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iPad App Aims To Make Lecture Halls More Intimate and Students More Engaged

A professor at the University of Michigan has launched an iPad app that he originally developed to help large introductory college classes seem smaller and less intimidating. Perry Samson, a professor of atmospheric science, turned the effort into a research project on student engagement, funded by the National Science Foundation. That project evolved into a startup with help from the university's business incubator and Office of Technology Transfer.

Now LectureTools, which is the name of the company and the product, is set to help students use their iPads to keep notes on lectures, send questions to faculty members on the fly, and give responses when instructors pose class questions. The application, beta-tested at U Michigan, has been available for standard and notebook computers for two years, then, more recently, on cell phones.

The program provides a way to organize, search, and review all lecture materials. It works in any Web browser, the company said, and integrates with learning management systems. It replaces traditional clicker-based student response systems. Instructors can present students with interactive activities, including multiple-choice, free response, and image-based questions, and students can respond using their mobile devices, including iPads. If a student has a question about a particular slide, he or she can submit it to the instructor or teaching assistants to address. Those that are answered become anonymously visible to everybody else in the class and are saved for later review.

Students can type notes right on the instructors' slides and mark slides they found confusing or important.

All material is saved online and made accessible to students on any kind of mobile or computing device through their Web accounts.

A faculty member can assess the class' performance with aggregate or individual student data about participation and correctness for each activity that took place.

The software is licensed as a service for students, who pay $15 per term or $60 for a five-year usage license; it's free to instructors. The company is offering a discount to K-12 users.

"If you give students a chance to participate, they will," Samson noted. "Now that iPads have become more popular with learners, we've expanded our technology to take full advantage of these devices."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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