Ancillary fee anxiety

AnxietyCat Ancillary

Anxiety cat is anxious about ancillary fees

I had originally planned to write (and actually wrote a draft of) a post to explore my questions and concerns about asking students to pay for access to a web-based classroom response system (WBCRS henceforth), like Lecture Tools (now integrated into Echo 360), Top Hat, or Learning Catalytics. My major concern? These tools are basically ways to teach huge classes better, to bring in the interactivity and communication aspects difficult to achieve in the large class setting – kind of a “large class tax” on students. (I’ve used Lecture Tools for several terms – see my previous posts here, here, and here.)


I’d hoped to gain some clarity,  maybe spark some conversation with colleagues about the issues relating to using a WBCRS at a cost to students. As part of my thinking, I considered some of the other ancillary items we routinely ask students to purchase (i.e., not usually included in their tuition, but required for a course). I was originally thinking that a teaching tool is really different from a required textbook, dissection kit, safety glasses, or a lab coat. Now I’m not only concerned about the ethics/fairness of asking students to purchase licenses for a WBCRS, but also requiring textbooks and disposable lab coats! Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from Tanya: Some points for students about technology in the classroom

I wrote this for my students (after Tamara Kelly and I facilitated a session on student devices in the classroom at the Western Conference on Science Education 2015) and am sharing it here, in hopes it may be of interest/use to others! Please note that my classroom policies about device use are specific to the courses I currently teach.

Almost everyone has a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or combination of these devices with them during their waking hours (and beyond, in some cases). There is huge potential for distraction using these devices – which is fine if you’re waiting in a long, boring line or on the bus, but can be problematic in the classroom*.

While a few profs ban these devices in their classes, I’m taking a different approach. In much of the world, including most work-places, these devices aren’t banned, and people are expected to be able to manage work/life and various distractions. That being said, I can understand why some instructors have different policies for their own classes.

Some of our in-class activities will make use of online resources, so I’ll encourage you to use them, if you wish to do so.  I’ll be using LectureTools, which allows me to ask you questions that you can answer on your device … and for you to ask me questions in the system (without raising your hand).

If you don’t want to use a device in our class, that’s fine! One way to avoid distraction is to keep these devices out of sight (and hearing), and I’m happy to support those who take this approach. There will be alternative activities for students who don’t use the in-class system.

If you do want to use your device(s) in class, there are some things to be aware of:

Read the rest of this entry »

BYOD … or bring me your questions! It’s all good.

 "The times they are a'changing" by brett jordan is licensed under CC BY.

Not an unusual view when you stand at the front of a lecture hall. Image credit: “The times they are a’changing” by brett jordan is licensed under CC BY.

About a year ago, I switched from using clickers in my classes to a web-based classroom response system (CRS) – Lecture Tools – where students bring their own internet-enabled devices (BYOD), as I’ve mentioned here before. After three terms, I am generally happy with the system as a replacement for clickers, and I’ll likely talk more about that later.

This is a rather rambly account of something small I tried that worked out. I’m hoping that it might be of use/interest to other folks (or, at least, maybe some of the references will be). Oh, and it has a bit of my philosophy on class attendance. (I’m sure you were curious!) Read the rest of this entry »

BYOD and classroom web response systems – my intersession experience

Lecture ToolsI recently finished teaching an intersession introductory microbiology course. It was a relatively small class (at least, for me) – just over 50 students – and it was a blended, flipped class. (I may post more about the flipping/blending later.) For the in-person classes, I used a couple of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) web-based classroom interaction systems: Lecture Tools and Learning Catalytics. (In previous offerings of the course, I used clickers.)  In this post, I’ll refer to these types of systems as WRS (Web Response Systems). We had access to both systems (at no cost to the students*), and used Lecture Tools regularly.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I had hoped I could use this experience to help me make decisions about moving away from clickers to a WRS. The fact that I met my students in class for only three hours once a week for six weeks was perhaps not the best way to gather a lot of data, but it was nice to try out new technology in a smaller class. Here are some of the things I observed/learned: Read the rest of this entry »

BYOD thoughts – moving on from clickers

EugeneClickersIs it time for me to move away from clickers? Can I use an online system that will do the job, and make use of devices that students already own (and can use for other purposes, unlike clickers)?

In most of my larger classes, I’ve found clickers (classroom response systems) very helpful in providing feedback to both students and me, encouraging discussion … and waking up students in 8:30 classes!  Classroom response systems, as educational technologies, can be helpful tools but also have potential pitfalls; how they are used makes a huge difference in terms of outcomes. (Want to know more about clickers? Here’s a plug for an essay I wrote back in 2008 – and the references within).

[Note – I find clickers useful in LARGE classes. In my dream-teaching-world, I’d have class sizes that would allow me to do a lot more interaction with all my students that wouldn’t require technology!]

As tools, they may not be the only (nor the best) option available. I didn’t expect clickers to actually be around all that long – I’d figured technology would emerge that allowed students to use their own devices to do the same thing (and, hopefully, more). Indeed, we now have both free (e.g., Four Good Alternatives to Clicker Systems) and commercial systems that provide this functionality (e.g., LectureTools, Learning Catalytics, Top Hat). Until recently, some things discouraged me from using these alternatives – technical barriers, and financial concerns – so I’ve continued to use clickers.

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