After discovering that I would be teaching a large section of an undergraduate statistics course, I was excited about the opportunity. I also knew the challenges of teaching many students at one time. Having always taught smaller sections of introductory statistics, student engagement was natural. But I kept asking myself, “How am I going to keep that same level of engagement with so many students?” My past experiences as a student in large courses had been that student engagement was less common. Fortunately, I came across new and emerging technology in education called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) student response systems.
BYOD student response systems are growing in popularity in higher education institutions around the country. Many colleges and universities, including my own (Vanderbilt University), have adopted licenses for students to use BYOD response systems. These systems go beyond the features typically found in learning management systems such as Blackboard or Sakai, and the focus of BYOD response systems is somewhat different than learning management systems. While learning management systems provide an excellent platform to support teaching, the support is mainly outside of the classroom. BYOD response systems encourage students to engage and stay active learning the material during their time in the class. The primary feature of a BYOD response system is to create a dynamic, engaging classroom through the use of polling and other features.
While student polling has been around for many years in higher education, the traditional systems have utilized clickers to collect student responses to polling questions. However, clickers can be expensive and difficult for students to remember to bring to class. BYOD response systems utilize personal electronic devices (i.e., laptops, cell phones, tablets) to collect responses and engage students in class. BYOD response systems have several advantages over traditional clickers; namely, avoiding the logistical issues of having students purchase and carry clickers to class. However, a major concern that many faculty have is the potential for personal devices to be distracting during class. Prior to using a BYOD response system, I had a firm policy against electronic devices during class but I have not had any major issues with student distraction after relaxing this policy. In fact, the BYOD response system has encouraged students to engage and stay active learning the material during class time.
There are a couple of things to consider when selecting a BYOD response system. First, check with your institution to see if one has already been adopted. Not only will students already be familiar with using that system in other classes but they will not have to purchase a license. If one has not been adopted, then consider the size of your course. If you have a small course, then Poll Everywhere is a good option. Currently, Poll Everywhere allows free polling for up to 40 respondents but the instructor, student or institution may purchase a license to allow for more than 40 responses (see the higher education plans). However, there are other BYOD options on the market including TopHat, which is the BYOD response system that I use. Some of the unique and most-used features of TopHat that I use include the ability to include polling questions in lectures, the ability to easily integrate and annotate on PowerPoint slides, and the ability to ask discussion questions.
I have found teaching undergraduate statistics using a BYOD response system to be straightforward to learn and has been beneficial to my students. Not only do students have the ability to interact with me during class, but I have the ability to receive real-time data to evaluate students’ understanding of the material. It allows me to be dynamic in my teaching and spend more time on difficult topics for that particular class.
Additionally, many BYOD response systems have the ability to ask polling questions that go beyond multiple choice. For instance, I can ask students to calculate a probability and they can enter that number into the response system or I can have students click a point on a graph for a response. Secondly, being able to draw graphs or highlight certain text on the PowerPoint slides during class has been very beneficial. Students have the ability to follow along on their own device and can also see the annotations at any time after class. Finally, the discussion question feature has allowed my students to ask questions both in and out of class. I find that students utilize this feature frequently and enjoy being able to see the questions of other students along with my responses.
I truly believe that using a BYOD response system has helped my large lecture class feel much smaller for students. This has helped to create an engaging and dynamic atmosphere during class. I consistently receive positive feedback from my students about using the BYOD response system and students have also told me informally that it helps them stay engaged. If you ever find yourself needing to add a higher level of engagement and interaction to your course, then consider using a BYOD student response system.