Classtalk in two Distinctly Different
From a CD ROM by: Dr. Robert Webking,
An Introduction to Politics
The system was used in a very large section
of a required Introduction to Politics Class. Several times during
each class session the 400 students in the class were asked to
answer questions using the system. Immediate feedback enables
the instructor to determine student responses and to react to
reinforce or clarify the material as needed. The system records
student response by individual, making record keeping very simple.
Indeed this is the first, and most obvious advantage of Classtalk:
it makes much of the record keeping in large classes much easier.
The login record serves to keep attendance, and the scoring and
record keeping enables the instructor to quiz the students frequently
without having to grade and record the quizzes. Indeed, the system
could also be used for major exams, although we have not used
it because the major exams in the class are essay type.
The most important benefits come not merely
from the ease with which the system allows grades to be scored
and recorded, but with the pedagogical tools this facility allows
the professor to employ. In a large class, no matter how interesting
the material or how well it is presented, it is easy for students
to nod off, do other homework, let their attention fade, chat
with others, skip class, and so on. Classtalk creates an atmosphere
in which each student must regularly interact with the material
in class. It encourages attendance, but it also encourages attention.
As the students own comments show, it keeps people alert and engaged
because they might have to answer a question at any moment. In
some cases the motivation to get the questions right is enhanced
by a certain competitiveness among the students or a certain pride
in getting answers correct, motives that are heightened by the
fact that the answers are calculated immediately, and students
can readily compare their answers to one another and to the correct
response. As a news report noted, despite the size of the class,
each student comes to feel personally involved every day. In short,
Classtalk develops an active learning atmosphere even in a very
Classtalk can also be used to incorporate cooperative
learning techniques into a class. Usually between two and four
students share the same calculator. Sometimes a question is asked
so that only one answer is submitted for the group of students
on the same calculator( although individual students are permitted
to "dissent" and enter a response different from the
group's). This, of course, encourages discussion and debate. Another
technique is to ask a question and have the students respond.
When there is wide variety in the answers or when most or many
have the answer wrong, the students can be asked the same question
again and told to convince one another that they are right before
responding the second time. In most occasions the correct response
will gain more adherents through this process, showing that the
students are teaching one another and that they are open to changing
their opinions when they see a better argument. At first when
this technique was used students would tend to change in favor
of the answer most had opted for the first time around. Before
long, however, they realized that the majority or plurality can
easily be wrong, and they became more sophisticated in thinking
things through. As you can see if you run the video clip,the classroom
can become quite animated when the students work together to answer
Classtalk is an useful tool for helping instructors
and students gauge what the students know. More than that, however,
it is an effective tool for developing comprehension of difficult,
abstract concepts. A good lecture always attempts to involve the
students actively in the reasoning process of the argument under
discussion. Classtalk aids in that effort. Often questions are
asked not primarily to judge whether students can identify the
correct response, but to help students to see a difficulty, identify
and assumption, apply a principle, or draw a new conclusion from
a body of information. Here instead of following a reasoning process
from a book or lecture, each student makes the reasoning steps
actively, either alone or working with others, and thereby comes
to appreciate concepts, inferences, or difficulties more readily.
For example, Aristotle often leads his reader to appreciate a
concept by beginning with ordinary opinion and then showing the
difficulties with, inadequacies of, or contradictions within it,
this preparing his reader to move to a deeper level of conceptual
understanding to resolve or understand the problem. Classtalk
is useful in doing exactly the same thing: showing a student contradictions
or difficulties in ordinary phenomena and opinions, and preparing
him or her to ascend to a different level of understanding.
The system can also be used to lead students
to draw conclusions themselves. After presenting them with evidence
and premises the students themselves work to determine what conclusion
follows. The student and instructor both can be more certain that
the student understands the point when the students are working
to find it and know whether he or she had found it than when the
instructor states and restates the point several times in lecture
and then tests later on a major exam. Then once the conclusion
is drawn, the student can be asked to apply it, either by considering
what inferences might be drawn from it or by applying its principle
to a different set of facts or circumstances.
Law and Justice Class
The appreciation of the power of Classtalk
to assist students in conceptual understanding led to the decision
to use the system in a setting very different from the large lecture
hall. This was a class in "Law and Justice" with the
purpose of learning the material, but also with a strong focus
on developing analytical skills and skills in critical reading
and argument as preparation for Law School and the Law School
Admission Test. The course material consisted of classical texts
from Plato and others with difficult, complex, unfamiliar, and
sometimes contradictory arguments, and the students' job was to
learn about relationships between law and justice by analyzing
and applying the arguments. To do so effectively takes care, diligence,
attention, patience, memory, openness, and a willingness to reach
conclusions one does not necessarily like when the evidence warrants
it. A major goal of the course was to encourage the development
of those qualities.
Using Classtalk, the course was structured
so that the students had to confront the text and actively work
to analyze it and understand it at every point. There was no lecture
or direct instruction from the instructor. The class was conducted
entirely through multiple choice questions. Carefully constructed
difficult questions led the students to work intensely with the
material and with one another to understand the arguments. Students
usually worked in groups and would engage in much discussion in
deciding how to answer questions. Typically, especially with the
most difficult questions, groups would decide upon different answers
and in the ensuing discussion when students and groups were explaining
their thought processes the whole group often worked its way to
the correct answer. Each student knew that he or she could be
called on at any time to justify an answer, so each student worked
conscientiously to answer as well as possible. Two kinds of information
available to the instructor through Classtalk were especially
helpful here. When a student would dissent from his or her group,
it was helpful to the instructor to know that so as to be able
to call on that student to explain the dissent. Similarly, the
instructor would watch the Classtalk screen on his computer while
the students were working through their answers to spot students
or groups who changed their answers, and then ask for an explanation
of the change.
The system involved every student in every
problem and issue. It encouraged them to work together and to
profit from one another in advancing their own understanding.
Typically when a question was presented the students would read
it, digest it, research it on their own, and then discuss it with
their group to come to an answer. The classroom changed from a
very quiet to a quite noisy place as the students proceeded through
this set of steps. Quickly students learned to leave their own
opinions about what ought to be the case aside and to confront
the arguments as presented. The questions were much more difficult
and complex than would be fair on an examination for a grade in
an undergraduate class, but the students learned not to question
the question but to accept it as a problem that had to be solved
through analysis of the text before them. They learned to draw
conclusions from premises even if they did not like the result.
(One student put this as distinguishing between
"me" and the argument at hand.) The students learned
to be dispassionate about their answers, or to avoid the temptation
to defend an answer simply because it had been their own. As the
course proceed the students grew to be very careful about language,
analyzing both the text and the questions with great precision,
and appreciating the difference in meaning that would come with
slightly different word uses (putting more than a little pressure
on the instructor to write the questions well!). Questions became
harder and harder as the students' skills developed, and by the
end of the course the students had clearly made great strides
in developing their analytical skills.
Student response is extremely positive. Ninety-nine
percent of students in the large class thought the class was better
with classtalk than it would have been without it (despite the
bugs inevitably connected to the first semester of use). They
thought the system made them more attentive and allowed them to
see what they understood and did not understand well. They felt
more involved in the class. When asked about the utility of the
system in promoting their learning, the students in the small
class tended not to discuss the technology itself, but what it
permitted and encouraged them to do. Thus, they focused on the
advantages of active learning and cooperative learning associated
with the system, indicating that indeed Classtalk is an effective
tool for promoting success.
Do you think the course was improved by the
use of Classtalk (the interactive question system)? Please explain.
"Yes, that was the best thing in the course.
That was one of the two reasons for why I came to class."
"Yes, because we could see the results
right away. I could tell that I wasn't always the only one that
"Yes, because it allowed the entire class
to get involved during the quiz questions."
"Yes, it allowed more lecture time and
allowed us to interact with one another. We got to know of the
people around us."
Do you think you had the opportunity to learn
the material in the course more thoroughly than you would have
had Classtalk not been used? Please explain.
"Yes, it allowed me to interact and constantly
be caught up with what I needed to know to be prepared for the
"Yes, because it makes me think more,
also its like a competition between us (friends I sit next to)
to see who gets the right answer and why."
"Yes, it pushed us to listen to the lecture
and group the main ideas."
Did Classtalk (the system with the calculators)
help make the instruction and/or your learning more effective?
"Yes. We were all able to answer the questions
put forth to us and we were able to learn from our mistakes whenever
we answered wrong. An element that's indeed worth praising!"
"Yes, it keeps the class from being just
a lecture class. We were forced to analyze a series of probable
answers and choose, very interactive. And the turn-around rate
was much quicker than if we had to use paper and pen."
"Yes, because it took most of us out of
that same class routine where the same people always answer or
where no one wants to answer, rather it made all of us answer
and defend our thoughts."
"I especially enjoyed working in groups
and learning from my peers. Classtalk with the calculators was
competitive and a new and interesting experience for me."
"Yes, because before we debated and argued
as a class, we first argued within our group. It was also interesting
to see the graphs on how we answered."
Classroom management problems were easily handled.
The students were quick to learn the system- in a large class
it took one full session plus some extra time in the next couple
of sessions, but within a week the students had mastered the system.
At UTEP it would not be possible to require the students to provide
their own graphing calculators to use to answer questions, so
a system was devised for distributing and collecting calculators
before and after class without taking up class time. Students
are signed in and ready to go at the beginning of class and the
class can last for the full fifty minutes. It might be expected
that using Classtalk to ask several questions during each session
would reduce the amount of material that could be covered. In
fact this did not happen because lectures can be more efficient
when the instructor knows when students have mastered a concept
and when Classtalk questions themselves are used in place of a
lecture to draw conclusions and point out inferences.
Classtalk saves time grading quizzes and making
some points in lecture, but it can take some preparation time.
Devising questions for the large class requires the instructor
to approach class differently and to reconsider the way material
is presented and related to other material. Writing a series of
questions to replace classroom lecture in the smaller class was
a very difficult and time consuming process, although presumably
it will be much less so the second time around.