2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM


ROBINSON, Delores and GOODLIFFE, Andrew, Department of Geological Sciences, Univ of Alabama, 202 Bevill Building, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, dmr@wgs.geo.ua.edu

Introductory undergraduate education is a “hot topic” in academic circles. Teaching techniques such as hands-on education, small group discussions, and small group team work are frequently discussed. These techniques, although powerful, are sometimes difficult to employ in large 100+ classes. Universities are struggling with how to employ these small class techniques in classes with hundreds of students. Teaching the sciences is particularly challenging due to the necessity of hands-on work, but the inevitability of large service classes makes this difficult. The Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Alabama is currently transforming introductory level classes from mainly large lecture format classes to large discussion and inquiry based classes. To facilitate this transformation, we have employed a classroom performance system (CPS).

The CPS enables the facilitator to gain real-time feedback from the students. Positive outcomes are as follows: 1) the instructor knows when material is not conveyed effectively; 2) the instructor is forced to slow down, allowing more in-depth coverage of the material; 3) students are more likely to be attentive in class when CPS questions may be prompted at any moment (especially when CPS questions reemerge on tests); 4) at the beginning of the semester, discussion is facilitated by using the CPS and; 5) attendance increases. However, the challenges are as follows: 1) the instructor is forced to slow down, thus essential material may be excluded from the curriculum; 2) near the end of the semester students may be dependent on the CPS, and become less likely to participate in discussions; 3) if using as a record of attendance, it is difficult to prevent students from bringing an absent classmates clicker; 4) a few students may dominate the discussion meaning that less talkative students are harder to engage; and 5) unless installed as part of a classroom, students must rent or purchase a clicker and pay a registration fee. Data will be presented showing these outcomes and how using the CPS has affected our introductory geology classes. Overall, the positive impacts of using the CPS seem to outweigh the challenges. As we continue to use the system, the data will dictate whether the CPS is truly helpful in transforming large introductory level classes into engaged dynamic classes.