Thursday, December 31, 2009

A first post...

Hello, and welcome to this blog, TurningPoint @ CIT. My name is Joseph B. Axenroth, and one thing I do is help professors at WSC learn about technology for in-classroom and online teaching. One such technology for the classroom is TurningPoint, an audience response system. This technology integrates into PowerPoint presentations, providing interactivity for student participants. But how is this done? And what benefits may it have for students? Perhaps more simply, what is TurningPoint?

Perhaps most simply, TurningPoint is a software and hardware system that serves as an audience response system. What this refers to is a way for presenters to allow the audience to participate, responding to the presentation. This interaction, by the audience as a whole, will help shape the way in which the presentation may go. Specifically, TurningPoint presentations must be presented within the Microsoft Office application, PowerPoint.

TurningPoint integrates into PowerPoint as a simple add-on. When installed, a toolbar will appear within PowerPoint, similar to the standard toolbar with open, save, etc. The toolbar serves as the user interface for which the user may add TurningPoint functionality to the PowerPoint presentation. This may be done on both PC's and Mac's (although currently it does not work with Mac's PowerPoint 2008).

So how does the audience respond to the presentation? As stated before, TurningPoint is both a software and hardware system. The toolbar within PowerPoint is the primary interface in terms of software. With regards to hardware, there are two primary components. One is a "clicker" and the other is the receiver (pictured on the right).

A "clicker" is the tool used by students and/or other participants in a TurningPoint presentation. It has a sequence of buttons that a user may push in response to the presentation. This response is then sent back to the receiver. Since this is the case, the two must communicate, and do so over radio frequencies (RF). A receiver may then be set to communicate on a specific channel, 01-82, defaulting to channel 41.

Using these tools, professors (or anyone) can create presentations the audience will enjoy, and walk away remembering more than presentations without. With the future of this blog, a look will be taken to determine what this technology is, who is using it (possibly with interviews), what benefits its use has over their students, and more.

The Five Steps to a Presentation Success

Before taking a closer look into TurningPoint itself, we shall first take a look at the five steps of presentation success. By taking a step into the rabbit hole, we will then be able to focus more on how we got there, and perhaps on which way to go next. In a way, this view of TurningPoint will be from a top-down approach. So with that, let us look at the five steps.

Step One: Create Presentation Slides
In order to give a presentation, it makes sense that one must first create the presentation slides, and as a result, this is the first major step. Of course, this step may be broken down further, such as planning a presentation, how it will be structured, etc. But from the TurningPoint perspective, this is the first major step.

A TurningPoint presentation itself may be initially added onto from a regular PowerPoint presentation, as opposed to building one from scratch. What differs from the two is the interactive component a person may use. As a result, PowerPoint slides will differ from TurningPoint slides in this way. In future posts, a closer look at how to create the interactive components will be taken.

Step Two: Set Up the Response Devices
As told in the previous post, the primary interface for the audience to interact with a presentation is the "clicker." Its corresponding hardware component is the receiver, which listens for responses from the clicker. In order for this communication to take place, all of the clickers must be set up to the same channel as the receiver; the channel is an integer from 1-82 and defaults to 41.

The receiver's channel may be set in the TurningPoint settings, which shall be discussed in a later post. To establish the channel for the clicker, this must be done for each one that will be used by an audience member. First, click the 'GO' button on the clicker. This will cause a little LED light to blink orange. Next, click the two-digit channel number on the clicker, such as '81' or '04.' Then, simply click the 'GO' button again. If the channel is set correctly, the blinking orange light will instead blink green. Otherwise, it will blink red (such as if the clicker is set to the wrong channel).

Step Three: Create a Participant List
With TurningPoint, as said before, the audience of a presentation is able to respond and interact. This interaction may be completely anonymous. However, sometimes, a presenter would like to know and remember what had been responded and even who responded with what. In cases such as this, a participant list is very helpful.

As an example, a professor giving a presentation may want to keep attendance. He or she may then assign a particular clicker (by ID) to a particular student, and then have the student click in any response. Or a professor may want to give a quiz in the middle of the class, and keep track of the responses from the students individually. With a participant list, complete control is provided for knowing what was responded in some part of the presentation, and also even who said what.

If a given presentation does not need to know about the audience members individually, or does not particularly care for the participants, this step may be skipped with no worry.

Step Four: Run a Presentation Session
When presenting a TurningPoint presentation, the particular setting of the presentation with the audience is termed a session. A session coincides with a group of individuals (the audience) and the presentation slides. The data collected by the presentation, through the use of the clickers, is saved within the session.

Even if a participant list is not created for the presentation, a session is still created by TurningPoint with the data collected. This data itself may even still be saved.

Step Five: Save Session Results
The last, and potentially optional, step is to save the session results. What this refers to is saving what had been responded by the audience throughout the whole presentation. Saving a session may be useful for several reasons. Attendance keeping, as an example provided before, is one such reason. Also, if a presentation was stopped in the middle, a session may be saved and reopened the next meeting if needed.

Perhaps the main reason to save a session refers to situations such that the data holding responses will be needed at a later time. This may be useful for professors who would like to know the level a class is comprehending materials during a lecture, potentially allowing more focus one some material and less on others. As a result, a much better learning experience is established for the students.

Getting to Know the TurningPoint Toolbar/Ribbon

Now that we have established the five steps to a presentation success, this post focuses on getting to know the TurningPoint toolbar in Microsoft Office 2003 and the corresponding ribbon in Office 2007. Both are essentially similar, with the primary difference being the graphical components. With the help of this post, TurningPoint in either Office 2003 or Office 2007 will become more familiar.

Starting off, let us take a quick look at the TurningPoint ribbon in Office 2007:

Now, look at how similar the TurningPoint toolbar is to the ribbon:

With a quick glance, both look fairly dissimilar; but with a closer look, both have the same generalized interface. Not only do both have the same generalized approach to the tools, they also include these tools in the same order. As such, it is in this order that the tools shall be discussed.

The first tool provides information about the TurningPoint software, such as the version currently installed. It also allows a user to send feedback about its use to Turning Technologies.

With the Reset tool, you can reset the session for a TurningPoint presentation currently open, allowing you to completely clear data collected from the clickers. This may be done for just a particular slide (such as if you would like to re-poll a question), or for the entire presentation and/or session.

Continue Prior Session
As specified in the previous post, it is possible to save a session and continue it at a later time. To continue the session, this tool is used. It will allow you to open up a file that contains the session data.

Save Session
If it is possible to open a session, it makes sense to also be able to save a session to continue at a later time. When saving, it creates a "Save As..." type dialog box whereby you can create a name and specify a location for the session file. The name defaults to "New Session m-d-yyyy hh-mm AM" to help indicate when the session had taken place ('AM' will be replaced by 'PM' as needed).

Insert Slide
When working with TurningPoint, an interactive slide that uses polling differs from a regular PowerPoint slide. As a result, a special TurningPoint slide is needed. What makes this tool special is that it will allow you to create a TurningPoint interactive slide using several different types of templates. The available slides that TurningPoint provides will be discussed in a future post.

Convert to Picture Slide
It may be possible that when asking an audience to answer a question or opinion, you do not want to use text as answers, but images instead. Therefore, for any answer that is a part of the question/opinion, an image will replace text.

Insert Object
One tool that allows a user to interact with a TurningPoint slide on a somewhat lower level allows you to insert objects. One advantage of this tool allows you to change the type of slide currently used. It also allows you to provide answer indicators, timers, in-presentation statistics, and also a means to indicate the correct answer to a question. The main purpose of this tool is to enhance a TurningPoint slide.

Tools is perhaps the work horse that allows you to completely control several different aspects of a TurningPoint presentation. Through here, you can control the session and reports. It also allows you to access more advanced features such as comparative links and conditional branching. Comparative links allows you to view how two questions (either the same or different) compare to each other.

Conditional branching allows you to go to particular slides over other slides, depending on a condition of previous slides. For instance, if a slide contains a yes/no question, you can specify the next slide to be something different if some condition of answers specify yes as opposed to no.

Accessing the complete settings control is also accessed via tools. One may also update a receiver from a previous version, or import a TurningPoint presentation from an XML file. Possibilities exist for those who would like to export their TurningPoint presentation into a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard or WebCT.

Several of the features found under tools will be discussed in future posts in their own right.

Select Input Source
Since half of the hardware component for TurningPoint relies on the response devices, this tool allows you to work with the response device. Also, if testing out a presentation, TurningPoint can simulate randomized data, or the user can specify results by using numeric keys 0-9.

When working with TurningPoint, a presenter may want to know who s/he is working with for an audience. This tool allows you to create, import, edit, or delete participant lists fairly easily.

Select a Participant List
Similarly to the Participants tool, one can select a Participant List (after importing), so that the list may be assigned to a given session.

Display TurningPoint Help
If a user needs help with some feature within TurningPoint, s/he may use this button to bring up help, which is available through both offline and online versions.

With that, we have a generalized overview of the TurningPoint toolbar and ribbon for Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007, respectively. A more thorough look at each of the tools will be provided in future posts, with a more focused look. Other posts will also discuss the other interfaces that TurningPoint provides for the user. Potential future interviews may also provide insights as to how those questioned are using these interfaces within their presentations.

So Why Use TurningPoint, Anyways?

From the posts written so far, we have mainly been working with learning about the software/hardware components of the system. Before treading deeper into this rabbit hole, perhaps now is the time to provide a reason for using TurningPoint; we need our white rabbit to chase. Studies have shown there are several benefits to using TurningPoint in the classroom. To present the reason I am going to show, first we need to consider how people learn.

When considering conventional learning in the classroom, there are three general ways in which a student may learn: by seeing, hearing, and doing. That is, some learn by seeing the material, others by hearing it, and still others by acting on it. Some students may easily also overlap in two or three of the areas. As a result, teachers and professors would establish their lesson plans with these factors in mind. More likely than not, this presents a problem when determining how to integrate these factors into lesson plans.

To put things simply, why not incorporate a method that will teach students using all three factors simultaneously?

TurningPoint will do this for you, by its very nature. Let us consider the three factors (seeing, hearing, doing), and how TurningPoint allows a teacher or professor to incorporate them. Suppose a professor asks his or her students a question, and expects responses back from the students via clickers. Let us assume that the question asked specifically has a right answer, as opposed to being opinion-based. When polling the students is completed, the results are then displayed within the TurningPoint presentation.

The question, displayed on the screen, is the first consideration for the student to focus; when seeing the question, it is thought over by the student. After all students have answered the question, the answer (along with the students' distribution) is also displayed on the screen for the student to see. Not only are these students able to see the correct answer, but also those answers that are wrong. Students answers are displayed within a colorful chart. Visual learners will be able to understand the concept in a variety of ways, due to how they are displayed, fairly easily.

Teachers and professors may, and should, ask the question to his/her students, along with the answers one by one. Doing so will appease the auditory learners. Students, when they hear the question, will be able to ponder the answer from those provided. Doing so will engage their auditory focus in the way they consider each answer, as that is one way in which the information was provided. When the results are displayed on the screen, discussing which answer was correct (and perhaps why) will help the auditory learners to understand the concept.

Lastly, we have the 'learn by doing' approach, and this is where the clickers come into play. After the question is asked, the student considers the answer from the choices provided. Which ever choice they provide as an answer is re-enforced by the clicker when s/he pushes a button. The student, then, is acting on the material, if only loosely.

What results in the end is that students walk away from the lecture understanding the material better, due to the fact that all three factors are used simultaneously. After all, isn't a better learning experience for the student (so he or she is able to understand the material more clearly and completely) a key aspect to teaching? This post considers the notion speculatively, but an empirical result should be considered in a future post.

Creating a Basic TurningPoint Slide

In order to get our feet wet with this, perhaps now is the time to introduce the ability to create TurningPoint slides. What a TurningPoint slide contains over a regular PowerPoint slide is the ability to receive feedback from the audience. This may be said easily enough, but what exactly does this mean, from the slide perspective, and how is it done? Answers to these questions shall lay the focus for this post.

When we encountered the TurningPoint toolbar/ribbon, one tool that was mentioned allowed us to insert a slide to be used specifically by TurningPoint. Some of the features this tool allows can be fairly advanced, while this post will focus only on the basic subset of features. Several different types of TurningPoint slides may be created; we'll focus on the general graphic slides.

Creating a template for a TurningPoint slide, one group of templates is broken down into six distinct types. Namely, these are vertical, horizontal, 3D pie, distributed pie, offset, and doughnut. Each type specifically refers to the type of graph used when displaying results of clicker polling. Suppose, for example, that we choose a vertical slide. Then upon completion of polling for answers via the clickers, a vertical bar graph will display the results; it is possible to display the numerical data of the results as either percentages or quantitatively.

After first selecting a type of slide to insert, you will see the slide with three general sections. The first, at the top of the slide, is the question text, whose default text is "Enter question text..." In a regular PowerPoint slide, this would the the slide title (assuming it had one). On the left hand side (by default) is the list of answers for the question, for which the default text is "1. Enter answer text..." To the right of the answer is a simple single vertical bar graph, with the "Enter answer text..." on the bottom and "100%" right above. A visual representation of this default vertical slide may be something like the following:

Now that we have this basic template, establishing this slide to handle interactions with the TurningPoint clickers is fairly straightforward. First, replace the default question text with that of your own. Next, replace the default answer with your first answer, then enter in the rest of the answers in the same way as adding more bulleted items to a PowerPoint presentation. The graph will change itself as appropriate.

With respect to setting the correct answer, here is where the difference lies, depending on your version of PowerPoint. If you are using PowerPoint 2003, simply highlight the correct answer, and right click on it. Within the menu that comes up, near the bottom is an option to "Set as Correct." PowerPoint 2008, however, is fairly different. First, click anywhere within the set of answers to display an "Answer Values" panel. Drop-down lists are used to specify which answer(s) is (are) correct and incorrect.

And that is all there is to creating a basic TurningPoint slide. Future posts will delve into the more novice and advanced features that you may do. However, this first stepping stone to creating a TurningPoint slide is self-sufficient enough to help those who want to jump right in.


Focusing in on the Participants

So with a little practice, we should now know enough to build a relatively simple TurningPoint slide. But building the slides for which your audience shall provide input is half the battle. The other half revolves around knowing, perhaps only anonymously, who the participants are. TurningPoint, as had been stated from the very beginning, is an audience response system. With this post, we shall look into a little of what can be known of (and done with) the audience.

When we had previously discussed the TurningPoint toolbar/ribbon, one of the tools pertained to working with participants. As had been stated, this tool allows you to create, edit, import, or delete participant lists. The participants within this list may potentially be associated with a particular clicker, designated by the clicker's ID. Let us then focus on how to interact with this participant list, and the potential for associating clickers to them.

Creating a Participant List
Under the Participants tool menu, one of the options available allows you to create a participant list by means of a wizard. When using the wizard, you may choose one of four different participant list templates: education, corporate, available fields, and custom. Education specifically correlates with participant lists involving students, while corporate correlates with business. Available fields templates allow you to choose from any field that has been defined for use within TurningPoint, either by default or from the user. Custom templates allow you to create the template from scratch.

Once you have defined which template and relating fields to use for your participant list, you may then create groups. By using groups, you can split up your participants for demographic and team purposes. With respect to creating a participant list, this step is entirely optional. However, depending on the context of the participant list and planned sessions, creating groups may be a good (perhaps even necessary) idea.

Next, simply name the participant list, so that it may be saved and reused for subsequent sessions. Upon doing so, clicking 'Finish' will allow you to edit the list. But before discussing how to edit the newly created list, potentially you may instead want to import this list.

Importing a Participant List
Importing a participant list is as simple as opening a file--in fact, this is exactly what you will be doing. By selecting the participant menu option to import the list, an open file dialog box is displayed. Defaulting to a 'Participants' folder, this option is looking for a *.tpl or *.tpp file; this file is formatted in a particular way for TurningPoint to know it corresponds to a participant list. Open the file, and a new window will open up for editing the list.

Editing a Participant List
After creating or importing a participant list, it should not seem so surprising that you can (and most likely will) edit this list. To do so, a window will be displayed housing a table of fields; in particular, those fields specified when creating the list. By default, the first field in the table will refer to the device (clicker) ID. On the back of a clicker is the ID for it; entering the hexadecimal value in the spot for this field will then assign it to the corresponding student.

Discussing what can be done with the participant list within the window may take a whole post in itself, and most likely will in the future. What is important to note for the time being is that you can add participants in much the same way as you would interact with an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, the window also allows you to import a participant list from an Excel spreadsheet.

Deleting a Participant List
There may come a time, such as the end of a semester, in which you would like to delete a participant list. TurningPoint allows this feature for a clean delete. Deleting the corresponding file for the participant list will result in the same way; however, as a convenience factor, you may delete the list from within TurningPoint itself. When you choose this option, a window will display all of the participant lists TurningPoint knows about. Click whichever list, and then click the 'Delete' button. Simple as that.

One of the most beneficial uses for a participant list is reflected in the reports that TurningPoint can generate for you. Reports shall be discussed in a future post, since they are a little bit more advanced. However, by "knowing" who your participants are, the reports will provide an abundance in meaningful information for assessing the knowledge of the participant.

With that, we have a little of the how for participant lists, along with a fragment of the why. Both aspects shall be discussed further as needed. Next week, however, the post shall provide a use case of TurningPoint within WSC.

TurningPoint at Westfield State College

The TurningPoint @ CIT blog title portrays exactly what it is about. Most specifically, it revolves around TurningPoint use through CIT. Some professors at WSC have been using TurningPoint. This post focuses on one professor named Mike Young, the department chair for Physical Science, and a little of his adventures with the system.

Keeping things simple, I asked Mike five questions. Collectively, the questions pertained to the how and why of his using TurningPoint. Although the interview is outlined below, statements are paraphrased.

JBA: What motivated you to start using TurningPoint?
MY: I had read about the use of clickers in physics and astronomy classes, which I thought sounded like a good idea. Research suggested they had been effective; in those types of classes, at least.

JBA: Do you observe an improvement in your students' learning of the material?
MY: Well, I haven't done any actual analysis, but generally, yes. Seems useful in helping students to recognize what they know or don't know.

JBA: Are you ever surprised at the results of polling? For instance, seeing your students answer in ways you didn't expect?
MY: Yes. Sometimes I expect some answers not chosen by the students, but then turn out to be a common response. So this is helpful for me, too, to figure out what they know, or what their misconceptions are, and what I thought they know. The difficulty lies in guessing what those misconceptions are beforehand.

JBA: Would you recommend to other professors to start using TurningPoint? Why or why not?
MY: In some classes, it's useful. For example, astronomy for the concepts it has. I think in some courses, it might not work as well. But for the sciences in particular, it seems to work out. Asking questions that the students would answer based on memory doesn't really add much. But asking questions where the students have to apply concepts works out well.

JBA: Would you consider testing your students with TurningPoint?
MY: I may consider it, but generally I have stuck with the basics of TurningPoint, so making sure who has what clicker and other features would have to be factored in first.

Although these were the questions that I had asked Mike, he provided me with more feedback. One of the ideas about TurningPoint he feels is most useful is that it provides an excuse to have students talk to each other about the material. Particularly, to discuss concepts thought over in the clicker-based questions. Overall, this helps to break up the lecture some, and keeps students' attention span.

Within WSC, this post shows that TurningPoint very well may be a good choice to help students learn, and to help keep them engaged with the material. The end result? Students are provided with a better learning experience. Not only this, but professors are also provided with a better tool for assessing their students conception of the material.