Talk About Teaching and Learning:
January 26, 2016, Volume 62, No. 20
Integrating Technology into My On-campus Course
Brian J. Bushee
Prior to 2013, I was a Luddite when it came to using technology in my teaching. Yes, I would use PowerPoint and post materials to a course website, but that was about it. Then, I created a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for Coursera and it completely changed the way I approached my on-campus teaching. After teaching online, I found effective ways to use technology to improve pre-class preparation and free up more class time for additional interactive discussions and cases.
To launch the MOOC, I recorded 20 hours of video lectures. These videos covered the “basics” of the Introduction to Financial Accounting course that we teach to Wharton MBAs; i.e. the 30% or so of class time devoted to lecturing about essential facts. I supplemented the videos with online homework and exams, as well as a “discussion forum” where we could answer questions posted by students. To date, I have had over 21,000 students from around the world successfully complete the MOOC by scoring more than 70% on the homework and exams. This experience showed me that students can effectively learn basic material through an online format.
In the past, I assigned readings and practice problems for the basic facts needed for the class session. Then, assuming that the students would not do the reading, I would spend the first part of the class lecturing about those facts. Of course, the students knew I would do this, which is why they did not do the reading. It was a bad equilibrium. After the lecture, we would spend the remainder of the class time on more advanced topics and on applications of the basics to real-world cases.
In my new approach, I post my video lectures for the day’s topics to Canvas and ask the students to watch the videos prior to class. I also require that they take a five-question multiple choice quiz on the video material prior to class. The quiz randomly chooses questions from a question bank of 10-15 questions. I give the students two attempts to take the quiz, with the highest score counting toward their grade. The quizzes motivate them to watch the videos and provide them with immediate feedback on their understanding of the material in the videos.
The quizzes also provide me with feedback on the student’s understanding of the material. I review the quiz results prior to class and start class by covering any questions that the students struggled with. Through this process, I am able to reduce the “lecture” part of class from 20-25 minutes to less than five minutes.
Now, I have 20 minutes of extra class time that I can use for more in-depth coverage of advanced material, for additional real-world applications, or for more extensive discussions of complicated issues with students. For example, I occasionally use class time to have the students work in groups. I give them a problem or case to discuss for five minutes or so. I am able to get a sense of their understanding of the issues by walking around to listen in on their discussions. Then, we reconvene to have some of the groups present their answers. I also have the class time available to use Poll Everywhere to have students answer questions or give opinions anonymously with their phone or laptops. I can immediately display the results to show the class where they stand on some interesting discussion point in a case and to propel further discussion. The 80 minutes of class time suddenly has become more fun for me and my students.
The big advantages of this new approach from my point of view are that I can walk into class knowing how well-prepared the students are and then have more time for the sophisticated discussions that are often rushed at end of class. I can also make the class time more interactive and stimulating for the students.
The big advantage for the students is that they can rewatch the parts of videos they don’t understand (unlike lectures, where they can miss something if they get distracted in class). They can receive instant feedback on what they understand through the quizzes and can retake them later for practice before an exam. Also, the videos are more engaging than a textbook, especially to a generation of students now accustomed to universal and immediate access to streaming video content.
Of course, there are disadvantages. For an instructor, the big costs are the time to create videos and the need to create additional material to cover in class. Creating high-quality videos is actually fairly easy. I bought a camera and umbrella lights for about $200 and Camtasia editing software for about $500, and then filmed the videos sitting at my desk. I used GoAnimate software to create “virtual students” to ask me questions during the videos, which made them feel more interactive. However, the real cost is time: it took me about 2-3 hours to complete a 15-minute video. Then, I had to find additional cases or exercises to replace the lost lecture time. But, at least these investments can be amortized over multiple years.
The big disadvantage for students is that they actually have to do work outside of class. Because I can monitor the quiz activity and I commit to not re-lecturing the material in class, students feel more compelled to do the required work outside of class. In fact, the main student complaint about the new approach is the “heavy workload” outside of class. The workload should be the same as my prior approach because the time to read the textbook and attempt some practice problems is about the same as watching the videos and taking the quiz. The difference is that now they actually do the work!
There are two more issues to keep in mind under this approach. First, the students can try to circumvent the pre-class quiz by sharing answers. I view these quizzes as more about facilitating learning than about assessment, so I am not too worried about this practice. Plus, I point out to them that, if they come to me for help after a poor midterm exam performance, and I see that they got perfect scores for every quiz, then they will have some explaining to do. Second, there is the risk that more students will skip class because they think they know everything after watching the videos and taking the quiz. This problem can be somewhat remedied by placing more grading weight on class attendance and participation.
All in all, integrating technology into my on-campus course has been a positive experience for me and my students. I have found myself more energized and eager to walk into the classroom. The students are better prepared, we have better discussions and I don’t have to stand there and lecture!
Brian J. Bushee is the Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor of Accounting at the Wharton School.
He is a recipient of the 2015 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching as well as a 2014 Excellence in Teaching Award from Wharton.
This essay continues the series that began in the fall of 1994 as the joint creation of the
College of Arts and Sciences and the Lindback Society for Distinguished Teaching.
See www.upenn.edu/almanac/teach/teachall.html for the previous essays.