Scholarly article on topic 'Exciting Technical Learning in Large Classes through Personal Response Technology'

Exciting Technical Learning in Large Classes through Personal Response Technology Academic research paper on "Computer and information sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Computer and information sciences, author of scientific article — Peter Knottenbelt, Amuli Bukanga

Abstract The use of radio frequency personal response system (PRS) to stimulate the learning activity in large class groups has been tested and found invaluable over a period of 3 years. The paper describes the benefits of using the PRS as well as some of the logistical problems and their solutions as practiced in the Mining Department of the University of Johannesburg. The applicability of PRS particularly in technical modules is confirmed.

Academic research paper on topic "Exciting Technical Learning in Large Classes through Personal Response Technology"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 174 (2015) 51 - 57

INTE 2014

Exciting technical learning in large classes through personal

response technology

Peter Knottenbelta*, Amuli Bukangab

aUniversity of Johannesburg, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Johannesburg, South Africa _bUniversity of Johannesburg, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Johannesburg, South Africa_


The use of radio frequency personal response system (PRS) to stimulate the learning activity in large class groups has been tested and found invaluable over a period of 3 years. The paper describes the benefits of using the PRS as well as some of the logistical problems and their solutions as practiced in the Mining Department of the University of Johannesburg. The applicability of PRS particularly in technical modules is confirmed.

©2015TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.Thisis an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-reviewunderresponsibility of the Sakarya University

Keywords: clickers, response system, large classes

l.Introduction and background

Virtually all institutions of higher learning are experiencing the economic need to increase the size of class groups. Bigger and bigger lecturer halls are being introduced in the interests of viability. With this necessity comes the downside of less interaction with students: A "lecture" is a lecture and virtually no interaction can be allowed in these large classes. Compensating lecture tutorials and supporting homework are two of many alternatives to the problem of ensuring the internalization of knowledge following the formal lecture. Of course in some types of modules and under many circumstances the lecturer is the only source of query whilst in other type modules the ever increasing responsibility is placed on the learner to do self-learning through the many avenues available. The adage "it is important that the learner learns and not so much that the teacher teaches" applies.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-000-000-0000 ; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Sakarya University


This paper deals with an intervention used, together with many others, in attempting to blend tutorial work directly from the responsible lecturer during the lecturer/tutorial time. Particularly for large classes and in technical modules, there is a desperate need for direct interaction between lecturer and the individual student. The authors are of the opinion that this is particularly true in developing countries and probably at the early stages of undergraduate learning. It is also well established that students learn best from both the formal lecture with individualized lecturer interaction, as well as greatly from the interaction with peers. In the case being described a clear indication of a deeper internalization of knowledge is enumerated for both technical and nontechnical types of modules as presented at the University of Johannesburg's Mining Department.

Applied technology is one of the effective methods of diminishing the negative impacts of large class groups - many systems are available to assist the lecturer in assessing progress of students and carrying out formal assessments with technology facilitated grading. At the UJ Mining Department these systems are in place and being used. The PRS system is not widely used within the UJ but the Mining Department have consistently been using the process and are convinced that broad implementation of the process has resulted in better transfer of knowledge and an excitement in the learning process that enhances "deep learning".

From literature survey and the particularly the useful paper of Jane E Caldwell "Clickers in the Large Classroom" published in Spring 2007 it appears as if there is strong general international conviction on the benefits of using PRS clickers in the class room to facilitate teaching and learning.

The context of this paper is in tertiary education at the comprehensive University of Johannesburg. This University offers the full range of qualifications from higher certificates to post doctoral studies. The setting within the UJ for this paper is the applied technology programme of Mining Engineering Diploma. The class is made up of a broad range of demographics and social backgrounds from families of disadvantaged communities to students that have had high quality private schooling. The class size ranges from 130 in 2010 when the first trials with clickers began, to the class of 2014 with 258 students in the class. The minimum requirement of entry to the class is a Grade 12 National Senior Certificate with Mathematics and Science at 50% or more together with a 50% pass in English. Many of the students have English (the medium of instruction) as a third language. History has indicated that of the 258 students in the 2014 class about 20% although "present" in class, are virtually completely absent from class discussion, due to the fact that, despite further and further explanations, these students seem to have the feeling that they will not be successful. They seem to be completely and continuously confused. They feel that they "just can't understand" the concepts. This group has got the tendency to be sitting at the back of the class venue and they prefer not to be close to the lecturer. Their attendance is at best is passive, and many attend just because it is "compulsory".

The objective of introducing the clickers (PRS) was to find a technique that would encourage particularly the despondent and hapless students into active participation in the class room and to develop a confidence in particularly basic understanding, while progressively moving to more complexes exercises ie by keep a high level of "engagement" from all students.

The modules subjected to test particularly in 2014 are "Science Mining " presented by one of the authors of this paper and the module "Mineral Exploitation" presented by the other author.

The modules differ considerably in that Science Mining is basically applied physics and chemistry in a Mining Engineering context. Mineral Exploitation is a module that incorporates mining technology, geology, mineral processing and mine survey. The range is therefore from hard memory based material to understanding and application content and mathematical manipulation. The modules are both at first year (post grade 12) level.

In 2009 after a visit to an education technology expo the suppliers of Personal Response System (PRS) were approached and sponsorship for the purchase of 200 clickers was obtained. These had not been used at the university at all, prior to this activity. Literature convinced the authors of the validity of making use of these clickers for several of the standard and researched reasons as recorded below:

• Maintaining a register of attendance with little effort

• Reduced or even eliminated assessment marking and feedback

• Immediate feedback to students

• Immediate feedback to the lecturer

• Anonymousness of responses

• Committed individual response

• Improved learning

• Extending the attention span of students

• Improved grades

• Active learning using peer discussion

• Direct inter communication between lecturer and student

• Making lectures fun (Jane Caldwell)

• Exciting the learning experience - this is the subject of this paper

The research viewed was mostly from high tech institutions in the USA or UK where convincing cases were made for the use of the Radio Frequency two way clickers as the medium of the Personal Response System (PRS). More recently some universities in Africa appear to have attempted the implementation of the use of clickers in the large class. It appears as if all cases of introduction of clickers have positive outcomes or at least that the negative aspects are well outweighed by positives as listed above. Despite the efforts of the authors to convince other lecturers and academics across the Faculty the system is still being implemented very slowly. This is mainly due to the recognized difficulties as listed below

• Unfamiliarity of the software

• Technical difficulties particularly in the early stages of implementation

• Content coverage is reduced at the expense of depth of learning

• Considering the PRS as just a gimmick and not real teaching

• Difficulty of control of clickers

The subject of this paper is the "exciting" of the teaching and learning experience in large classes. In the class being considered in 2014 has 258 students - the lecturer movement in the venues has been restricted. Some classes are raked whilst others are flat, sometimes with audio-visual facilities and sometimes without. One can easily imagine that the highly motivated students arrive early and find a place in the front of the class. These are the students that would be asked questions and be conspicuous and active in the learning process. These are the students whose work can be checked by direct observation. In short where there is personal contact as would be the case in small classes, the lecturer has a strong chance of exciting the students even without the PRS system.

The students who (by design or co incidence) do not find themselves in personal reach of the lecturer are lost in a sea of students that spread into the back of the class. The lecturer still has a duty to give quality tutoring and teaching to each individual student - there is no discount for the students at the back of the class. Generally it is recognized that overall grades and even passing of a module may be at risk just because the student is not "active". There is no doubt that the PRS system stimulates the learner if used on a regular basis during the class. Typically up to 5 questions per 45 minute lecture were used in this trail and is typical of everyday use of the PRS. Further it is recognized that if there is the "threat" of an assessment or a random question "on the fly" during the lecture it is sure that many of the students would be more active or develop an attention span beyond the norm.

2. Method

Process of reinforcing the literature in the African Large class situation: It was decided to develop a model to add to the already convincing literature on the benefit of the clicker process.

A three pronged process was followed

• Randomly present noted classes with the clickers (C) and no clickers (N) . Carry out a clicker assessment on all the content over a period of four weeks and access the results of the components presented with and without clickers

• Consider the back 3 rows of students at an estimated 40 students and make judgment of their awareness of class activity particularly when using clickers and not using clickers for prolonged lectures after 40

minutes and 80 minutes uninterrupted lecture. It is recognized that best learning takes place in the first 5 minutes of a class. The process is recognized as a subjective process but gives a most convincing result.

• Regular end of lecture clickers assessment over a period compared to occasional and random "on the fly questions in the class and judging the attention of the approx 40 students at the back of the class -counting those that are active and attending to the activities

The objective of the class room activities is deep learning - not just for tests but for a life time of application so assessment is made of learning offered through clickers compared to non clicker teaching with delay assessments. The following tabulations summarize the results of the tests Test questions variable in nature:

Clicker Research Questions (Knottenbelt)

1. What is the preferred unit of angle for engineering (radian)

2. What is the symbol for radian (rad)

3. What is the rotational idling speed of the crank of a motor car engine in rpm (800 range of 300)

4. Convert 750rev per minute to radian per second, and grad per second, and degrees per second (78,5 ; 5000 ; 4500)

5. In what unit is pressure measured (pascal)

6. What pressure would a mine fan be exerting on the turbulent air stream if the resistance is 0.06 NS2/m8 and the flow rate is 40m3/s give answer in pascal (96)

7. What is the mass of Quartzite rock in an ore body that is 150m x 40m x 20m expressed in Mg (320000 -340000)

8. What is the approx. density of air at normal temperature and pressure express in kg/m3 (1.2 - 1.3)

9. What pressure will be exerted on a 4m x 4m mine pillar that supports an area of 8m x 8m of rock at a depth of 250m. Use a relative density of 2,3 for the rock being supported and give answer in MPa (22 -23)

10. What is the minimum air quantity required to be delivered at the working face of a tunnel if it is 3,3m X 3,4m in dimension Give answer in m3 /s (1.6 - 1.7)

11. What is the legal mass of a person for the purpose of working out the size of a rope holding a cage in a mine shaft - answer in kg (75)

12. In the acronym SASOL what does the S stand for (Synthetic SA Synthetic Oil Limited)

3. Results

Table 1: Calculation and recall using clickers and non clickers in for teaching_

Question Clicker presented C / non clicker N Early test average for class Late test after 2 weeks Question type

7 C 74 68 Calc and recall

8 C 78 68 Calc and recall

10 C 67 58 Calc and recall

4 N 60 28 Calc and recall

6 N 35 27 Calc and recall

9 N 52 28 Calc and recall

2 C 84 82 RECALL

3 C 76 68 RECALL

11 C 85 82 RECALL

1 N 64 52 RECALL

5 N 68 54 RECALL

12 N 62 34 RECALL

It is clear from Table 1 that both in the calculation and recall as well as the recall areas there is a strong conviction that the use of clickers has a positive impact on the learning experience both in the short term and the

longer term. This was reinforced by a random show of hands in the class where no student indicated that the clicker system did not contribute positively to the learning experience.

Table 2: Clicker and non clicker presented back rows attention comparison (Knottenbelt and Bukanga)

Lecture Clicker presented C Est number /40 not Est number /40 not

/ non clicker N attending after 40 attending after 80

minutes back 3 minutes back 3

rows rows

1 C 0 2

2 C 5 6

3 C 0 3

6 C 4 6

4 N 26 30

5 N 12 24

7 N 25 35

8 N 30 35

It is clear from Table 2 that the use of clickers in the class as a teaching and learning tool excites the learners into extended attention span. This was reinforced by a show of hands from the student group late on a Friday afternoon where minimal absenteeism was noted. The group indicated that despite a 4 hour session all students were positively engaged right at the end of the lesson period.

Table 3: Clicker presentations End of class only and randomly used in lecture back row attention comparison

Lecture Clicker only end Est number /40 not Est number /40 not

class E attending after 40 attending after 80

/random clicker on minutes back 3 minutes back 3

Fly rows rows

3 E 6 3

4 E 8 5

5 E 5 3

8 E 13 4

1 F 12 14

2 F 6 12

6 F 4 3

7 F 6 3

It is clear from Table 3 that where the random "threat" of the use of clickers during a lecture (on the fly) the attention span of the student is strongly extended despite any length of lecture. Where the students know that a clicker evaluation will be used at the end of a class the attention during the class attention span is also positively affected - this is reinforced by comparing Table 2 non clicker attention span with any of the results of Table 3.


Whilst this investigation may be considered somewhat unscientific the authors are convinced that the use of clickers in any form improves the attention span in the class, promotes the deep learning activity mainly through

allowing peer discussion and focused attention, and maintains excitement in the class through, if nothing else, the use of technology to stimulate two way communications. These conclusions may be achieved by simply looking at current literature however the application in an African context where the range of entry to first year engineering abilities is extremely variable is equally if not more applicable to developed countries

References :

Caldwell, J. E. Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE Life Sciences Education. 2005, 6, S. Simelane1, D.M. Dimpe2 Clicker technology: The tool to promote active learning in the classroom

Duncan, D. Clickers: A new teaching aid with exceptional promise. The Astronomy Education Review. 2007, 5: page 70-88. Available at Accessed November 02, 2009. Beatty, I. Transforming student learning with classroom communication system. Educause Center for applied research: Research bulletin. 2004, 13, page 25-33. Available at Accessed May 05, 2009.

Carnevale, D. (2005) Run a Class Like a Game Show: 'Clickers' Keep Students Involved. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Informatino Technology. 2005, 51, B3.

Educause Learning Initiative. 7 Things you should know about clickers. 2005, Available at: Accessed February 07, 2009.

Robson, J. Active teaching and Learning. n.d., Available at Accessed July16, 2009. Bruff, D. Clickers and classroom dynamics: Classroom response systems create opportunities for managing student discussion and assessing student learning. 2007, Available at Accessed June 29 ,2009. page 9-20. Crossgrove, K. & Curran, K. L. Using clickers in nonmajors- and majors-level Biology courses: student opinion, learning, and long-term

retention of course material. CBE—Life Sciences Education. 2008, 7, page146-156. O'Donoghue, M. & O'Steen, B. Clicking on or off ? Lecturers'rationale for using student response systems. 2007, Ascilite Singapore.

Singapore. Duncan, D. Clickers in the classroom: How to enhance Science teaching using classroom response systems 2005. Lantz, M. E. The use of clickers in the classroom: Teaching innovation or merely an amusing novelty? Computers in Human Behavior. 2010,

26, page 556-561. Available at Accessed June 07, 2010. Crouch, C. H. & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results [Electronic Version]. American Journal of Physics.

2001, 69, page 970-977. Available at Zhiming, C. Promoting active and deep learning in my class. The China Paper. 2004, pages 94-99. Available at Accessed July 16, 2009.