has experienced firsthand the benefits of using technology to increase engagement and participation. She shares some of her best practices as well as useful advice to instructors considering teaching online.

Collaborative writing

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Mitch Ogden discusses the differences between cooperative and collaborative writing. The 21st century marks the impulse to write collaboratively and the digital tools to turn that impulse into reality. Focusing on Wikis & Google documents, Ogden shares how we can use these tools to write collaboratively.

For more information about 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event, see That web page provides an overview of the event and links to the Google Site.

Open engagement" by "20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event

A platform that facilitates open learning and encourages engagement and collaboration.

For more information about 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event, see That web page provides an overview of the event and links to the Google Site

Adding a face & voice to online learning

Who says online learning has to be impersonal, detached and a lonely endeavor? Who says online classes are about staring at a screen full of content with minimum interaction with course mates?

Many faculty members are challenging these misconceptions by incorporating technology in their online classes as well as harnessing the capabilities of web 2.0 to increase student engagement and boost online student retention rates. A few faculty members at Lexington Theological Seminary are no exception. Several faculty members at the seminary have introduced technology into its online classes that allows students and faculty to interact via video and audio, as reported in an article by Campus Technology. Known as the MegaMeeting, the program lets instructors show PowerPoint slides, post questions to students on a noteboard application, teach using audio in addition to supporting text chat features.

MegaMeeting's potential for building a sense of community among online students who would otherwise never meet face-to-face is great. Instructors are able to set up virtual rooms (not unlike virtual chat rooms) that are available 24/7 so that students can meet with one another to collaborate on group projects and work on their assignments. One of the faculty members who have been using MegaMeeting said one of the advantages of this program is its ability to let students see the professor and vice versa, which is not (yet) too common in other online programs. In addition, the audio and video features of this program allow students to discuss articles and readings as well as ask questions during lesson time. In typical online courses, students would likely have to do that via emails.

Lexington Theological Seminary has already set up several online communities in its learning management system, which allows students to communication freely with one another about courses and professors without staff intervention. These online communities are Lexington's efforts to foster relationship-building amongst its online learners. However, the method of combining video and audio, and using the program's applications to its fullest in the classroom has enabled faculty members to bring this relationship to a whole new level.

If you cant beat them, join them.

tweeties_free_twitter_icons1.jpgThat is what some lecturers are saying about social media in the classroom. Lecturers these days face an uphill battle to get students to stay focused especially when laptops and mobile devices are considered not just communication tools but extensions of students' identity, without which students seemed entirely lost and helpless. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little here but most students these days are rarely seen without some sort of mobile devices and that can be a huge source of distraction for them as many lecturers have found. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, some lecturers favor outright obstruction such as banning laptops and mobile devices as well as attempting to shut off internet access. These lecturers belong to the school of thought that social media sites such as Twitter are just "attention-bankrupting" sites with little or no educational value. Others have gotten more creative and have joined students on the social media bandwagon in order to better engage them. Their efforts have paid off.

In a new study, reported in the article, it was discovered that using Twitter in the classroom might actually lead to greater engagement and more importantly, higher grades as long as Twitter is used for relevant educational activities. The study also discovered that Twitter was able to deepened relationships among students in the class. Through discussing course work, the students realized they shared similar values and interests and were thus able to build strong relationships across diverse groups.

Instructors such as Dr. Rankin and Professor David Parry who had used Twitter as an instructional tool in their previous courses have mostly sung praises of it. Both were pleasantly surprised at how successful Twitter had been in extending the conversation beyond the classroom and in promoting engagement. Dr. Rankin discovered that Twitter was able to increase participation in the classroom because students were able to overcome their shyness and fear of speaking in front of an audience when using Twitter. Professor David Parry has also discovered that Twitter, in providing a platform for students to continue their discussion after class period was over, was able to keep students interested and engaged for longer periods of time. They were therefore able to have richer discussions than hour-long class sessions would allow.

Want to learn how you can increase student participation and engagement through the use of social media tools? I recently wrote a blog post on the various ways instructors can and have use(d) social media in the classroom, which would probably be a great starting point if you want to explore the various ways you can use social media for educational purposes.

Learn how to incorporate social media in the classroom

web 2.0 state of mind.jpegThe question to ask students these days is no longer "if" they are on social media sites but rather "which" ones. As web 2.0 become more commonplace and integral into the lives and daily activities of students, can instructors afford not to keep up with the trends in the social media world? Can they afford not to speak the "language" of web 2.0? In order to engage students in the classroom and enhance their learning, the answer is a flat "no."

Yet many instructors, who grew up in the non-web 2.0 era find it hard, if not intimidating, to effectively harness the power of web 2.0 in their teaching. Dian Schaffhauser, in Campus Technology, shares a list of foolproof and unintimidating methods for incorporating social media applications into the classroom from using Facebook and Twitter to blogs and remote videoconferencing. Methods that Schaffhauser claims are guaranteed to work for even the most squeamish instructor. What I found most useful about the guide is the list of free alternatives to otherwise expensive engagement tools like the clicker or other content management systems.

As listed in the article:
4 Itty-Bitty Content Tools
7 Lures to Hook Faculty into Training
5 Ploys for Going Viral
4 Simple Steps to Setting Up a Facebook Account for Teaching
5 Friendly Ways to Use Facebook in Your Teaching
6 Quick Responses-to-Faculty Questions<
1 FREE Alternative to Clickers
15 Twitter Tips

It is amazing how useful web 2.0 can be in increasing participation, collaboration, interaction and engagement. Instead of absorbing content passively, students can now share ideas and interact with one another. Though all the tips provided by Schaffhauser are useful depending, some sites and applications might work better than others depending on the instructor's goal and types of engagement. "6 quick responses-to-faculty questions" is incredibly useful for instructors who have a goal in mind but do not know which (free) sites to use.

For some instructors like Dr. Monica Rankin of the University of Texas at Dallas, who have been using Twitter in the classroom with much success, Schaffhauser's guide might come as old news. Dr. Rankin discovered that Twitter helped increase participation in the classroom because digital communication helps students overcome their shyness and fear of speaking in front of an audience. Other instructors who have incorporated Twitter in their teaching have also discovered that the benefits of Twitter go beyond the classroom. Prof David Parry at the University of Texas discovered that chatter during class spilled over into the students' free time outside of class. This means that Twitter, because it is a convenient platform (many can access it via their mobile phones), can help students remain engaged in the subject matter and conversation with fellow classmates well after class is no longer in session. For many instructors struggling to increase classroom participation and engagement beyond the classroom, Twitter might just be the answer.

5 Higher Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2010


Campus Technology

5 Higher Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2010

* By Bridget McCrea
* 12/09/09

There aren't too many corners of higher education that technology hasn't infiltrated. From admissions to financial aid to the classroom and everything in between, nearly all aspects of college are being handled in some way by the applications, hardware, and gadgets that help institutions work more efficiently.

Don't expect much of that to change in 2010 as more technology is developed and introduced to the higher education market. To make your trend-spotting activities easier, we spoke with some higher education technology experts and came up with these five top tech trends to watch in the new year.

1. More Interactive Classrooms
The days when professors lectured to a class of blank, unresponsive faces are long gone. Today, both students and educators are tapping technology to make the classroom environment more interactive and dynamic. Purdue University's Web-based Hotseat application, which allows students to use handheld devices to interact with professors in the classroom environment, is just a taste of what's to come.

"Anything that helps make the classroom more interactive, animated and engaging--be it multimedia, streaming video or some other innovation--will be in demand this year," said Gregory Phelan, chair of the department of chemistry and associate professor at SUNY College at Cortland in New York, which is upgrading its facilities to include streaming video that professors can access via the server while teaching (rather than "carrying" the content with them into class). "We'll be there soon."

2. More Information at Your Fingertips
In an era when information just can't be produced quickly enough, electronic book readers, smart phones, search engines, and other tools will continue to create an educational environment where both students and teachers have everything they need at their fingertips. "This faster access to information is going to change the classroom dynamic," Phelan predicted. "It will impact the way in which lessons are taught, and how students do their work."

Phelan pointed to the colleges that are "handing out" tablet PCs to all freshmen as the frontrunners in the race to equip students with all of the information they need to succeed in school. Whether other universities follow that lead remains to be seen. "I'd really like to see more schools making that move," said Phelan, "and even further integrate technology into the college classroom."

3. Mashed-Up Technologies
Technological equipment and software that serves a single purpose has gone the way of the 8-track tape and will continue to fade in 2010 as more users learn to "mash up" their technologies into more useful packages. "Students are using every communication vector that they can get their hands on right now," said Ron Hutchins, associate vice provost for research technology and CTO at Georgia Institute of Technology's Office of Information Technology. "It just makes sense that they would mash those technologies together and make them more specific and customizable."

Take online maps, for example. Once thought of as standalone applications that help the user get from Point A to Point B in the fastest, most efficient manner, online maps can now be integrated into other applications, such as location-based e-mail programs. "These types of customizable, specific mashups," said Hutchins, "will become even more prevalent in higher education this year."

4. Breaking Out of Technology Isolation
One of the coolest uses of technology that Hutchins has seen lately can be found in Rutgers University's English department, which is equipped with an entire wall of touch-enabled whiteboards. Using precision positioning technology, the wall-mounted boards allow for unprecedented participation and collaboration among students.

"Students walk up to the wall and use their hands to manipulate items," remarked Hutchins. "It's like putting your whole body into a design project." Hutchins said such innovations also go a long way in getting students up out of their seats and interacting with educators, other students and technology in a meaningful way. "Technology can be isolating," he said. "I love the notion of integrating the classroom and making it more social. This is just one way to make that happen."

5. Capabilities That Go Beyond 1:1
Last year saw college students using more devices and technology applications than ever before, and universities scrambling to keep up with those tech-savvy students. Expect the trend to pick up speed in 2010, said Shannon Buerk, education design strategist at Dallas-based consultancy Cambridge Strategic Services. Netbooks, online education, social networking, smart phones and podcasting will continue to play a role in the typical student's life, as will "4:1 computing" as a replacement for the more traditional 1:1 (one device to handle one task).

"The traditional 1:1, standardized computing is too rigid in today's educational environment, where students are tapping into multiple technologies and switching gears quickly between them," said Buerk, who said she sees the university landscape as being ripe for even more technological innovations in 2010. "When it comes to [technology], there are no boundaries in the learning environment."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at

Web 2.0 and Classroom Research

The May, 2009 issue of Educational Researcher explores the topic of "Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in the Digital Age," and it features the work of three researchers with ties to CEHD's department of Curriculum and Instruction. Christine Greenhow, Beth Robelia, and Joan E. Hughes have examined how Web 2.0 has influenced the many contexts of teaching and learning. They have identified two major themes, learner participation and creativity and online identity formation, and propose that additional educational research on these topics is needed.

Greenhow, Christine, Beth Robelia, and Joan E. Hughs. (2009). Learning, teaching, and
scholarship in a digital age: Web 2.0 and classroom research: What path should
we take now?
Educational Researcher (38)4. 246-259. DOI:

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