System Wide Implementation

Some advice from the Naval Academy

Many of our customers ask for advice on how they should "spread the good news" so to speak. "I know others in my department who would like to try the system," they say. "They have lots of wonderful ideas and I want to encourage them, but also want them to avoid the mistakes that I made." I was speaking to Bob Shelby about this issue at a recent AAPT meeting. Prof. Shelby started using Classtalk in 1996 and since that time has managed to get a great many professors in his department to use the system. "It's not hard to have success with Classtalk, "he said, "we've proven over and over that it can be done, all you have to do is follow certain guidelines." Bob is clearly a leader as well as being a wonderful teacher and I have great respect for what he has accomplished, so I asked him if he could please write some of the guidelines out for others. This is what he sent me.

  1. Practice using the interface and doing a student sign on several times before trying to use the system in an actual class. This should include trying to follow the instructions that you will give the students for logon and answering questions. This practice session should be repeated a couple of times each semester to remind you of the procedures that the student users need to follow and the problems that they may encounter. You must be confident that they system can and will work or the students will rapidly find excuses to explain why they can't seem to make the system work properly. You attitude is extremely important!
  2. The first time that they system is used devote several minutes to walking the students through the login and question answer procedure. You may need to repeat this a couple of times, but the payback is in time saved later in the semester when operating the system has become second nature to the students.
  3. Discuss the reasons that you have chosen to use the system with the students. Cover the positive results of peer instruction and the need to focus on concepts. Remind them that if they don't like the system, you can always spend all of each class period giving your "exciting" lectures. Getting students on board concerning the reasons for the use of Classtalk is another very important factor in successful use of the technique.
  4. Don't try to do more than 2-4 Classtalk questions in any one class period. Like any technique, Classtalk is a partial answer to how we can make the classroom experience more active for our students. Remember to mix in group problems, some lecture and other techniques. Keep the students active and focused on ideas.
  5. I prefer asking each question twice as Mazur does. The first answer is an individual response with no discussions. The second answer is given after a histogram of the first answer is shown and peer instruction has take place. The first asking requires each student to start up their brain and the second asking encourages effective peer instruction. About 5-6 minutes are used per question, but the time cost is not large when compared to the payoff in active participation and concept review.
  6. There are many ways that one can give credit for Classtalk answers. I suggest that only second answers be used for credit to encourage peer instruction. I also suggest that the importance of learning be stressed over evaluation in the use of these questions. One compromise is to count second answers 3-5% of the course grade. However, a colleague has been very successful in encouraging active use of the system by the students by using Classtalk answers as extra credit points.
  7. If your students don't appear to be having fun using the system, something is probably not going well. Talk to some experienced users and discuss your situation.
  8. Finally, there are many creative ways that one can use the Classtalk system, but my last advice is to start out your experience using techniques that have already been shown to work. After you get off to a good start, there will be plenty of time to make evolutionary changes to better suit your style. Many failed attempts have gone into establishing the guidelines listed above, so start out by profiting from our many errors.


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