Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Activeclass Project: Experiments in Encouraging Classroom Participation

Ratto, M, & Shapiro, R. (2003). The activeclass project: Experiments in encouraging classroom participation . Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, 1-10.

Classroom participation has dropped as we have entered the 21st century and according to this article the phenomenon can mostly be attributed to a change in the way in which students think and process information. University lecturers have found that with a lack of student participation their lectures have become difficult for students to follow and that this can mostly be blamed on increased class sizes and students feeling that they are not able to ask questions or comment on something due to the large class sizes. Students feel that they will hold up the class by asking personal questions and this becomes more unnerving for students as the size of the class grows.

To counter decreased classroom participation this article gets interesting when the authors explain how they have developed something called ActiveClass a type of software that allows the user to participate in the classroom setting using their PDA’s. The students simply use their personal devises to ask questions, take polls, and give feedback on a lecture. Once the system had been implemented the results showed that the users were more willing to ask questions due to the veil of anonymity that this system brought to the class. It also allowed lecturers to choose which question to answer, rather than simply responding to a raised hand. The article does not explore that idea of which types of students are actually participating using the ActiveClass system. In other words, are the students who are typing questions during lectures the same students who would ask questions anyway? Another issue with using this system might be that having it in place could simply stop all traditional interaction in the classroom between students and teacher. Although this article and software program would seem to be best suited to the university setting where the lecturer usually has a teacher’s assistant who can answer the typed student questions, it does get the reader thinking beyond the conventional ways in which teachers strive to get students to participate more in class.

“Fundamentally, we found that ActiveClass was perhaps not addressing issues of shyness, but rather was broadening discourse. In particular, there was no evidence that more people (i.e., shy people) were asking questions. Now we are investigating the hypothesis that people disinclined to participate are also less likely to experiment with technology, at least in the (public) classroom setting. Although the failure to gain the participation of disenfranchised students is a failure, the broadening of discourse is a significant gain” (2).

“University professors have noted a precipitous drop in participation in the classroom. With a growing number of unasked questions, a professor’s lecture may grow increasingly senseless to students. At the same time, without interaction, inferior passive learning modes emerge. One theory is that increased diversity and growing class size have created classroom dynamics that discourage participation. For some, asking a question may be challenging authority or simply impolite. For
others, the prospect of embarrassing oneself in front of fellow students is too much to bear in such an impersonal setting. Some fear that they will hold up the class (i.e., a huge number of people) with their personal question” (1).

Text Sources:
Abowd, G. D. (1999). Classroom 2000: an experiment with the instrumentation of a living educational environment. IBM Systems Journal, 38(4):508–530.

Brand, S. (1995). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re B

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