Gone are the days when a pencil, book and calculator were considered standard issue equipment for a maths lecture. In Dr Birgit Loch’s classroom it’s PC tablets, clickers and screen casts that are the norm.
Dr Loch is a senior maths lecturer from Swinburne University who is pioneering the use of technology in her classroom and is seeing huge benefits for students as a result.
In a pilot program completed last year at the University of Southern Queensland, Dr Loch and her then-colleague Dr Peter Phillips showed that effective use of technology in a classroom increased student retention rates by over five per cent and improved students’ exam performance by up to 28 per cent, particularly for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Since joining Swinburne in mid 2010, Dr Loch has expanded on this program. She is constantly looking for ways to integrate technology into her lectures to make them more dynamic.
In her maths classes students are each assigned a clicker – a small wireless device with numbered buttons. When Dr Loch projects equations onto the screen, her students can use their clickers to select from a number of potential solutions. The clicker software then generates a graph on the screen that shows the popularity of each response.
“Using clickers, students can respond to questions anonymously, so those that aren’t as confident can still participate,” Dr Loch said. “The clickers also allow me to gauge how many students understand the content. This makes a huge difference as a teacher, as it lets me know whether I should keep focusing on a particular area, or if it’s time to move on to the next subject.”
The introduction of PC tablets into Dr Loch’s classroom has also increased students’ participation in lectures. In collaboration with the University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Diane Donovan, Dr Loch has piloted a program where visual problems, such as trigonometry equations, are projected onto screens and students are then asked to use styluses to draw on their tablets and work out the problems in real time.
“The benefit here is that we can follow a student’s thought process as they figure out a problem. If they get stuck we can see exactly what part of the equation they are struggling with,” she said.
Dr Loch records the drawings from the tablets and posts them online as screen casts, giving students the opportunity to revisit problems at a later stage. She also podcasts her lectures and logs on to MSN Messenger to conduct online tutorials with her students.
Given the proven success of her techniques, this year Dr Loch is encouraging other Swinburne lecturers to increase the use of technology in their classrooms.
This will be facilitated by a new teaching space in Swinburne’s recently completed $140 million Advanced Technologies Centre which has 20 tablet PCs connected up to projector screens.
“We’ve proven that this technology is great for maths, but it would be beneficial for any discipline that needs some level of handwritten explanation,” she said.