Learning Catalytics: BYOD Managed Student Centered Learning

I’ve long held that staff development should model what you want to see in the classroom, and for that reason I wouldn’t do a workshop without using a student response system. (SRS)

I’m not interested in using a SRS to pose objective questions or host a “game-show” style workshop. I see a SRS as a discussion catalyst and a tool to model instructional strategies. For example, I can ask a Likert scale question, post the audience results, and ask them “Does anyone see any patterns in the data?” I get responses and discussion that I never got in my pre-SRS “raise your hand and tell me what you think” days. Likewise, I can easily model a problem-based approach and give teachers first-hand experience in what that type of learning “feels” like to a student.

My favorite “clicker-based” SRS is TurningTechnologies‘ TurningPoint system. It’s been a central feature of my workshops for many years. But my quest to develop a more highly-interactive webinar PD model led me to investigate “bring your own device” (BYOD) web-based SRS systems. My goal was to offer webinars that rose well above the typical “listen to the presenter’s voice while you look at their PowerPoint” model.

Learning Catalytics kept us engaged more than simply sitting and consuming. You modeled everything you were suggesting we try.

Thus I found Learning Catalytics – a powerful BYOD-SRS system. After getting great reviews in my webinars, I thought I’d give Learning Catalytics a try with a live audience of about 100 secondary teachers at a recent workshop I gave at the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) in St Louis. (I’m still using TurningPoint clickers. I bought along a set to use in a separate session with about 50 MICDS elementary teachers.)

I thought I share some observation from my experience with Learning Catalytics to encourage other educators to give it a try. Learning Catalytics is currently running a free 30-day trial for use with up to 100 students.

Learning Catalytics is a web-based system that allows the teacher to create a wide variety of open-ended responses beyond the usual multiple-choice, priority, and ranking. Creating new questions is easy and the system allows for copy / paste of text – it even lets you use that function to paste in multiple responses to a question in one action. There’s also a growing (and searchable) library of questions to draw from. Teachers deliver questions and manage the presentation via the web from their laptop (or tablet).

… appreciated the modeling of Learning Catalytics – great examples of how to use it across different disciplines. ..the idea of placing us in our students’ shoes – which felt very uncomfortable at times – was really useful in the end.

The system has an array of powerful response monitoring and reporting tools, and it’s a stand out at fostering peer discussion. Teachers can easily create a student seat map and use it to quickly see who “gets it.” Learning Catalytics can review student responses and direct them to discuss their answers with nearby peers who may have different views. It even send out a message telling them to talk with specific class members. “Cameron turn to your right and talk to Zoe about your answer.” Questions can be asked multiple times and students can teach their peers before the next re-polling. Collaborative learning is one of the driving principles behind Learning Catalytics.

Students can use any web-based device they already bring to class to answer questions – laptop, tablet, smartphone. You don’t even need to project Learning Catalytics on the presentation screen since all questions (including graphics and results) get pushed out to the student units. (Note: I’m already testing an iPad + Apple TV approach to integrate presentation and SRS in a wireless delivery model.) The system ran flawlessly on the MICDS wifi network. (The internet bandwidth we were pulling during the polling sessions was about 30MB for about 100 participants.)

Our workshop at MICDS explored teacher and student perceptions of “Rigor, Relevance, Reflection: Learning in the Digital Age.” Learning Catalytics’ great variety of question formats spawned some lively group discussion and teacher reflection on those themes.

As a defining exercise I posed the following: “The MICDS mission statement notes that ‘Our School cherishes academic rigor.’ Write 3 words (or phrases) that you associate with academic rigor. 

While Learning Catalytics can gather short or long responses as a list, I chose to have it create a “word cloud” out of participant replies – imagine the power of instant “Wordles.” (See resulting word map left)

Learning Catalytics provides a “composite sketch” question. Students can use their mouse or touch screen to indicate a point or draw a line on their device. The results are aggregated into a single response by overlaying all the individual responses. To emulate a “classroom walkthrough” I shared a sample lesson and asked teachers to plot their perceptions of its rigor and relevance on an X / Y axis. The resulting overlay graph of the variance in their responses (below) was a powerful discussion starter.

There’s other question formats that add interesting functionality, and teachers can incorporate graphics to create more engaging questions. For example: Students highlight words in a body of text – the frequency results become a “heat map.” Students indicate priority or sequence by promoting or demoting choices – the results show the relative strength of each choice. Students indicate a region on an image by touching or clicking on a point – the results aggregate on a “regional map.” I’m still exploring Learning Catalytics and I give a big hat tip to Brian Lukoff, it’s CEO and co-founder. He’s helped me translate my instructional goals into interesting questions and has been very open to my suggestions for new formats and control panel features.

To round out my post, here’s some MICDS teacher responses to a few of my evaluation prompts:

To what extent did the workshop model effective instructional techniques?

  • Finally a presenter who modeled what he preaches.
  • It was interactive, engaging, and collaborative.
  • Learning Catalytics kept us engaged more than simply sitting and consuming. You modeled everything you were suggesting we try.
  • Asking us to be in position of actual learners was a good reminder of what students feel and suggested ways to promote actual learning.
  • I thought it was interesting how you tried to manage speaking and teaching 100+ adults with minimizing the lecture format. I was impressed at your use of think/pair/share.
  • It provoked my reflection on my teaching, i.e. students take ownership evaluating and sharing.

What, if any, impact will this workshop have on your practice?

  • It reassured me that I’m on a good track in terms of relevance and innovation.
  • I will look to use more driving question, more peer sharing, and more student choice.
  • The workshop makes me seek ways to develop and practice student to student conversation.
  • I am going to immediately revamp how I plan to intro the genetics experiment and make it more open ended and student centered
  • Reinforced my call for increased relevance to student world and understanding the skills that students need to operate in the digital world.
  • I would like to give students more control over their work.
  • It has caused me to think about giving students more responsibility for their learning.

Any comments on the Learning Catalytics response system? 

  • Love the Catalytics…
  • I really liked it–very intuitive, very useful in creating class feedback and interaction.
  • I liked how the Wordle was embedded in the presentation. It was automatic and quick. I would like to be able to do that in my classes.
  • I like the Learning catalytics system as a way to engage everyone, with immediate access to the results. I like the open-ended questions.
  • I liked how the technology was used to get our feedback. There was collaboration, discussion and evaluation happening.
  • LOVED LC. In love. I wanna use it.
  • I particularly appreciated the modeling of Learning Catalytics – some great examples of how to use it across different disciplines. Also, I think that the idea of placing us in our students’ shoes – which felt very uncomfortable at times – was really useful in the end.
  • I liked seeing others responses. I always appreciate immediate feedback.
  • Love LC!!!!

Five Ways to Engage Students and Other Audiences – Tips for Teachers and Presenters

I’ve been invited by West Clermont Local Schools (Cincinnati OH) to do an opening day presentation for secondary teachers. This is not the first time we’ve collaborated. Earlier this year,  I assisted them in this project – “How to Use Web 2.0 to Create On-line Professional Development.” Looks like they have their PD act together!

The topic they assigned me for this week’s presentation is “How to engage students in the 21st century classroom.” This post outlines the message I’ll take to West Clermont. While the primary audience for this post is teachers in the classroom, I think there’s also a useful message for presenters who want to connect with their audience.

1. Remember that engagement is founded on choice: A task becomes engaging when you have an opportunity to make choices about content, process and product. For example here’s a diagram that shows how easy it is to transform a traditional writing assignment into a more engaging one.

See “First Day of School? Here’s How to Get Students Thinking” for a student-centered way to kick off the school year.

2. Alter the traditional information flow: All the one-way broadcast information sources are losing audience – TV, record industry, teachers who lecture. I’ll bring my TurningPoint audience response system to give them space in the information stream. We’ll also capture “backchannel” dialog with a Wiffiti screen. More on using Wiffiti in presentations. [Note: Discussion was so lively – I didn’t get a chance to use Wiffiti. A good problem!]

3. Thinking critically is more engaging than listening: Knowledge is only superficially transmitted by telling someone something. Students (and audiences) are engaged when you create learning environments that require them to apply their own analysis and evaluation to constructing meaning. Make it partial assembly required.

As a teacher, I was always turned off by trainers who weren’t using the strategies they were advocating. My workshops give the teachers a taste of how students will respond to the strategies in an authentic learning experience. As one teacher commented in her evaluation of my workshop, “Peter demonstrated his own method for rigor and relevance while teaching us, so we participated as our students would. The workshop was effective because he made us reflect on our classroom practice and our expectations of students. Then he supplied us with techniques and strategies to improve instruction.”

4. Relinquish responsibility for learning to the student (also this blog’s tagline): Students can develop their own iTunes genre scheme – what make you think they can’t analyze, evaluate and create? Many teachers feel they’re competing (unsuccessfully) with technology for student attention. I see things differently. Students aren’t engaged with technology because it lights up and beeps. They’re engaged with technology because it puts them in charge of information they access, store, analyze and share. It gives them something they rarely get in the classroom – choice. The lesson revision I outline in point 1 is about control (not technology) in the classroom.

5. Always keep in mind that the essence of teaching (or presenting) is creating learning experiences that provoke reflection: Students who are simply asked to follow instruction have nothing to reflect upon. (The same is true for audiences who have been asked to do little more than listen). Students who are offered the opportunity to explore their own approaches and share them with their peers are well on their way to life-long learning. I’ll bet “life-long learning” is in your school district mission statement – or is it vision statement? (I could never remember if I was on a mission or having visions). For more on reflection, see my series detailing my Taxonomy of Reflection.

PS. Here’s my “handout” for the West Clermont workshop. Download Engagement-presentation (3MB pdf). It’s a glimpse into my workshop – but I can’t “hand” you the message. Remember, it’s about the experience (and reflection) not simply the content.

Use Wiffiti to Engage Your Audience – Big Screen Live Presentation of Feeds from Twitter, Flickr and Text Messages

I’m always looking for ways to make my presentations more engaging and interactive. (A must if you’re advocating more student-centered instruction.) I’ve been using a TurningPoint ARS for years with great results and have tried live blogs at my larger workshops. As a convert to Twitter, I thought it was the logical next step. 

I’ve experimented with Twitter visualizers on my blog- StreamGraph,  TwitterCloudExplorer, and most recently, Wiffiti. When I saw how good Wiffiti looked on my blog, and I realized it would be a great way to capture the backchannel at workshops. Users can interact with Wiffiti from their mobile phones or the web. It looks great on the big screen – plus it can feed from Twitter, Flickr and text messages.  

I opened a free account and gave it a trial run at my recent workshop in Moriarty-Edgewood SD, New Mexico. It was easy to create a new Wiffiti screen with custom background. (I selected a local landmark neon sign from old Rt 66 in Moriarty.)  I set up the Wiffiti screen to capture Tweets tagged with my Twitter user name @edteck.

The evening before the presentation, I posted a Tweet asking for greetings – “Say good morning to my teachers’ workshop on old Rt 66 in NM. Where are you from? Why do you Twitter?”  As participants arrived in the workshop,  they were greeted on the big screen with encouraging words from all over the world. Pretty impressive when you’re talking about the impact of technology on teaching and learning!  Special thanks to all that sent greetings – it was an powerful demonstration of the new landscape of information and a display of the power of Twitter / social media!

I shot a bit of video to give you and idea what it looked like.  
 (Remember, the live version of this screen no longer has Tweets relevant to the workshop.)

New Wiffiti messages are instantly displayed center screen and are easily viewable from a distance. Older messages then fade back and move as an animated cloud. Updates from both mobile and web are displayed synchronously across all screens subscribing to the same tags, encouraging the creation of a wide, cross-channel audience.

 Using Wiffiti in Breakout Sessions

I also created a second Wiffiti screen to use during break outs. This one was designed to capture text messages from participants. For those that did not have cells, we set up computer stations where they could make comments directly from the Wiffiti website.

Here’s some sample comments – a nice mix of thoughtful observations, fun comments and a few critiques. (Note: I kept it real and I ran my system unmoderated, but it is possible to have someone monitor comments.) 

“School is where kids go to watch old people work really hard”

“My Brain Hurts!”

“Let’s get going!”

“disequilibrium, change, and freedom”

“same old stuff, different day!”

“the table in the back rocks!!”

“English teachers and librarians rule -all others drool!”

“having a blast!”

“science is over here.”

“This is a great workshop!”

“Enjoying the presentation Peter. Especially the film clips!”

“Rigor and Relevance for the English Department: Rigor: Apply knowledge and skills in complex ways to analyze and solve real problems…”

My bottom line? Wiffiti is a great way to harness back channel workshop comments. The free version works well and paid versions offer more opportunities to customize and monitor comments. 

Engaging Teachers in Planning Relevant Staff Development

I recently posted "A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer." I thought I'd follow up with an example of how those recommendations were followed in a recent professional development project.

This example comes from my recent work with the Edison School of Engineering & Manufacturing, a Rochester (NY)  City School District high school. We began the project by using one of the weekly early releases to do some agenda setting. I was introduced to the faculty and I spent about 40 minutes giving an outline of the types of PD subjects I could offer. I use a TurningPoint audience response system that gathered data to help us target our future PD.

We then utilized two more early release sessions to provide the requested training. I think it is critical to model the learning strategies in the session. That's especially true with PD is offered at the end of the school day. Feedback from teachers noted that they felt as if they were part of a learning environment that gave them a feeling for how the strategies would be perceived by the students.

Professional development need to move from the abstract setting of a training session into a real world classroom. So we next turned to Focus Classroom Walk-Throughs to develop a shared understanding of what the strategies look like when you are working with your students. I came back to the school on three additional days to conduct the walkthroughs.

Teachers were divided into teams of about six teachers and each team was led on a half-day walkthrough experience. Each session began with an orientation regarding goals and protocols. Our group of six was split into two smaller groups and visited classroom in teams of 2-3. We spent about 20 minutes per visit and regrouped all six teachers after visiting a few classes. 

All school faculty were aware of our walks and could elect to host a visit or opt out. We were not evaluating, nor passing judgement. Our goal was to hone our skills at identifying what we saw in the classroom. For example, could we look at classroom activity and agree on what level of Bloom we would assign to it?

After the classroom visits, I led each group in a debriefing with a focus on developing a shared understanding of what the strategies look like in the classroom. A “March Madness” analogy would be a group of observers discussing the defensive strategies they see being used in a basketball game. They share a common vocabulary and they are in full agreement about how to label what they observe.

Armed with a shared understanding of what how we would define our instructional strategies, we then turned to agenda setting for future PD. I led each walkthrough group in brainstorming session on how they would recommend we focus their future PD. I compiled input from all six brainstorming session into a report to the school based planning team. They then met to design their  09-10 professional development program.

Here's a Wordle of the top 50 comments from our brainstorm sessions.


Meeting Middle East Educators

IMG_0542 Last week I presented at the TeachME 2009 International Education Conference, in Dubai. It was a great pleasure to meet dedicated educators from across the Gulf Coast region. 

While many of the attendees are expats, a sizable number were local teachers and administrators. Their similarity to American educators far surpassed any differences. A smile behind a face veil is no less joyful. 

As President Obama said at his inauguration,  "We cannot help but believe that …as our world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself…" 

I suspect teachers will lead the way. 

Notice the TurningPoint response cards on orange lanyards – everybody loves clickers!