In April 2005, Penn State Behrend received an HP Technology for Teaching grant to use Tablet PCs to encourage the transformation of teaching and learning. Lisa Mangel, a faculty member in biology, is working with instructional designers and assessment experts to incorporate HP Tablet PCs into her mammalian anatomy and human physiology classes. We anticipate that having students practice Tablet PC-based activities will result in more substantial interactions with course content in and out of lectures and labs, therefore producing better learning.
This project is funded in part by an HP Technology for Teaching grant.
Mammalian Anatomy and Human Physiology are introductory level courses in which students must learn a large amount of factual information before more in-depth understanding and synthesis can take place.
Traditionally, biology courses are taught through separate lectures and laboratory activities where lectures present the factual information and laboratory activities encourage application and synthesis of this information. As a result, students have a difficult time integrating lecture information and lab experiences together because they are exposed to these course materials at different times and places. We know practices play an important role to learning, but students have little access to the lab materials when studying outside of lab time.
We use Tablet PCs to combine course contents normally seen only in labs with classroom lectures, therefore students have access to their study materials anytime and anywhere. We believe providing students more opportunities to interact with text and visual materials side by side will facilitate the integration of knowledge and foster understanding.
With Tablet PCs and Tablet PC-based activities,
Learning outcomes will be assessed and compared with the same classes from previous years who had not used Tablet PCs or used fewer Tablet PC activities. Anticipated results include measurable gains in final exam scores, course grades, higher-level thinking skills, which result from better synthesis of the lecture and lab material.
Lab time is not just a time for students to play with dead cats. It is the time to apply what they have learned from the lecture and synthesize with what they see in a speciemen as they explore. A major issue in biology learning is that students do not have enough time to integrate the knowledge together. Application activities done in anatomy and physiology classes are usually limited to laboratory hours.
In our redesigned courses we follow spatial contiguity principle (Mayer, 2001) and focus on creating an environment where verbal lecture information and visual lab materials are put together so that students can synthesize them easily. We also make lab materials more available outside of lab time. For example, students take pictures during cat dissection sessions, exchange pictures with classmates, and then label them. This is valuable because every cat looks a little different and being able to identify the organs on the various cats gives students a broader understanding of the internal organs of this mammal, bringing students to a higher level of understanding rather than just memorizing their one specimen (Bloom, 1956).
Moreover, we developed Tablet PC activities for students to use in and out of lecture. These activities are made in PowerPoint, and depending on the expected learning outcome, students use the digital pen to label diagrams, trace paths through pictures of human organs, match related terms and definitions to pictures, and number the phases of biological processes in the order which they occur. These activities carry correct answers, which are displayed on an overlay slide so students write their answers, then advance the slide and see the correct answers beside theirs. The purpose of these activities is to have students compare their answers with the correct ones. These activities give students a chance to recall both lecture and lab content and to think independently, thereby push them to go beyond "knowing the what" but also to try to understand "how and why".
Throughout this process the faculty member, Lisa Mangel, has been heavily supported by Qi Dunsworth, an instructional designer in the Center for Teaching and Educational Technologies. They have been working closely to design and develop pen-based activities, student surveys, and other assessment instruments.
The instructor, Lisa Mangel, has a Tablet PC which she uses as her primary computer to prepare for class and use while teaching. She annotates PowerPoint slides as she lectures, and writes comments on electronically submitted student homework. She also has 20 Tablet PCs for her students in each of the two classes affected by this project.
In the anatomy class, students work on the activities in pairs and use the digital camera to take pictures of their specimens in lab for additional practice after class. They then exchange their pictures and practice labeling them on Tablet PCs. In the physiology class, students complete Tablet PC activities as homework after the lecture session. The activities are distributed online through Penn State’s course management system. Every topic has unique activities which are posted immediately after the lecture session. In both classes, students have secure wireless internet connection in class to access course materials or save them in their personal space provided by the college.
The goal of the project is to help students synthesize information and learn the subject matter more deeply by using interactive Tablet PC activities. The impact on teaching is observed in the following aspects:
Students used to have difficulty recalling and synthesizing factual knowledge from lectures in the lab environment. Now, with the Tablet PC activities, students constantly explain to themselves as they write their answers on the screen. Working in small groups, group members naturally try to teach or convince each other and figure out the correct answer. Also, students ask more complicated questions that involve interconnections of several concepts. We expect to see this trend continue next year and will document peer instruction behaviors in class and the questions answered through working on Tablet PC activities.
A comparison of BIOL 129 student grades between year 2005 and 2006 revealed that the 2006 class, who were given 30 Tablet PC-based activities to practice inside and outside lecture classrooms, achieved an average 4.06 points higher on final course grade than students in class 2005 who used the 5 Tablet PC-based activities that were just developed back then. The class average of final exam score in 2006 was also 6.88 points higher than that in year 2005. We will continue using these activities in the lectures.
Results of multiple student surveys showed that the following features of Tablet PCs and Tablet PC-based activities have been very helpful to learning:
Next year we plan to designate more time in class for Tablet PC activities, possibly in the form of case studies. We would like to have students work in small teams and find answers through inquiry and peer instruction (Mazur, 1997). We anticipate greater student motivation toward the content, higher ability to synthesize course materials in answering health questions.
Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning . New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: the cognitive domain. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction. A user's manual. New Jersey : Prentice Hall.