Prezi is a tool for creating presentations, just as Powerpoint and Keynote are, but with some interesting differences. Since its creation in 2009, it’s been seen more and more in conferences.
One way in which Prezi differs from earlier presentation tools is its metaphor. Both Powerpoint and Keynote use the metaphor of a series of individual slides that can be shown in a predetermined sequence, just as 35mm slides would be shown with a carousel projector.
In Prezi’s metaphor, the creator arranges materials on an infinitely large canvas and— as I think of it— uses a video camera to pan and zoom through those materials. That can be done on the fly or the creator can pre-record a series of pans and zooms. The resulting presentation maintains the spatial relationships among the various materials.
It’s On the Web
Although they can be downloaded, “Prezis” are assembled on the web, through your browser, and can be presented via your browser as well. They can be shared with the general public or with a select group of colleagues (or members of a class.) You can even collaborate with others on the creation of your Prezi, which makes it a great vehicle for group projects.
Good and Bad Uses
I’ve seen great uses of Prezi and uses that make no sense at all— unfortunately, quite a few of the latter. If your presentation materials consist of a series of bullet-point lists, quotations, graphics, etc. that have no particular spatial relationship to each other, then there’s no particular reason to lay them out side by side and pan from one to another. But if there are spatial relationships— such as in a complex chart, diagram or map— then Prezi may be the perfect tool.
Here are a few examples of great uses for Prezi. You can pan and zoom on your own, or click the Play button to step through a pre-recorded tour.
“Classification of Organisms,” created by Robert Kappus, will lead you systematically through a complex chart. The chart is circular, and the zoomed-in labels and graphics are aligned along radii of the circle, but that poses no problem, as the pre-recorded tour can not only pan and zoom, but rotate the view as well.
The “Physical Features of Africa Quiz” Prezi, created by Emily Thompson, will give you a tour through the major mountain ranges of Africa. Maps tend to be difficult things to project in a classroom, because the amount of detail means that labels often are too small to see from a distance. Prezi is a great vehicle for showing detailed maps, because of the extreme levels of zooming it can support.
One of my favorite uses of Prezi is to explore different details of a complex work of art. Here’s one that I created, providing a tour through some of the details of the painting Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. An instructor can present a series of details from a work like this, without losing the context of each detail.
A number of people have realized that Prezi can be a good tool for creating a concept map— a diagram that shows relationships among various concepts. Here’s an example of a Globalization concept map, created by Dennis Carnduff.
Go to the Prezi website to explore other materials that various people have made public, to get more ideas on how it can be used.
Prezi offers three levels of licensing:
Public, which is free, provides you with 100 MB of storage, but requires you to make your creations public.
Enjoy, which costs $59/year, provides 500 MB storage and allows you to make your creations private.
Pro, which costs $159/year, provides 2GB storage.
However, students and teachers— anyone with an “edu” email address— can get the Enjoy level of license for free.
The website also provides a gateway to “Prezi U,” a community of educators who share ideas about using Prezi in their teaching.
by Steve Taylor There’s been a great deal of talk in higher-education circles over the past year, about the perils and possibilities of online learning. Often that talk has been in the context of MOOCs or Coursera, but there are many variations of online learning and I often find that two people discussing the topic have fairly different things in mind. Here then is a taxonomy that we can use to get a little closer to understanding each other.
Classroom Learning (also called Face-to-Face Learning)
This type of course serves to anchor one end of the spectrum of remoteness in learning environments. It refers to the traditional environment, in which matriculated students and their instructor meet in real space, on a frequent basis— usually two or three times per week. Readings and homework assignments exist on paper.
Enhanced Classroom Learning
As in traditional classroom learning, matriculated students and their instructor meet in real space on a frequent basis, but some of their course materials— and more significantly their course activities— reside on the web. Students may be expected to contribute to online discussions or blogs, collaborate online with classmates on group projects, or take quizzes or exams online.
Blended Learning (or Hybrid) Courses
In this type of environment, matriculated students conduct a majority of their learning online, but meet face-to-face with their class a few times throughout the term of the course. This is essentially a distance-learning approach, with some added checks, giving instructors an opportunity to confirm that students are on track, and possibly to administer an exam in a proctored setting. Blended learning courses are often offered for adult learners in rural areas, who have to drive a long distance to campus.
In a distance-learning environment, matriculated students take an entire course— or sometimes an entire degree program— online. Many universities offer distance-learning programs for students who would not be able to accommodate the schedule and location of traditional courses. Many public universities, with their commitment to educating the diverse populations of their states, have had distance learning programs for years, and many large, private universities have such programs as well.
Massive Online Open Course (MOOC)
MOOCs started to become prominent in late 2011 or early 2012. They exist entirely online and, unlike the other learning environments mentioned, they do not require learners to be matriculated in any particular institution. They are generally free of charge, but offer no credits. Because there is generally no instructor interaction involved, an individual MOOC may have thousands or even tens of thousands of students.
A number of universities have endorsed and supported their faculty members who wish to design MOOCs. Their motivations at this point seem to be a desire to “push their brand” into a larger population and, to some extent, a desire to provide a public service to that population.
Traditional, residential colleges like Vassar have been providing enhanced classroom learning experiences for many years, but most are just beginning to consider whether it makes sense for them to offer courses with reduced face-to-face time.
“Teaching with Technology in the Liberal Arts: Present & Future” – a panel discussion
Wednesday, October 24, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.
A panel of Vassar faculty and students presented diverse perspectives on the use of technology in the curriculum, including online instruction, “flipped classroom” practices, distance learning systems, and their potential impact on our campus.
Moderator: Steve Taylor, Director, Academic Computing Services
Panelists: Ben Ho (Economics Department), Tom Ellman (Computer Science Department), Sarah Cheng ’13 (Committee on Academic Technologies) and Matt Harvey ’13 (VP for Academics, Vassar Student Association)
by Steve Taylor Most software programs are in continuous development, as we all know from the “Upgrade to the latest version” alerts that pop up on our screens all too often. When the program runs on a server, as Moodle does, those upgrades usually happen without our notice, because the changes are either small or they happen to a part of the program that’s not so visible to us.
But then there are the big upgrades, the ones where the version number changes on the left side of the decimal point. Moodle has made that change (from 1.9 to 2.0) and we will be implementing the new version at Vassar this summer (2012.)
The most important reason for us to do this is simply to keep up with all the development that happens in and around Moodle. Since Moodle 2.0 was released in late 2010, third-party programmers have abandoned creating and enhancing the products that work with version 1.9 and have devoted themselves exclusively to writing for the new version.
Beyond that compelling-but-unsexy reason for us to upgrade, there are some great improvements to Moodle 2.0:
Better Editor. The editing tool that Moodle presents whenever you write a description, label, blog post, forum post, email message, etc. has been replaced with one that works properly with the Safari and Chrome browsers and is more resistant to the bugs introduced by pasting in text from Microsoft Word. (Text copied from Word includes LOTS and LOTS of invisible tags that can potentially “break” your Moodle page, to an extent that is very difficult to fix.)
External Repositories. When you add a file to your course site, the source doesn’t have to be your desktop computer– now you can directly add a link to a file from an external repository, like YouTube, Flickr, Dropbox, etc.
Better Looking. The new Moodle has more attractive themes to choose from, to set the visual tone for your site; it will also automatically format pages to look good on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.
Re-engineered activities. The gradebook, wiki, and quiz activities have been completely overhauled for easier use and better performance.
The new version introduces some challenges, of course. A strength of Moodle is that it’s an open-source product, which means that third-party developers can create add-on functions. Some of the add-ons that we’ve used at Vassar won’t work with the new version. These include the FLV Player (for streaming video), Scheduler (for office hours), and the Page format (for multiple tabbed pages within a course site.)
Also, there will no longer be a “Files” area, hidden from students, where instructors can upload files for later linking. Hidden folders of files will now reside on the “front page” of a course site.
The switch-over will take place in mid-June. ACS will be working with instructors to make sure that their migrated sites still work properly and that instructors know how to work in the new Moodle.
In Part I, we set the stage for redesigning our Moodle site by backing up our site and then clearing out unnecessary files. We also chose a design style for our course. In Part II, we employed Moodle “Web Pages” as a way to keep our instructional design elegant and efficient. Now, for Part III, we are going to complete our Moodle site revamp by fleshing out our course site, and building easy to use and understand links to activities and readings.
A Messy Files Area Increases Cognitive Load for Faculty and Students
Building Simple and Effective Course Links
Before we build the links, it is important to remind ourselves of one of the peculiarities of Moodle. I’m not sure if this applies to all Moodle users, but it applies to Vassar’s current version – Moodle 1.9.16. If you have a file in the files area and there is a live link to the file from your course site, Moodle won’t let you delete the file. However, if you move the file, Moodle won’t automatically update the link with the file’s new location, so the link won’t work for students any more. There is no notification to the instructor that the link is broken. The best way to avoid this problem is to organize your files well before building the course links.
Instructors may choose to build links to every file, or they may choose to provide links to directories containing .pdfs and other course files. The choice depends mostly on the number of readings students access via Moodle. If you have a large number of .pdfs for the students to download, building a link to every file is tedious. It can also promote “Moodle Sprawl”, as every file linked to the front page increases the size of the page. Most professors would benefit from providing a link to a directory or directories containing readings and other files. This is a great strategy IF the professor has a consistent naming system for the files, as the file names will be the students only way of locating the readings.
Many computer systems alphabetize things differently than humans. For example, in Moodle’s File Area, all capital letters come before all lower case letters. Hence, the letter ‘Z’ comes before the letter ‘a’. All numbers come before letters. Spaces and some symbols come before numbers and letters, other symbols follow letters and numbers. If you have ever looked at your Moodle files and been bewildered by how things are arranged, the rules of alphabetization are probably to blame. To leverage computer alphabetization, employ a consistent file naming scheme, such as “lastname_of_author-article_title”. If you are capitalizing, make sure that you capitalize the first letter of each file. That way, when students go to find files in a directory with many articles, they will easily be able to find the readings by searching for the author’s name.
Consistent File Naming in Action
Reduce Moodle Clutter: Prioritize Major Assignments and Activities
Major assignments should be highly visible at the beginning of the semester. Having fewer “clutter” items at the top level lends significance to activities and assignments that are displayed on the front page.
Forums are one of the most popular Moodle activities, but be careful to choose a forum / discussion board that suits your course. The “standard forum” in Moodle has the capacity a nigh-infinite number of questions, topics and responses. If you envision a lot of forum activity and a large number of topics during the semester, then the “standard forum” is the right choice (hint: you most likely need just one). However, if you are planning just a few activities that require forum posts, consider the other forum types:
A “single simple discussion” keeps the class focused and responding to a single prompt.
“Each person posts one discussion” enables every student to post one topic, like a paper proposal, and everyone else can reply.
The “Q &A forum” is the an interesting pedagogical forum: each student must post their opinion or viewpoint before they are allowed to view their fellow students’ posts. If you are trying to prevent groupthink, this might the choice for you.
A good banner image for a course will be panoramic in its aspect ratio (image courtesy of philflieger in Flickr).
If you haven’t already, be sure to add your contact information and office hours at the top. If you feel so inspired, create a banner (hint: something wide and not too tall, around 100 kb; large pictures punish users accessing via laptops, tablets and smartphones). When uploading the syllabus, apply a naming convention to help keep track of versions. (Hint: use numbers or letters, as having a syllabus titled “final-final-final version” is confusing.) Once you have your readings, major assignments, and activities in place, your Moodle site is ready to go. Hopefully these posts will help you revamp your site. An elegantly designed Moodle site, one that increases functionality and is easy to use, will benefit students and faculty alike.
As a postlude to my Moodle Design series, I’ll be adding an article highlighting some really great but oft-overlooked features in Moodle.
Building Elegant Instructional Design Architecture with Moodle Web Pages
by Baynard Bailey
In Part I of this series, I focused on the preliminary stages of revamping a Moodle site. The major steps included backing up your materials, culling unnecessary files, and choosing a course design that fits your teaching style (for most that means choosing a ‘topical’ or ‘weekly’ format). In this post, I hope to provide some tips to empower your Moodle site to enhance student understanding of the overall arc and flow of the course.
Many of the Moodle sites I see suffer from ‘sprawl’ or ‘bloat’. The site starts out fine, but by the end of the semester, especially for courses that meet more than once a week, the length of the front page stretches on for screen after screen. Scrolling to the bottom of the page (the current week) can take a minute or more, and sifting through past weeks’ materials and activities is tedious. Why put up with this, when you can have an elegantly designed Moodle site that better reflects the structure and scope of your curriculum? Consider putting topics, class meetings or weeks into their own “web pages” within Moodle. The resulting front page of your Moodle site will be an elegant summary of the major topics of your course, easily navigable, and an aid to learning.
Creating web pages makes elegant Moodle site design easy.
It is easy to overlook the “Compose a web page” resource tool, especially when one is first using Moodle. But if you are revamping a course, this resource choice is worth serious consideration. Composing Moodle web pages provides instructors ample room to provide detailed directions for class activities without adding unnecessary sprawl to the front page of your course site. I will use some examples from a recent consult I had with Molly Shanley.
Molly wanted to meet because she had taught a course Poli Sci 278 before, using Blackboard. She was now getting ready to build her site in Moodle and wanted tips for building sites for Moodle courses that met biweekly. She had a syllabus that was 90% complete. I decided I would try and sell her on the idea of using Moodle web pages to help structure her course.
We built a few of the first class meetings with a web page for each meeting. This really reduced front page sprawl, especially in regards to the some of the early class meetings, which contained comprehensive directions and details. We discussed how this approach allowed the main topics of the course to stay afloat at the top level of the site, becoming a sort of topical outline for the semester. Students would be able to easily discern the arc of the course, and to place the topic for each class within that arc. At the same time, the full details for readings and assignments could be accessed quickly and easily. We were happy with the results so we copied and pasted the syllabus outline and fleshed out the bulk of the course.
Each Class Becomes a "Branch" of the Course Outline (Draft Syllabus)
Here’s a sample “Moodle Web Page”, found by clicking on the corresponding link from the outline above:
Copying and Pasting Yielded Excellent Results
Since Molly had a well developed syllabus, it was a straightforward mechanical process to paste the details into a corresponding structure in her Moodle site. The front page of her Moodle site became an outline of the entire course. Each class meetings’ corresponding web page will contain detailed information about readings, activities and assignments. Building the design of your course into a corresponding visual and textual pattern in Moodle is excellent instructional design, facilitating the learning and teaching process.
Look forward to Part III where we’ll complete the Moodle site revamping process.
Moodle sites are living breathing documents that evolve as the semester progresses. When push comes to shove during the semester’s crunch, one thing shoved is often an effective course site design. Thankfully, the semester ends and the mess goes away. But when it comes time to teach that course again, it is a good opportunity to revamp that course site. What to do first? Where to start? I hope to walk readers through some of the major steps and processes that will facilitate an effective instructional re-design of a course site.
Currently at Vassar, we are working with Moodle version 1.9.7 so my instructions are tailored to that, but I hope that some of the broader strategies could be applied to any Learning Management System.
In order to provide the best advice possible, I decided I would actually help revamp a site. I reached out to my friend and colleague Karen Robertson and offered to assist her in redesigning her Moodle site for Women’s Studies 240: Constructing Gender. The site was a good candidate for revamping. Prior to last year, it had been team-taught, so Karen had inherited the site and had yet to really “move in”. Last spring’s site contained a wealth of great materials, but the organization could be altered to improve the presentation. Karen warmly received my idea and so we met last week.
Good Instructional Design Reduces Cognitive Load
I had the goal to design a neat site with a clean and uncluttered look and feel (and then to share the strategies employed in our ACS blog). Karen and I discussed why it was important to keep an uncluttered appearance to the front page of the Moodle site. She reminded me that our goal was to develop a clear and easy to use site in order to reduce labor and cognitive load.
Step 1: Back up your old materials.
Before we began, we backed up the old site. Additionally, we printed out a copy of the main page so we could have a visual map of the old site. We also printed out lists of readings in the file areas so Karen could go through them on her own.
Step 2: Take stock of your current materials. Delete duplicates and unnecessary items (first pass).
We went through the site week by week, deleting unused assignments and various items that had been used in the past but were unnecessary now. Bear in mind, we didn’t go through all of her readings, we just deleted the “low hanging fruit”.
Step 3: Choose a style of course design that fits your teaching style
This is a big step. Karen and I discussed the pros and cons of topics versus weeks (these are the two most commonly used settings in Moodle). Topics are great in that users can choose to have as many or as few topics as fit their curriculum. Weeks are useful in that the dates are auto-created and visually correspond right away to the semester’s calendar. Karen pointed out that some topics are much longer than others, and that weeks often bridge topics. She emphasized the importance of making it absolutely clear to students what was expected each class.
On my end, I wanted to avoid Moodle “sprawl”. Every time you add a topic or a week, it adds a space to a course site. Sometimes faculty use the “Topics” setting, and then create a topic for each time the class meets or just about any other reason. To make matters worse, faculty often include extensive directions in labels right there on the front page of the site. The end result is a Moodle site that is about ten feet long, difficult to navigate, and a hindrance for faculty and students alike. To avoid “sprawl”, I showed Karen how we could put in extensive and precise directions as a “web page” resource for each topic. Since the directions were web pages, we could even include links to readings, assignments, activities, or anything else we had in Moodle.
Generally, faculty have an excellent sense of the arc of a course and a strong understanding of the intended learning goals for the semester. How well those concepts are communicated in Moodle is a mixture of teaching style and sometimes fluency with Moodle. I wanted to provide Karen a tool that would allow her to describe the arc of the course in a glance, but also allow flexibility and specificity in terms of readings and class activities as the semester evolved. The end result was a compromise between “topics” and “weeks”; we would use the “topics” setting, but provide specific directions and links for each class meeting.
I thought we were done there, as determining the arc of the course would require some deep thinking, but luckily, Karen had already done the deep thinking and quickly summed up the major topics of the course:
Feminism and Pop Culture
Secret Life of Commodities
Visual Pleasure: Hollywood and the Gaze
The Romantic Industrial Complex
Our next steps would include organizing the files area to best fit the instructional design. As part of our conversation, we had made a prototype topic for the first few classes.
Our Topic "Prototype" Keeps the Main Page Simple
I offered to continue to make placeholders for the rest of course. Karen would review the reading list in preparation for our next meeting. It had been a really productive consult with good feelings on both sides. I looked forward to our next meeting.
Google has “semi-released” a new service that many people consider to be a direct competitor to Facebook: “Google +”. Like Facebook– or Twitter, for that matter– it’s a social network, meaning that you identify other people that you’re interested in and you share information with them.
Nearly every college or university student uses Facebook, so it was natural for faculty and administrators to start exploring how they might take advantage of that to improve communications with students. But many found the idea of an instructor friending a student to be at best a little awkward and at worst, creepy. Part of the problem is that, in Facebook, a “friend” relationship is bi-directional: in order for a student to see her teacher’s postings, the teacher has to see hers. (That problem can be addressed with Groups and restriction settings, but creating those takes more effort than most people want to make.)
Google+ takes a somewhat different approach: relationships can be one-directional, more like following someone in Twitter. You create “circles” of acquaintances of different types: current friends, high school friends, family members, co-workers, etc. and include different people in one or more of them. They’ll be notified that you added them to a circle, but they won’t know the name of that circle and they won’t be obligated to add you to any of theirs.
As an example, an instructor could create a circle that includes all of the students in English 101. He can share websites or comments with that circle, so that they appear in those students’ news feeds. But he doesn’t have to share his comments or pictures from last night’s barbecue with that circle. And if none of them add the instructor to any of their circles, he’ll never see anything they post. Of course, if they also make “English 101″ circles with the same members, they can share things that are appropriate for that group.
Students could also create temporary circles for chatting and sharing materials among a project group. (As could faculty researchers.)
“Hangout” is the Google+ name for a video chat. At the moment, this is probably the slickest way for a group of people to do video chatting. It’s very easy to do, can accommodate up to ten people at a time, and it’s free. Though you can schedule hangouts, Google thinks of them as being spontaneous– like if you’re hanging out in the college center and friends bump into you and hang out for a while. But an instructor could use the hangout feature for online office hours or for holding study sessions. Or for collaborating with research colleagues. Or for interviews.
There are other features too, but circles and hangouts seem to be the most intriguing ones for educational use. As of this writing, Google+ is in pre-release, which is to say that it’s available to people who know someone who knows someone, but it should be generally available soon.
In a previous post we examined the broad field of data visualization, ranging from the ubiquitous charts and graphs to be found on every news site to the sophisticated instances of visualization of experimental data at the frontier of research in the natural sciences. In this post, I intend to offer a sample of the most relevant and useful data sources and visualization tools available on the web, with a particular emphasis on those with potential impact in higher education.
Before there were data visualization tools, of course, there was data. One of the most important consequences of the profound impact of the internet on our culture has been the ever-increasing promotion and acceptance of initiatives of open access to human knowledge. This translates, among other things, into a wealth of open data repositories readily available for usage, like the World Bank Data site, the databases from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and projects by the Open Knowledge Foundation. Ever since making its way into the White House in 2009, the Obama administration has been true to its campaign promises of making public data available through a series of online portals, such as data.gov, usa.gov, and USAspending.gov, which offer a variety of demographic, financial and social data sets alongside useful visualization tools. (As an aside, we recently learned with horror that the existence of these sites could be threatened by the compromises reached during the approval of the latest U.S. federal budget.) The data.gov site features a series of educational projects in K-12 and higher ed for students to learn about government data, how to use it, and help create the tools that enable others to do so. On USAspending.gov, interested citizens can find out information about how their tax dollars are spent and get a broad picture of the federal spending processes. You can view and compare, for instance, the relative spending of every government agency at a glance.
Having open data repositories as well as open architectures for the development of appropriate tools for analysis and visualization of these data is crucial for an informed, educated society. Here’s an inspiring 5-minute talk by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, about the relevance of this issue.
News organizations around the world have also made efforts not only to make publicly available data accessible to readers, but also provide interactive tools for easy analysis and visualization. The British paper The Guardian has been a leader in this regard through its Data Store site. They have collected, curated and made available global development data from sources that include the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Here is a sample search for world literacy rates using the Data Store analysis tools. Furthermore, The Guardian’s Open Platform initiative allows developers to create custom applications through its open API. The site has been also successful in crowdsourcing a number of large data analysis efforts including sifting through Sarah Palin’s recently released email archive.
Wikileaks world map of embassy cables. Illustration by Finbarr Sheehy for the Guardian (Nov. 29, 2010)
A number of tools now allow us to analyze, visualize, publish and share our own data, allowing us to become active participants of this new paradigm of open knowledge. Sites like Gapminder.org, created by the great Hans Rosling have acquired well-deserved attention because of their ability to make instant sense of otherwise impenetrable mountains of data. The Gapmider World application allows to interactively pick and choose world data about wealth and health indicators and dynamically visualize it through the years. Similarly, the interactive portal visualizing.org is “a community of creative people working to make sense of complex issues through data and design.”
Another site worth experimenting with is Many Eyes, by IBM Research, which also provides you with the ability of contributing your own data and creating visualizations such as word trees and tag clouds, charts and maps. In traditional Google fashion, Google Fusion Tables provide an open application that makes it possible to host, manage, collaborate on, visualize, and publish data tables online. Finally (if you haven’t had enough already), this blog post by Vitaly Friedman, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine, feature a series of interesting approaches to data visualization.
One of the findings of research into learning and student behavior is that many under-performing students are over-confident in their mastery of their material. Over-confidence leads to inadequate studying. One remedy is to provide students with frequent opportunities for assessment. These opportunities don’t have to be in the form of time-consuming exams. They can be quick, ungraded assessments, whose only goals are to let students know if they really know what they think they know. If you’re worried that adding frequent assessments will eat away at your class time and add to your own workload, you may find some relief in technology. Here are two techniques.
One way is to create short, ungraded, auto-corrected quizzes in Moodle (or whatever Learning Management System you use.) Since students can take them out of class, they won’t affect your in-class time. And if they’re multiple-choice, or some other objective-answer format, you can designate the right answer so that Moodle can tell the student how well he or she did. Keeping them ungraded removes any temptation for the student to cheat. This is important, because the assessment has to be genuine— devoid of any self-delusion— in order to be effective. It also means that you don’t have to worry about honesty issues.
Not many Vassar instructors make use of Moodle-based quizzes. That may be partly due to the fact that they take some effort to create, but also to the fact that a multiple-choice quiz may not seem to be a valid measure to base a grade on. But it may be just valid enough to make students re-think whether or not they’ve studied enough.
Another way to conduct a quick, ungraded quiz is to do it in class, with clickers. Clickers (known more formally as Audience Response Systems) are small, handheld devices that each student in a class can use to instantly submit an answer to a multiple-choice question. In most cases, their use is anonymous. They may take up no extra time in your class, because you probably already do frequent comprehension checks in class, by asking “Is that clear? Does everyone understand that? Can we move on?” The problem with that method is that most people will mumble assent, whether they understand the material or not. Who wants to be the one person in class who says that they don’t get it?
One student may not want to admit that he doesn’t understand the material; another may think she understands it, but be wrong. A quick quiz will address both problems. And besides letting students know where they stand, it may also let you know if you need to spend more time on the topic or if you can move on.
A clicker system will display your question on the projection screen, collect everyone’s silent, anonymous answers, then display the results as a graph. The results may be surprising to everyone.
ACS has a set of clickers that can be borrowed as needed.