At a 2010 Educational Technology Committee Advancing Learning Conference, Lisa Koster, Coordinator of the Business Foundations Program at Conestoga College in Kitchener, saw a demonstration of the use of tablets for teaching mathematics. She recognized their potential for student engagement and effective teaching and learning in the classroom.
As a way of bringing tablets into Conestoga and linking Business Mathematics, tablet use, and the newly created Centre for Entrepreneurship, she applied for a grant from the HP Catalyst Initiative. In 2011, Conestoga received a grant of $150,000, including HP tablets, printers, and networking support, as well as cash.
As part of the HP Catalyst Project, the tablets were used in the School of Business and Hospitality in first-year courses in Foundations of Business Mathematics and Business Mathematics. On arriving at their face-to-face class, students are given a number associated with the tablet that they can use; they login, as does Professor Koster (or other instructors for the Business Maths course) and the class is then delivered using the tablets.
Delivering Content: Dyknow software for collaborative classroom management is used to connect the instructor’s computer to all the tablets used by the students. The information and mathematical questions and equations downloaded to, or written, during class on the instructor’s screen appear on students’ screens. Students take notes, perform calculations, respond to quizzes, and participate in polls on screen and save their work as well as the professor’s. They can use the in-class printers for hard copies as they choose.
Responding to Requests for Paper Use: Some students are not willing to use the tablets for calculations or note taking. In this case, they follow the teaching on the tablets and complete the quizzes and polls online. They are able to use pen and paper for their own work. In many cases, with increased familiarity, the students eventually migrate to using the tablet for all functions.
Formative Feedback during Class: Using polls and multiple-choice questions, students provide ongoing feedback on how well they are absorbing the content. As well as providing detailed results, Dyknow uses a stoplight system – providing green, yellow, and red signals to the instructor for a quick assessment of student responses. Teaching can then be adjusted to respond to areas of concern.
Use of Appropriate Online Tools: One concept students struggle with is the use of X and Y coordinates. Professor Koster found an online game to address this – and everyone who played the game successfully grasped the concept. Short video segments are often used, from sources as unexpected as Disney, when the video content provides an appropriate introduction to a concept.
Creating New Learning Tools: After having rushed through a class, Professor Koster re-did it as a video and posted it, which the students greatly appreciated. Consequently, she created more of these videos, as well as shorter sessions focused on difficult concepts, such as graphing. By Fall 2014, she plans to have a full series of short, targeted videos available.
Integrating with Textbook: One of the textbooks used in the class includes videos, as well as practice questions for the students. The publisher has offered to integrate the videos Professor Koster created with its current offerings.
Assessment: Students respond to quizzes online and submit their responses, which she marks and returns. The students can then work through the questions as a group. They are also awarded points for participation in classroom-based online activities as a way of encouraging attendance.
Outcomes and Benefits
The tablets have proven to be beneficial for engaging the students, not only with the content, but also with each other. An unexpected outcome was how the students moved into their own groups to work on the problems, and became more collaborative and sharing in a way that never occurred in the paper-only classroom. Professor Koster believes something as simple as the visibility of the screens contributed to this result.
Among the student comments are:
- I love that the computers are so close. I don't have to look far away and because the computers are right in front of me, I don't get distracted.
- I like that I can get my notes from wherever I am; at home, at school, at a friend’s, etc. No lost papers! I can add to my notes at home using the Dyknow software.
The instant feedback during the lesson is very useful for the professor in terms of re-focusing the lesson. It also benefits students as they see that they were not alone in having difficulties; this realization makes them more likely to ask direct questions.
Professor Koster is now available online before tests, working through problems. She created video screen captures of these sessions and posted them to extend access.
The tablets are being used in the Small Business Ventures Program in the Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Challenges and Enhancements
The various instructors using the tablets were not using them in a consistent fashion, with some relying more extensively on the actual blackboard. Students were confused by the inconsistencies; this indicates a need for more extensive faculty training and a consistent approach to classroom usage.
In academic year 2013-14, the business maths courses were offered in three-hour time slots, which presented some new challenges for pacing and attention.
When students were not successful, the tablets were seen as being the problem – when it is far more likely to be the students’ lack of attendance.
Some of the students would have preferred to use their own computers, but many did not have the capacity to write on-screen. On the other hand, some of the students were intimidated by using the tablets.
One of the goals of the project was to have entrepreneurs talk about how mathematics is of practical benefit to them on a daily basis. As there were six different classes using the tablets, visiting the actual classrooms was not feasible. Videos were produced from interviews, but these have proven to be too expensive to continue.
The HP Catalyst Initiative funding ran for two years and the College supported the project for a third. The program now has to be adapted, using, for example, tools that are free of charge.
For Further Information
Coordinator, Business Foundations Program
School of Business and Hospitality
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report on the HP Catalysts Initiative in 2013, entitled Sparking Innovation in STEM Education with Technology and Collaboration: A Case Study of the HP Catalyst Initiative.