Recently Technapex featured a study on the use of clickers in college environments, which revealed that when used properly by professors, clickers can be very effective teaching tools. However, these tools are expensive, and in an economy in which a college education has become prohibitively expensive for many, it doesn’t make sense for students to shell out $40-60 per device, no matter how beneficial they might be.
We also wrote about Top Hat Monocle’s mission to make the traditional clicker experience better for students. Now there’s another company attempting to make the lecture experience more interactive, and less expensive, with easy-to use tools for both teachers and students.
CenterClass is a free, online platform that engages students in lectures by allowing them to ask or vote on questions real-time in class. Professors can optimize their class time by addressing most-asked questions to get insights to better lesson plans. Discussions are then archived for students from all sections of a lecture to access easily, ultimately increasing class engagement and giving the students the power to ask the questions.
We spoke with Kevin Wu, co-founder of the startup CenterClass, who explained to us how the technology works and how it can help college students. “In a 200-500 person lecture, students can be hesitant to ask questions or contribute in class — the mass majority is shy to ask a question in front of so many people,” he said. “We wanted to built a platform for those students to still be able to give feedback to the instructor.”
With the app, which students can access from their laptops, tablets, and smartphones, students can ask questions anonymously, which are then shown to the rest of the class. If other students have the same question, they can vote on it, and the top five questions are displayed to the professor in real time. The app functions just like a clicker, but instead of the professors asking the questions, the students create the questions. In effect, this empowers the students and gives the professors better, immediate feedback.
The discussion doesn’t stop when class ends, however. All the questions are saved, so students can go back and discuss class topics among themselves after class. When a student’s question is answered by another student or the professor, the student receives a notification the next time they log into the app. The app also includes an analytics page for professors, so they can see class engagement over time, such as the total number of questions asked and answers provided, and the average time it takes for the question to be answered.
Currently, the app is free to students, and they can use the app for any course in which the professor uses CenterClass, so no need to buy two or three clickers per semester. The app is currently in beta, as the pilot program launched on September 1 and will continue throughout the 2012-2013 school year. The product is marketed to professors that are teaching large lectures, and currently the pilot program is being used by 70 professors and over 1500 students from schools including New York University, UC Berkeley, Penn State, UCLA, and Arizona State University. The app is also being used by several colleges in Canada, including University of Toronto, Queen’s University, and the University of British Columbia.
Would you be interested in an app like CenterClass? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Professors, interested in using CenterClass in one of your courses? Shoot me an email at email@example.com.