For many students majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), a traditional learning environment is not enough to provide critical as well as creative thinking and assessment of skills while also enabling instructors with the proper methods to assess their students’ skills and development. Tablet computers, interactive software, smartphones and various immersive technologies are now integrated within the classroom setting.
At Missouri University of Science and Technology, Dr. Klaus Woelk, interim department chair and associate professor of chemistry, was instrumental in redesigning the university’s classrooms by introducing clicker technology approximately 10 years ago. The purpose of adding clickers was to engage students in activities instead of allowing them to sit passively in class. The clickers offered an immediate impact because students were required to answer questions. “Using clicker technology has stimulated discussion among our students,” Woelk says.
At times, students will tune in remotely to Woelk’s class online. A camera is set up at the podium in the classroom and a window appears on the computer screen so that students viewing the lecture online see the face of the instructor.
“Facial expressions are important because they help to keep the students engaged,” Woelk says. A side camera has also been added so that students in the classroom can see the instructor but he has the freedom to walk around as he lectures.
Along with the cameras, a tablet computer and stylus have replaced the traditional blackboard. The mobile device enables Dr. Woelk to write on the screen throughout the lecture. The information is easily seen as it is projected on a screen for the students who are in the classroom. For those who are watching the lecture online, the material is viewable from their own laptop, desktop or mobile device.
“I encourage students to form groups in class or online rather than to view the lecture by themselves online from their dorm or some other location,” Woelk adds. “The technologies we are using allow the students to answer clicker questions. They can collaborate with the other students in the class or online. Collaborating helps the group to learn.”
Unlike many professors who ban cell phones, Woelk’s take is the complete opposite. Instead, he encourages his students to text him during his lectures so that questions can be answered in real time. The professor’s laptop is equipped with Google Voice so that he can accept text messages from students. Pupils, both in the room and who are online, can text comments and questions during the lecture.
“I have found that students who would never raise their hands in class now have a communication tool that they are excited to use and will go ahead and ask questions,” Woelk says. “With texting, the students always remain anonymous. No one knows who is asking a question or sending a comment.”