Interactivity in Class Engages Students

By Linda Briggs

Contemporary learning theory emphasizes the importance of student involvement during class. For example, the National Research Council encourages educators to provide active learning environments for all students, even in large lecture classes.

That can be difficult to achieve, especially when students represent a wide range of learning abilities and backgrounds. At Joliet Junior College in Illinois, Professor Rich McNeil is using technology to help students get involved and stay engaged using an interactive learning product called DyKnow Vision.

DyKnow, which can be used on individual laptop or desktop computers in a lab setting, delivers materials electronically to each student in various forms, allowing them to add notes on the spot. The product can be used with either traditional keyboard computers or tablets. Notes from one student or instructor can be shared with the rest of the class. For example, an instructor can deliver a slide presentation to every student in the classroom. Each student can then make notes on the slides during the lecture and save them to his or her own electronic notebook. That notebook can be accessed later from a home computer or from anywhere with Internet access.

McNeil’s teaching challenge at Joliet Junior College is exacerbated by the wide range of student ages and learning experiences. He says that students in his evening class range in age from 18 to 65. But regardless of the fact that older students may not be used to computers in classrooms, McNeil says quiz scores are up, grades are higher, student confusion has decreased, and questions are more on track.

“The biggest thing I’ve found is that DyKnow helps focus students,” McNeil says. “It’s because it is interactive. They’re actually reading the assignment and doing the work right there in class. They’re engaged.”

Part of the reason may be that DyKnow provides for a variety of learning styles. It helps cater to a range of ages and backgrounds. Younger students may feel most comfortable with a mix of audio and visual learning, while older students may prefer a more traditional approach with visual notes and slides. “The tool provides for three learning styles,” McNeil says. “There’s the audio, the visual, and the tactile kinesthetic. It boils down to the fact that I’ve got their attention.”

Since he introduced the product last year, the improvements McNeil has seen in final grades speak for themselves. “I’ve had whole classes complete an entire lab assignment perfectly, without any questions. It’s because of the way they can go back and review, study, and focus their attention.”

McNeil says DyKnow is particularly effective for students with Attention Deficit Disorder, since it can help with some of the key issues such students face by organizing notes and focusing attention through interactivity. For example, DyKnow maintains an electronic notebook for each student. Notes from each lecture are separated and labeled.

By using DyKnow along with Blackboard, McNeil is able to maintain a virtually paperless classroom. Students can upload completed tests and he can grade them in Blackboard before returning them to students electronically. The students can then review the results in DyKnow. McNeil is working now to convince other faculty at Joliet to try the product, in hopes of introducing the program campus-wide.

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Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at

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