Achieving faculty buy-in for new active learning technology

University team and Macmillan Learning partner to develop student engagement solutions

i>clicker originally came out of the University of Illinois in the Physics department. What prompted you and your colleagues to develop your own system?

Mats Selen: Research has shown that active learning—asking students to engage in class with each other and their instructor—is more effective than traditional lecturing. Scott Freeman and his colleagues recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing conclusively that active learning results in better exam performance and reduced failure rates. But incorporating active learning in large classes used to be difficult. In the early 2000s, there were student response systems, but they were either complicated or did not function well in large lectures. So we decided to design our own, i>clicker, which was launched with Macmillan Learning in 2006.

Renee Altier: At Macmillan Learning, we have a rich history in partnering with educators to build solutions that support teaching and learning. We were excited to work with Mats and his colleagues to develop i>clicker into a scalable, reliable student response system. We’ve since supported thousands of instructors and millions of students as they use i>clicker, and now, REEF, our mobile solution.

How have administrators at the University of Illinois helped faculty embrace active learning practices?

Selen: It’s a difficult problem. When you are presenting faculty with a new way of doing something, they need to know that the results will be worth the effort. At Illinois, we created the infrastructure and base content so the classes would run the same way every semester. We also made i>clicker really easy to use, for both faculty and students. Involvement in our introductory classes is now a very positive experience for our faculty, which means that they are more likely to use the same research-proven tools and techniques when they teach other, advanced classes.

Altier: Faculty have to invest time to shift to active learning—while also persuading students to change the way they interact in the classroom. That takes work and, ideally, collaboration and feedback from colleagues. We’ve found the best way to support our institutional users is to facilitate peer-to-peer advice. Working with our administrators, our most experienced educators provide workshops and ongoing advice on how to use i>clicker and REEF.

What are the roles of the different stakeholders—administrators, faculty and business partners—in making sure students reach their full potential in higher ed?

Selen: We have the ability to create classrooms where students can have quality and sustained engagement with the material, their peers and their instructors. With increased access to data, educators can provide specific feedback to each individual student, at a just-right level, to improve learning. Administrators can support the active learning approach and help make sure the content and pedagogy is challenging and engaging.

Altier: As the business partner in this, we’re continually developing our products to provide institutions with the data they need to measure and improve teaching and learning. Data from i>clicker/REEF can help faculty analyze their own performance, and help students self-identify gaps in their own knowledge. With REEF’s analytics dashboard, administrators can evaluate engagement across the institution. Our goal is to keep finding ways to support all students and teachers.

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