Thursday, December 31, 2009

Learning About TurningPoint...

In both the technological and pedagogical approaches, we have been attempting to learn about TurningPoint. At the Center for Instructional Technology on Friday April 24th, I presented a basic training that gave a general outline in these respects. This post will provide a summary of what had been covered. An overview of the presentation conveyed three questions whose answers were sought during the session. First, what is TurningPoint? Also, how can the technology be used, particularly in the classroom. In doing so would lay the most important question, why should this technology be used in the classroom?

TurningPoint is both a software and hardware system created by a company called Turning Technologies. From a basic standpoint, it serves as an example of an Audience Response System (ARS), Student Response System, or Classroom Response System. Response systems allow for interactive presentations for which the audience is able to respond to the presentation. Any given presentation is termed a session, for which the data may be saved for later review. Participants in sessions may be anonymous or known, although participant lists would have to be compiled beforehand. The TurningPoint software is typically integrated into Microsoft Office as an add-on.

As I have said, TurningPoint serves as both a hardware and software system. With respect to the hardware, it is divided into two subgroups. The first subgroup is the clicker set. Each clicker is small, lightweight, and easy to use, and it serves as the main interface to polling audience answers. Paired with a clicker set is the receiver. By plugging into a computer via some USB port, it uses radio frequencies to listen to the clicker set responses, feeding them into the presentation in real time.

Forming a symbiotic relationship to the hardware, the TurningPoint software integrates into Microsoft Office. It serves as a toolbar in PowerPoint 2003 (or a ribbon in PowerPoint 2007). Formatted questions have the option to be imported from Word. A session's data may be generated as a report and exported into Excel. However, availability for the Mac is somewhat limited, and is only offered in Office 2004; those with Office 2008 can use TurningPoint Anywhere.

Once a handle has been acquired on what TurningPoint is and how it works, one would most likely want to know how it can be used within a classroom setting. One of the most beneficial ways TurningPoint can be used is as a means for assessment in real time. It allows the professor to know which course material should be covered more, or even less. As a result, learning will become more personalized and teaching will lose its grip on a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. This technology can also be used to increase attendance and most certainly participation.

TurningPoint, and other ARS's, have benefits for both professors and students. For a professor, the system will help to clear misconceptions over students' understanding of the material. It can also help to emphasize topic points covered during class lectures, to help break up the lecture. In some cases, the professor may also find that it provides students' with a reason to discuss concepts with each other (as an example of peer instruction).

It has been shown that students' grades may improve, particularly in final exam grades by a full letter grade. One side effect of using TurningPoint is that it helps keep students focused and engaged in the material; in a sense, it makes learning fun. Due to the nature of peer pressure, participation is also encouraged as student responses will be anonymous (although the responses will be shown for the class as a whole). Just as the system helps professors to assess students' conceptions, the student his or her self will be able to more correctly assess the ability of understanding the material.

As with everything in this life, there is both the good and the bad. Although there are very many benefits for using the technology, there are some drawbacks. Most likely, it will take some time to pass out the clickers and poll students for answers to questions. Also, to be more beneficial, it may take some practice at the art of creating meaningful questions to be used in the clicker-based classroom setting. For instance, it may not be as beneficial to poll whether students can remember facts. But it would be much more so to poll whether students can apply some concept in a different setting.

Although this post summarized the main topics and points of a recent TurningPoint training, it also has provided some good review on some of what has been discussed thus far in the life of this blog. Included were both the technological and pedagogical aspects. The training provided an hour look of the what, how, and why of TurningPoint, and a small view of the answers have also been provided within this post.

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