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Newsletter ad

[A version of this appeared in the University of Glasgow Newsletter 231, around 31 October 2001]

Want to try interactive handsets in your lectures?

Many consider that one of the most difficult issues in teaching is how to engage large audiences of students, since they believe that interaction with big numbers is unworkable. A technical support for this is now available, consisting of a portable kit with handsets for every student that are used much as in the TV show "Who wants to be a millionaire?". A multiple choice question (MCQ) is displayed, the handsets (using infrared like domestic TV remote controls) allow every student to contribute their opinion anonymously, and after the specified time (e.g. 60 seconds) elapses the aggregated results are displayed as a barchart. Thus every student sees the consensus or spread of opinion, knows how their own relates to that, and contributes while remaining anonymous. It is thus like a show of hands, but with privacy for the students, more accurate and automatic counting, and more convenient for multiple-choice rather than yes/no questions. It may thus be described as a Group Response system, giving full common knowledge of the set of views in the room on a question, but without knowing who thinks what.

It can be used for any purpose that MCQs can serve, including:

The research literature suggests that initiating small group discussion offers the biggest learning gains, but requires considerable skill and effort in designing successfully provoking questions. Lecturers with experience of using it tend to say that why they couldn't now do without it is the much better information they get on what each class does and doesn't find difficult, which often varies from year to year unpredictably. There is more discussion on this in a paper on the web at:

With financing from both a research grant and the University, we have been able to purchase equipment for up to 650 students at a time: i.e. two of the largest lecture theatres simultaneously. It can be used in any size group, and any lecture theatre in the university. It has just started in use in a large first year class which you may visit (Quintin Cutts, Wed. and Fri. during term one, at noon in BoydOrr LT1, and 1pm Maths 4B) to see it in action.

Any lecturer interested in trialling the equipment is invited to contact us (details at the end). Sets of up to 200 handsets only are available before Christmas, and up to 350 afterwards. The equipment is portable, and takes a practised person about 3 minutes to set up, and repack afterwards. Handing out, and re-collecting the handsets may well require other helpers. A laptop computer is needed to run the software (we may be able to loan one if necessary). Using the handset software can be integrated with Powerpoint or used separately, as you wish. In principle availability is subject only to too many people requiring their use at the same hour. In practice, use is much less stressful with practised assistants which we may be able to supply, but which are currently in much shorter supply.

Any lecturer interested in trialling its use is invited to contact us via the details on: (As the availability of project members will vary, it is best to inspect that page at the time you wish to make contact.)

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