Around Campus: Engaging Students with Technology

Margaret Adamson
Friday 5 June 2015

physics.fwOn Wednesday, Prof. Andy Gavrin of Purdue University, Indianapolis, delivered a seminar in the School of Physics with the title “Engaging Students with Technology”. He outlined two initiatives that he and colleagues have been using in Physics teaching – Just in Time Teaching, and Course Networking.

Just in Time Teaching is a version of the flipped classroom approach, although it began far earlier (in the mid to late 1990s) and goes much further than the “self study” type of flipped classroom. The basic premise is that students are assigned pre-class reading, and an associated online quiz, which closes two hours before the class begins. The quizzes, crucially, are not simply multiple choice. They require students to write reasoned responses to tutor-provided examples, or to describe what is happening in a figure or diagram. The tutor then uses the two hour timeslot to prepare what will happen in the face-to-face class and adapt material accordingly. The class then becomes a dialogue based around tutor-selected excerpts from the anonymized quiz responses (both strong, and weak). The tutor, especially with large classes, does not have to read every response, but as a rough guide, if 10% of the students have a misconception about something then that would be flagged as something to address in class. The process is a constructive one: although both strong and weak responses are used, the emphasis is on improvement and development. Questions can be reused in future classes as Clicker questions, or form the basis of exam questions. Interestingly, data from a class micro-survey showed that the “warmups” (as the pre-class activities are known) have the effect of giving  students of all abilities confidence that they are keeping up with the material – and even decrease the number of able students who “cram” for exams. An archive of warmups can be accessed at

andy_gavrin2The second, more recent, initiative described was Course Networking – an in-house social network which runs on an internal reward system based on Anar (pomegranate) seeds. It offers the usual facebook-like features such as posting, liking, polling and commenting, but in a secure institutional environment. Students can amass Anar seeds throughout the year based on their interactions with peers, and can use these for extra credit. This has proved popular with students. One example given was one of a student who started a series of “Gym Physics” videos – testing out his calculations by carrying out and videoing experiments using gym equipment. More information on Course Networking can be found here and more information about Andy himself can be found here.



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