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WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? OR: HOW INTERACTIVE VOTING SYSTEMS HELP ACTIVATING UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS AND IMPROVING TEACHING PERFORMANCE

M. Meyer

University of Applied Sciences (FH) Gelsenkirchen (GERMANY)
Looking back at more than ten years teaching experience in undergraduate computer science and business classes, we recognized that student activation and participation has become a major issue for teaching/learning performance. Classroom discussions of practical examples, exercises or case studies often attract only a very limited number of students in class while others stay passive and follow the discussions from outside only – in best case.
Many of the students, if they show up in class at all, just consume lectures like at a cinema and hope to really learn and understand the topic afterwards – or “just in time” when preparing for the exams. While this may eventually work for more “textbook-oriented” classes and exams covering mostly factual knowledge, it is almost sure to fail for those classes where continuous reflection, practical application to exercises or case studies, and discussion of alternatives becomes inevitable.
Thus, in order to activate more students and improve student’s participation in class exercises and discussions we started to use an interactive voting system in class which consists of a number of handheld devices together with a receiver connected to the instructor’s notebook. When entering the lecture theatre every student takes one of the handheld device that later allows him or her to enter Yes/No or any number as response to an instructor’s question.
At the beginning of each class, usually we do some quizzes, ask some recap questions and may also ask for some grouping criteria like sex, the program enrolled in, prior experience in the field etc. that can be used later for various statistics and performance analyses. This already helps activating students and improves participation. Moreover, experience shows that especially the use of quizzes where points are awarded for correct answers increases student participation to almost 100 percent – at least for the first couple of weeks. In order to keep participation high, we also studied the difference between having individual students competing for points with each others and setting up groups or teams of students that compete with other teams. As preliminary results show, this “team competition approach” leads to better results both in long-term student participation as well as performance, i.e. number of correct answers etc. which ultimately is the main goal we want to achieve. We will also discuss this result as it leads to the question of finding the right balance between teamwork and competition in general.
Presentation of this paper at the conference will cover the rationale and setting for our approach, discuss first empirical results from using the voting system in first year programming classes and may also include a live demonstration, so the audience may also participate in some quiz and get a live impression and proof of how our approach improves activation and teaching/learning performance.