University of Texas El Paso Breaks New Ground

     After just using Classtalk once, Dr. Bob Webking had already done things no one had ever done before. The first time he tried the system in class he logged in 448 students, becoming the first professors to pass the 300 mark. Moments later he began to teach them Political Science...another first. Many say the man has a lot of courage but according to Prof. Webking he needed a way to reach his students.

     "The most important benefits come not merely from the ease with which the system allows grades to be scored and recorded, "says Dr. Webking," 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 student's 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, motivations that heightened by the fact that the answers are calculated immediately, and students can readily compare their answer to one another and to the correct response. As a new 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 large class."

     Webking was so impressed with the power of Classtalk to assist students in conceptual understanding that he decided 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.

     Using Classtalk, the course was structured so that 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. 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 he could 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.

 

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