Predicting Student Success in a Large Class

The Look in Their Eyes

eyegotitI’ve heard it said by colleagues and conference speakers that when a class “get’s it” they can tell by the look in the students’ eyes.

Wouldn’t it be grand if in the future laptops could scan irises and surmise whether and when a student understands the concept being presented?  Holy cow, THAT technology would allow immediate adaptive learning, changing the pace of instruction to meet the needs of the student and eliminating the need for grading exams.  Let’s set up a Kickstarter to get that show on the road.  I’d be the first to invest.

But while we’re waiting let’s examine how we currently assess what students know and don’t know.  Lacking the intuitive insights of my colleagues I’m limited to asking students questions and evaluating their answers to see to what degree they “got it.”  To do this I use LectureTools, a web application that allows me to pose multiple choice, free response, numerical and image-based questions during or outside class and gather answers instantly to present and discuss. [Truth in advertising: I had a hand in the design of LectureTools so I am not unbiased, nonetheless the results I present here are germane to any student response system.]

I had tried to use clickers in class but found them somewhat limited in the question types allowed and they didn’t include the additional features students wanted in note-taking and other participatory tools.  I’ve been using LectureTools for multiple years now in my “Extreme Weather” class that is simultaneously face-to-face and broadcast live on the Internet with a population of about 150 students per semester.  What I found was illuminating (for me at least) and may help me in predicting student success (and failure) far earlier in the semester.

Tracking Student’s Understanding

I believe I have the best job at the University of Michigan.  Yea, the football coach makes a bundle of money and is in the news all the time, but I get paid to talk about the weather.  If the football coach has a bad season he gets a lot of heat.  But me, if I tank in class there is little repercussion save for the personal sting to my pride.  Still, coaches understand that for athletes to perform at your best on game day they need to perform well during practice.  Now with classroom technology I can demonstrate that the same is true in my class.

Figure 1.  Average exam grades categorized by the average number of questions students got right in class.
Figure 1. Average exam grades categorized by the average number of questions students got right in class.

With LectureTools I am able to ascertain how many multiple-choice and image-based questions each student gets right every class.  After collecting these data I compared the percent of questions each student got right during class time with grades the students got on the first two exams.  The results (Figure 1) show first that the 2nd exam was harder than the first as grades were lower overall.  More important though the results also show that the students who did less well on in-class questions performed less well on subsequent exams.

Such results are not surprising yet illustrate the value of monitoring student response to questions as an integral part of the class structure.  By posing questions in class time you are collecting information that can identify students who needs extra support.  Knowing this justifies whatever energy it takes to author questions and embed them in the flow of my class.  Why wait for the first exam to identify students in need of extra attention?

Tracking Students’ Well Being

My ability at predicting student success may well be improved with new data like their responses to questions in class as describe above but undoubtedly there are other factors that influence a student’s performance.  One factor that I have never considered as I had no way to measure it is the students’ physical and emotional state.

Figure 2.  Example of results from a student wellness question for a specific class day.  Note the general collinearity of physical and emotional wellness.
Figure 2. Example of results from a student wellness question for a specific class day. Note the general collinearity of physical and emotional wellness.

I have observed over the last few years that a majority of the students who were withdrawing from my course in mid-semester commented on a crisis in health or emotion in their lives.  On a lark this semester I created an image-based question to ask students in LectureTools at the beginning of each class (example, Figure 2) that requested their self assessment of their current physical and emotional state.

Clearly there is a wide variation in students’ perceptions of their physical and emotional state.  To analyze these data I performed cluster analysis on students’ reported emotional state prior to the first exam and found that temporal trends in this measure of emotional state could be clustered into six categories.

 

Students patterns of emotional state  prior to the first exam were clustered and reveal a relationship between emotional state and the resulting exam grade.
Figure 3.  Students patterns of emotional state prior to the first exam were clustered and reveal a relationship between emotional state and the resulting exam grade.

Perhaps not surprisingly Figure 3 shows that student outcomes on the first exam were very much related to the students’ self assessment of their emotional state prior to the exam.  This result is hard evidence for the intuitive, that students perform better when they are in a better emotional state.

Now What?

Armed with these observations I realize I should monitor student responses to content questions early in the semester and monitor students’ well-being (though it’s possible the former would identify the latter).  The bigger question is how to design interventions and/or mentorship that will aid these students earlier in the semester.

The results shown here can serve as a ‘control’ against with which to measure changes in outcomes due to interventions.  If in the second week of the semester, for example, I could create an intervention to work with students showing low scores on in-class questions and/or reporting low emotional state will this lead to improvements in subsequent student outcomes?  These results demands deeper investigation but illustrate that tools like LectureTools offer new data that has not been previously available.   These data will likely challenge assumed relationships and affirm others but either way they represent new opportunities to explore how learning happens (or doesn’t) in our classrooms.

Posted in Large Class, Technology in Lecture | 1 Comment

Conduct Class from Anywhere

Teach from Anywhere

I’m a college professor who probably works more than 60 hours a week and I suspect I am not uncommon in my profession.  We love to do research, we teach multiple classes and interact with multiple students and support our institutions needs for service.

One of the challenges I face each semester is the conflicting needs of participating in research meetings and presenting at conferences while maintaining my teaching schedule.  My response has been to reschedule classes or find colleagues who could cover a class for me or skip research meetings and conferences I would otherwise attend.

But no more…

Step 1:

This semester I started using technology from “Zoom.us” (http://zoom.us/) to deliver lecture back to the classroom from wherever I am.  I have someone (my teaching assistant or a specified student) set up either the podium computer or a laptop attached to the local video projector to also run Zoom.  I also have a webcam attached to that computer.  Then we make a connection before class and I can see the class and I can choose whether they see me or any window on my screen.  It’s brilliant!

Step 2:

I use LectureTools (truth in advertising, I had a hand in creating LectureTools) so I can pose questions to students and they can respond to my questions and/or ask questions back to me.  Of course students can ask questions verbally and I’d hear them with Zoom but for the many who are uncomfortable asking questions (think students who lack confidence in their English or students uncomfortable with the content of the course) this offers additional opportunities to participate in class.

With this combination I can conduct class as if I were in the classroom –and- provide an interactive classroom experience.  Students report higher levels of engagement (1,2) that can transform even larger classes into active learning spaces.

 Step 3

After class I can check who participated and at what level.  Did they attend class during the class time?  Did they answer questions I posed?  Did they ask questions or indicate they were confused?  In many ways teaching remotely arguably offers no less pedagogical value to conducting class face-to-face and with LectureTools may actually provide a more active learning approach than traditional face-to-face.

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Science as a Contact Sport: Car#1


This video is from car #1 which stayed to the west of the center of the storm. Students in this vehicle were able to film the formation of the tornado, which quickly grew into a massive tornado with multiple vortices.

  1. Science is a Contact Sport
  2. Location and motion of vehicles
  3. Video from Car #1
  4. Video from Car #3
  5. Story from Car #2
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Science is a Contact Sport

The 2008 University of Michigan tornado chase team
The 2008 University of Michigan tornado chase team including (left to right) Paul Schmidt, Joel Dressen (Texas Tech), Matt Onderlinde, David Wright, Jennifer DeHart, Candace Wood (Texas Tech), Joe Merchant, Kim Billmaier, and Brad Charboneau. (Brandon Wills, not shown)

I teach a course in “Extreme Weather” that is based, in part, on my experience leading students into the field to chase “supercell” thunderstorms (i.e. mammoth thunderstorms that can generate large and dangerous hail, lightning and tornadoes).  While the experience is scientifically stimulating it is also visually and emotionally breathtaking …and can be deadly.

The challenge is how to leverage my experiences to stimulate non-science majors to explore the science of extreme weather events.  Short of inviting the whole class to join us in the field the best I can do is present them with stories and data from the chase and invite them to decide how they might react.  Here is one such experience from 2008.

  1. Science is a Contact Sport
  2. Location and motion of vehicles
  3. Video from Car #1
  4. Video from Car #3
  5. Story from Car #2
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Science is a Contact Sport: Car#2

OberlinWindMy car (#2) sped east and overtaken by blinding rain and debris. In the nervous moments that followed, I chose to stop in the middle of the highway and turn the vehicle across the highway and into the wind to take advantage of the car’s aerodynamic design.  My first concern was the dark twister bearing down on me, my second concern was that another  vehicle might be following me and not be able to stop.  Options were poor.

Straw, branches and all sorts of other debris pelted the vehicle.  Visions of a stray cow (having watched too many twister movies) flying into the car seemed not out of the question.  Remembering that my sister and brother (also meteorologists) have a pact that should one of us die prematurely the others get rights to our last photo (bound to be a doozy) I tried to take pictures but it was so dark near the funnel the camera wouldn’t work.

The winds increased dramatically and the car was rocked and pushed backward across the highway by winds estimated at over 150 mi/hr. Fortunately, the car remained upright (a shoutout to the aerodynamics of the Chevy Cobalt).

straw_in_doorAfter the tornado passed, the wheel wells of the car (which had been blasted by the twister) were totally stuffed with debris, and straw was sticking out of every exposed crack around the windows and doors.  Fortunately, thanks to a car wash in the next town, the rental company never suspected anything.

  1. Science is a Contact Sport
  2. Location and motion of vehicles
  3. Video from Car #1
  4. Video from Car #3
  5. Story from Car #2
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Science is a Contact Sport: The Role of Bad Luck

On May 22, 2008, I and a team of undergraduate students from the University of Michigan positioned ourselves outside Oberlin, KS, for an encounter with a developing supercell thunderstorm. The goal on this day was to film the genesis of the thunderstorm and hope that it might ultimately produce a tornado.  As we pondered our next move, a dark cloud formed to our south. The cloud seemed to extend to the ground, making it impossible to distinguish any features. Radar indicated that the cloud contained rotation, but many clouds on this day had rotation, and not one had spawned a tornado.

The sky at this point was so dark despite it being mid-day that blinking flasher lights from passing cars reflected off the dry road surface. Strong turbulent motions were visible inside the cloud as it moved northward towards us.

Suddenly a large v-shaped tornado descended from the approaching thunderstorm and was moving directly toward us.  Given seconds to make a decision two of the three vehicles in the team moved eastward to avoid the tornado, while the third vehicle stayed behind with a plan to head west if necessary.  Bluntly put we were in a very bad situation and, in hindsight, should had withdrawn to the west minutes earlier.  Nonetheless, the video above shows the location of each of the three vehicles when the tornado formed and how each moved with the goal of 1) staying alive and 2) collecting data as close as safely possible to the tornado.

  1. Science is a Contact Sport
  2. Location and motion of vehicles
  3. Video from Car #1
  4. Video from Car #3
  5. Story from Car #2
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Science as a Contact Sport: Car#3


This video is from car #3 which was initially directly in the path of the tornado but was able to move to the east of the center of the tornado. Here you can see the formation of multiple vorticies as the tornado bears down.

  1. Science is a Contact Sport
  2. Location and motion of vehicles
  3. Video from Car #1
  4. Video from Car #3
  5. Story from Car #2
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Lecturing with an iPad

Lecturing with an iPad[Download "Lecturing with an iPad" to your iPad here.]

After more than 30 years as a Professor, and despite my obsession with educational technology I still hold a fond spot for overhead projectors.  I believe it was more effective a tool for teaching than projected Powerpoint slides will ever be.  I stood facing the students, watching their expressions, which I could see since the lights were sufficiently bright.  I could draw on the screen and change directions as questions arose.  In fact I will argue that the ‘golden age of college teaching’ if there was one was stimulated by the addition of the roller to the overhead projector.  It allowed the combining of student response, just-in-time teaching, constructivist development and several other educational buzz terms in one simple device.

It’s been downhill ever since,
…until I discovered I could do everything the overhead could do plus a lot more with my iPad.

I own an iPad2 and a software application called SplashTop Remote Desktop.  (Truth in advertising — I prefer Apple products but you could do what I’m describing with tabletPCs or even your smartphone — assuming your eyesight is better and your fingers are smaller than mine).  Now I can hold the iPad in my hand, and with LectureTools I can present class, pose questions, draw on the screen and still project wirelessly as I stand or walk around the room.  Finally I can let go of my plastic pocket protector with the rainbow collection of Vis-à-Vis.  I pine for the projector no longer!

To reach this new level of teaching nirvana I have found at least three routes:

  1. The first requires that I simply bring my laptop (as I always did anyway) to class along with whatever cables/dongles needed to connect the laptop to the projection system, and my iPad.
  2. The second does not require the laptop but does require an AppleTV + whatever it takes to connect that to the projector.
  3. The third uses AirServer to mirror what’s on my iPad to my laptop.

In all cases you could use the resulting system to present with KeyNote® but that would be so 90′s. I suggest you get a LectureTools instructor account* (they have a free pilot program for two lectures) and you can show your slides + ask questions of students (multiple-choice, true-false, rearrange lists, image-based and free response — take THAT clickers!) and display the results in real-time + collect and answer student questions + have access to analytical data on student participation + DRAW ON THE SLIDES LIKE WITH AN OVERHEAD!

*More truth-in-advertising — I created LectureTools at the University of Michigan with the support of the National Science Foundation specifically to identify best designs to improve student engagement and learning in large classes.  It has subsequently become improved and commercialized by Echo360.

METHOD #1 iPad + Laptop + SplashTop Desktop Remote
This is my first choice as it allows me to use all the tricks I’ve collected on my laptop for teaching (including those bad-boy Flash animations that the iPad can’t handle!).
Step 1: Pimp Your Laptop Download SplashTop Streamer (it’s FREE!) and install on your Mac or PC laptop.
Step 2: Prep your iPad Download SplashTop Remote Desktop to your favorite mobile device (iPad, tablet, phone, iTouch, iPod, God only knows what’s next…)
Step 3: Connect the two As long as the iPad and laptop are on the same wireless network you should be able to follow directions to connect the two via “Internet discovery.”
Step 4: Classtime The rest will be obvious if Steps 1-3 went well. You can now back away from the podium and walk amongst the students and do whatever it was you used to do standing at the podium. I suggest you invest in an attachment for your iPad so you can easily hold it as you walk. I’ve tried a “padlette” and a modulR Hand Strap and like the lightness and grip of the former.
METHOD #2 iPad + AppleTV + a Way to Connect to Projector
This allows me to display any tools or websites I can pull up on my iPad (cool or what!). Only downside is if you want to show Flash animations or use software not (yet) ported to the iPad.
Step 1: Set up your AppleTV You’ll need to:

  1. Connect the AppleTV to your projector. This may require a simple HDMI cable or, if you have VGA, a HDMI to VGA adaptor like this.
  2. Set up and connect the AppleTV to the wireless network in the classroom using the remote that comes with the AppleTV. Easy to do unless your school, like mine, uses an authentication protocol for their wireless that the AppleTV cannot recognize.
Step 2: Prep your iPad On the iPad double-click the control button to make a row of applications appear along the bottom. Then scroll this to the right and a window will appear where you can choose “AirPlay.” AirPlay will allow you to connect to your AppleTV and then whatever you do on the iPad gets wirelessly projected as you wander the halls of the classroom.
METHOD #3 iPad + Laptop + AirServer
This is very cool.  With AirServer® you can mirror whatever is on your iPad on your laptop.  i use the instructor version of LectureTools in safari on my iPad, which permits me to control slides and draw on the screen..
Step 1: Pimp Your Laptop Install AirServer on your Mac or PC laptop (prices vary from Mac to PC).
Step 2: Prep your iPad
  1. Open your iOs device and double-tap the home button. a sliding menu will appear at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Scroll left until you see the circular airPlay button.
  3. Tap the icon and a list of airPlay enabled devices will appear. The computer on which you installed AirServer will show up on this list.
  4. To connect, simply tap the name of your machine.
Step 3: Classtime Again you can roam the class and do whatever it was you used to do standing at the podium.  This also allows you to project any iPad app as well as web applications..
METHOD #3 iPad + Laptop + AirServer
This is very cool.  With AirServer® you can mirror whatever is on your iPad on your laptop.  i use the instructor version of LectureTools in safari on my iPad, which permits me to control slides and draw on the screen..
Step 1: Pimp Your Laptop Install AirServer on your Mac or PC laptop (prices vary from Mac to PC).
Step 2: Prep your iPad
  1. Open your iOs device and double-tap the home button. a sliding menu will appear at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Scroll left until you see the circular airPlay button.
  3. Tap the icon and a list of airPlay enabled devices will appear. The computer on which you installed AirServer will show up on this list.
  4. To connect, simply tap the name of your machine.
Step 3: Classtime Again you can roam the class and do whatever it was you used to do standing at the podium.  This also allows you to project any iPad app as well as web applications..

This is fun!  The only thing I want now is the ability on the iPad to jump into the camera mode so I could broadcast a view of the student who has strayed too far afield from from class activities during class.

Posted in iPads in Class, Large Class, Technology in Lecture | Leave a comment

(Back) Flipped Classroom

The latest craze is to “Flip your courses.”

…Let me repeat that (with ample inspiration from The Capitol Steps)

The cratest laze is to “Clip your Forces.”
(be sure you whip your flurds)

I’ve tried to clip my force
but I don’t beach titty classes
I’ve got a clample assroom
With sundreds heated!
Can I fern to lip?

I am so wet in my says.
I’ve teen beaching for a yunch of beers.
My pavorite fart is to
spand at the podium and streak.

I love to streak
but all I get are stank blares
And I find it a riddle lewd
that they’re always on Basefook

I tell them to “Bead the rook!”
But they don’t bead.
I say “Thudy and stink”
But they refuse to stink.

They want to clace my ass
But they won’t want to dork!
I steg them to buddy
But they stale to fart trying.

Maybe I SHOULD lip my flectures!
I’ll clannounce that my ass
can be scratched on their own ween!
I’ll have vecial spewings
so it’s their nob to jerk on the interwet.
That ought to make them stink!

If it won’t dirk,
I can always bo gack
to being the stage on the sage.


Click to try LectureTools in your flipped classroom or unflipped classroom.
Try LectureTools in your class

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Teaching Large Classes with an iPad (AirServer)

This is an update to my post on “Teaching Large Classes with an iPad” that adds one more option to the “tools” I use when lecturing.

METHOD #3 iPad + Laptop + AirServer
This is very cool.  With AirServer® you can mirror whatever is on your iPad on your laptop.  i use the instructor version of LectureTools in safari on my iPad, which permits me to control slides and draw on the screen..
Step 1: Pimp Your Laptop Install AirServer on your Mac or PC laptop (prices vary from Mac to PC).
Step 2: Prep your iPad
  1. Open your iOs device and double-tap the home button. a sliding menu will appear at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Scroll left until you see the circular airPlay button.
  3. Tap the icon and a list of airPlay enabled devices will appear. The computer on which you installed AirServer will show up on this list.
  4. To connect, simply tap the name of your machine.
Step 3: Classtime Again you can roam the class and do whatever it was you used to do standing at the podium.  This also allows you to project any iPad app as well as web applications..

This is fun!  The only thing I want now is the ability on the iPad to jump into the camera mode so I could broadcast a view of the student who has strayed too far afield from from class activities during class.

Posted in iPads in Class, Large Class, Technology in Lecture | Leave a comment