Chapter 7

Interactive Lectures: Presentation Tools and Techniques

Engaging the student one-way or another in the learning process is everything. The switched on classroom provides new ways to the excite the student and form bridges between the course material and the cognitive processes of the student. With a keyboard, a monitor, and a touchscreen or mouse at each student's workstation, we have a powerful channel for interactivity and engagement. Whether it is a simple key click, a typed line of text, a well formed paragraph, or a graphic drawing, any evoked response from the student is better than none.

In this chapter we will look at some of the types of interactivity that can be supported in the electronic classroom principally during a lecture presentation. Although some educators would like to dispense with lectures altogether, the well organized and integrated lecture is nevertheless an effective and efficient mode of stimulating the interest of students and transmitting educational information to them. In the switched on classroom, we will try to make the most of the lecture format while at the same time mitigating some of its negative, non-interactive aspects. The next chapter will complete the issue of interactivity by focusing individual exploration, group interaction, and collaborative projects.


There is nothing wrong with a good lecture. Many of us are good at lecturing and students report that they enjoy sitting back, listening, and sometimes taking notes. The material itself may be interesting or the style of presentation may be entertaining. Interactivity may even be distracting. Irrelevant questions of interest only to the one student are irritating to the rest. The rustling of books and papers to look up some passage or write down some note are tolerated but distracting. In short, the students may want to attend to the instructor for that period of time.

On the other hand, there are many points in a presentation at which some interactivity has added value. If nothing else, it can serve to keep the attention focused on the lecture rather than on unrelated thoughts; and in many cases some form of interaction can be used to engage the student intellectually and emotionally in the material. We often ask for a show of hands. "How many people think that ...?" We look for feedback in the expressions of the students. We open the floor to questions.

It is the goal of interactivity in the classroom (a) to not be distracting, (b) to be focused on the topic at hand, (c) to make the maximal use of time, (d) to involve as many students as possible, and (e) to engage cognitive and affective processing so as to leave a lasting effect.

Interactivity is a combination of the rate, richness, and relevance of the exchange of information between the student and the learning environment and the course materials. Interactivity may be represented as the exchange of stimulus-response tokens. The instructor lectures on the nitrogen cycle (S), the student asks a question (R), and instructor gives an answer (S). The rate of interactivity is gauged by the number of tokens (S and R), however defined, exchanged per unit of time. A rapid fire exchange of questions and answers in an interview or pros and cons in a debate is more interactive than long winded lectures or sermons. The richness of interactivity refers to the amount of information exchanged or in terms of Shannon's Information Theory, the amount of uncertainty reduced. Questions with yes/no answers are not rich in comparison to an exchange of stories, essays, illustrations, and images. Finally, the relevance of interactivity refers to the degree to which the exchange supports learning of the material as opposed to tangential facts or incidental information. Irrelevant interactivity is not without value, however. We often exchange small talk in preparation for larger issues. Furthermore, irrelevant exchanges may be necessary to get the attention of the students or to goad them along.

Interactivity takes either an explicit or implicit form. Explicit engagement involves the exchange of observable tokens such as words, messages, papers, etc. Implicit interactivity occurs when the student responds internally with unobservable tokens such as unspoken thoughts, agreement, or felt but unexpressed emotions. While implicit interactivity can involve true engagement, as educators we would like to draw out explicit interactivity. If nothing else is accomplished, at least we would like feedback that we got the point across.

The electronic media has the potential to either enhance or mitigate interactivity. If all of the lecture materials are electronically distributed to the students, it might seem that there is a reduction in the need to take notes on the part of the students and to process the information. The attribute of copy-ability may actually reduce interactivity and lead the student to disengage from attending to and processing the lecture because they know that the notes have been copied to their workspace and that they will be available at a later time.

The challenge in the switched on classroom is to engage the students at different levels of interactivity while taking advantage of the system's ability to copy and process information itself. Each of the tools and techniques discussed in the sections that follow have the potential of re-engaging the students during the lecture and maintaining active processing of the lecture materials.

Syntactic Methods

One type of interactivity is merely the navigation necessary to keep up with the lecture. It does not really entail understanding the information or deep processing of the subject matter. It requires only an ability to note the correspondence between what the instructor is lecturing about and the material on the student workstation.

Page turning. At a minimum, the students may be engaged by keeping up with the current screen being discussed in a lecture or other presentation. Having to select page forward, page back, or some other jump requires the students to pay attention to shifts in the lecture materials. Each jump may represent an important cognitive closure to one point and the introduction to the next. Implementing an explicit page turning interaction may have important cognitive benefits for recall and resequencing information at a later point.

When students are required to page turn in the switched on classroom, it also provides covert feedback to the instructor as to how many and which students are lagging behind or paging ahead. Figure 7.1 shows an instructor tool in HyperCourseware that illustrates the feedback that can be available to the instructor. This display shows a scrolling list of sequential screens during the lecture path; it points to the location of the instructor as indicated by the arrow; it tallies the number of students that are currently viewing that screen in the sequence as well as the numbers of students straggling behind or jumping ahead; and finally, it lists the location of students that are in a completely different area in the courseware. While it may be appropriate at times for a student to be off into another task, students knowing that the instructor knows what they are looking at may be more motivated to stay on task. The display provides important feedback to the instructor. Students lagging behind may still be processing information on a screen that they did not understand. This would suggest that the instructor should slow down. On the other hand, if students are cruising ahead, it would indicate that they are ready to more on more rapidly.

Figure 7.1 HyperCourseware screen that monitors the screens that the students are viewing during a lecture. The arrow at the right show the current screen being viewed by the instructor.

Click-and-show. A second way of getting the students to follow along with the materials and to interact with them is shown in Figure 7.2. The materials can pose questions or show hidden answers. If the student clicks on a choice, the software can indicate whether the correct answer was selected. Alternatively, the software can merely show the answer after posing the question. Thus, student is engaged in reading and thinking about the material during the lecture.

Figure 7.2 Two screens that reveal hidden information when the student clicks on the appropriate button.

The challenge with the click and show method is to keep from being distracting from the lecture. It may be necessary to synchronize the lecture and the presentation of the click-and-show screens so that questions are not presented until the instructor presents them and allows the answers to be shown. As in the page turning technique the instructor can poll how many students have clicked on the show buttons. Furthermore, when there are choices, the instructor can poll the students to find out how many answered one way or another. We will explore this technique more fully below.

Semantic Methods

Semantic methods of interactivity require the student to think about the meaning of the information being presented. They require understanding and comprehension. Students may be asked for either factual information, self-assessed understanding, opinion, or attitude. In general these methods vary from simple multiple choice questions to open-ended essays.

Fill-in-the-blank. An effective way of forcing the students to attend to and process the information is to require them to fill in missing information in the materials. Key points, key words, or key numbers are intentionally left blank. During the lecture, the students either have to guess what they are or the instructor explicitly tells the students what to fill in. Either way it requires the students to listen, process, and respond.

If this method is effective in the traditional classroom, its benefits are multiplied in the switched-on classroom. Figure 7.3 shows an example of how the fill-in-the-blank method may be used. The top panel shows a screen from a course in cognitive psychology. During the discussion the students have to listen and infer which theory is supported by the data and type in the answer. At the end of that discussion, the instructor may tell the students the answers or the system may simply reveal them on the screen. One way or the other the students are encouraged to listen, discuss, and enter information on their own.

Figure 7.3 A screen that presents an experimental situation and asks the student which of two theories would predict the results. The bottom panel shows the feedback after selecting one of the alternatives.

Fill-in-the-blank in the HyperCourseware environment can be particularly effective. As in the page turning technique, the instructor has a covert means of knowing who is on track and who is not following along. The instructor can poll the student workspaces to find out if each student has filled in the information and check for completeness and correctness of the material.

Go Ahead Button. In both lecture presentations and collaborative learning situations it is important to find out if there is consensus that everyone understood the point and is ready to move on to the next topic. In the traditional classroom, we may do this by assuming that if no one raises their hand everyone understands and is ready to go on. Of we are assuming a lot. But even if we explicitly ask if everyone understands, we can't be sure that a non-response can be taken as affirmation.

In the switched-on classroom it is possible to require an explicit affirmation by having a button at the end of each topic that serves to indicate that the student understands and gives his or her consent to going on. The class may agree that they will not proceed until everyone (or some predetermined proportion) signs off on going ahead. Since the sign off is anonymous, no one individual can be singled out as holding up the rest of the class. An added benefit of this technique is that the rest of the members of class will be motivated to aid in the explication of the concept so that they may proceed. The rules of order encourage collaborative learning.

Alternatively, the instructor may use the feedback from the "go ahead button" to decide whether to proceed or not. If the instructor decides to go on even when there are a number of students that did not understand, the system may record the identity of those students. At a later time the instructor can get back with those students off-line to work with them individually or as a small group or to refer them to additional information or to a tutorial on the subject as will be presented in Chapter 9.

Polling. An effective method of engagement in the traditional classroom has always been getting the students involved in the material by personalizing it. This can be done by polling opinions, experiences, or demographic data. "Raise your hand if you are pro-home schooling; then raise your hand if you are against home schooling." Binary classification is straight forward. Quantitative measures are much more of a challenge. "Raise your hand if you are an only child; then raise your hand if you have one brother or sister, and so on." The problem becomes more complex with many categories. If you polling age, height, or other quantitative variables with many values, each person must respond separately.

If the particular question used in polling is pre-planned, it can be integrated into the lecture stack. One card can pose the question as shown in Figure 7.4 and the next card can show the class result as shown in Figure 7.5. HyperCourseware lecture templates can be used to build these sequences.

Figure 7.4 An example of polling opinions during class.

Figure 7.5 The results of polling the class shown as a bar graph.

On the other hand, in more spontaneous situations the instructor, or for that matter the class, may want to pose a question on the fly. In HyperCourseware this is done by going to the Discussion or Interact Tool. Figure 7.6 shows the instructor's screen. This screen allows the instructor to input the polling question and the type of response: multiple choice, rating, true/false, fill-in-the-blank. This information is stored in the Handout Space. When the students go to this card they see the polling question and the appropriate type of response. When all of the students have responded, they may inspect the group results as shown in Figure 7.7

Figure 7.6 Set of templates that the instructor can select from during class to collect interactive responses.

Figure 7.7 The screen for entering a multiple choice question to be posted to the class.

Open-Ended Questions Open-ended questions such as "What is the most significant problem facing mankind?" or "What was the more interesting thing that you learned today?" are generally too time consuming to answer verbally in class. We may ask the students to write down their answers and hand them in. But then the results cannot be shared until the next class period.

In the switched-on classroom using HyperCourseware such open-ended questions are relatively easy to administer and collect electronically. All of the answers can be shown in one scrolling field for the instructor and the students to read. Figure 7.8 shows a typical result.

Figure 7.8 An open-ended question is posted in the top panel. The bottom panel shows the class input that has been collected by the instructor and displayed to the students.

Since open-ended questions can result in uncertain results, it is advised that the instructor scan the answers before they are disseminated to the class by way of the Handout Space. As shown in Figure 7.8, the instructor's screen has the option of showing the responses with or without identification. In addition, the instructor can edit the aggregated results before he or she clicks the button to post the results for the class to inspect. If time allows the instructor could even cut and paste the responses to cluster similar answers or mark and annotate responses in some way.

Open-ended questions can be used for a variety of purposes during interactive lectures. At the beginning of a lecture one might use one of the following questions:

* What was the most interesting thing that you found in the reading for today?

* What is the one topic that you would like to have covered in the lecture today?

* Write down one thing that you would like to contribute to the lecture for today.

During the lecture one key in the material covered in the lecture more clearly with the questions. For example, one might stop and ask the students to answer one of the following types of the questions:

* Briefly explain the concept of ... or the theory of ... or give a definition of ...

* Give an illustration or example of ...

* Do you agree or disagree with ... and give your reasons why.

Finally at the end of a lecture one might ask one of the following types of the questions to help with closure:

* Write down the most important thing that you learned during this lecture.

* What questions still remain unanswered for you?

* What one thing would you contribute to this lecture if it were given again?

Student Initiated Interactivity

Student can initiate several types of interactivity in the classroom. As discussed in Chapter 5 there can be Student-to-Instructor, Student-to-Material, and Student-to-Student. We will discuss the first two here and save the third for the next chapter. Student-to-Instructor interaction is generally in the form of questions, comments, and feedback. Student-to-Material interaction is in the form of notes and annotations.

Questions, Comments, and Feedback. Students initiate interactivity in the traditional classroom by the customary raising of the hand to ask as question or to volunteer information. Both casual observation and empirical studies indicates that participation in this mode of interactivity is extremely uneven as suggested by Scenario 2 for this section. Some students are very outgoing and tend to dominate classroom interaction. Others do everything to avoid it. Both gender and cultural differences are large. Males tend to participate more than females; and some cultures tend to be more participatory than others.

In the electronic environment the different factors predominate. Asking questions electronically does not have the same disruptive effect as on the class nor does it draw attention to the one asking the question. Since a number of students can ask their questions simultaneously rather than sequentially, one can get an idea of the number of students with the same question.

Question asking tools should be available at all times in the switched-on classroom. HyperCourseware supports question asking with several different tools depending on the context. During a lecture when the students are viewing the lecture notes, a button at the bottom of the screen opens a field in which they can type a question as shown in Figure 7.9. When the button is clicked a second time, it closes the field and submits the question. The question is tagged with the name of the lecture slide so that the instructor knows the context in which the question was asked. This is particularly important if the question is responded to at a later time. The question button tool can also be added to exam screens, readings screens, and assignment screens. Questions will then be tagged with the names of these screens.

Figure 7.9 The top panel shows the question field open at the bottom of a lecture screen with a question being submitted by a student. The bottom panel shows the questions being inspected by the instructor.

During the lecture or exam, the presence of outstanding questions is indicated on the instructor's screen by the highlighting or blinking of the question button. When the instructor clicks the question button, the question(s) are shown in the field tagged with the student name and lecture screen and time stamped. The instructor can address the questions during the lecture if they are appropriate for the whole class. Alternatively, they can be saved and dealt with at a later time, perhaps individually using electronic mail.

The instructor can also access outstanding questions from the seating chart. Students with questions are indicated by highlighted or blinking names. Alternatively, questions can be accessed in the electronic mail system and in the electronic grade list. It is convenient to access questions in the mail system so that the instructor can send answers to all of the students or to individual students. It is useful to have a record of questions in the grade list to be able to monitor the number and types of questions being asked by students.

Notes and Annotations. Even though most of the lecture notes are distributed electronically to the students via the Handout Space, students will find it useful if not necessary to add additional information to the notes. These may take the form of the (a) supplementary comments made by the instructor in class, (b) clarifications and definitions of terms, (c) references and links to other materials, (d) markers as to the importance of information, and (e) personal reactions and comments.

Notes and annotations can be added to electronic materials in several ways. If students have a copy of the lecture materials in their Student Space, they can modify them directly by adding text and graphics. In this method the notes and annotations can be only be accessed as one accesses the lecture notes. Alternatively, the notes and annotations can be stored in a separate file in the Student Space and appropriately linked to the lecture notes. The lecture notes themselves can be kept in the Handout Space. This method is preferable because it allows the instructor to add to, change, and correct the lecture notes throughout the course of the semester. In addition if the notes and annotations are stored in separate files, then can be more easily tagged, searched, and modified by the students.

At present HyperCourseware provides only a text annotation button tool which may be shown at the bottom of the lecture notes screens. When the button is clicked, a text field is opened as shown in Figure 7.10. The student can enter text in the field which is then stored in a separate file in the Student Space and tagged with the name of the lecture screen. The notes can be viewed when the student returns to this screen and opens the field. Additionally, since the notes are stored in a separate file, they can also be accessed from a note viewing tool and searched in any way. Moreover, they can be shared with other students and used to build an aggregate set of student notes.

Figure 7.10 Notes being entered in the student note field.

Future enhancements of HyperCourseware should provide a graphic annotation tool. This tool would allow the students to add graphics in a transparent layer over the lecture screen. Similar to the text annotation, the graphics would be stored in a separate file and added each time they are opened on the lecture screen. Graphics would allow the students to add color highlighting, circle and underline information, and add their own drawings and images.

Interactive Materials

In traditional hardcopy lectures, the materials are static and hopefully at least the instructor is dynamic. Materials such as slides, overheads, and handouts are fixed. Even films, videos, and audio recordings are fixed in the sense that while can be started and stopped, they cannot be dynamically altered and are not fully interactive. The instructor provides the dynamics. He or she can answer questions, change the presentation, and generate new materials on the blackboard, and within limits alter the presentation of the fixed materials (e.g., order of the slides, selection of the video segment).

In the switched-on classroom, the materials have all of the electronic media properties of input-ability, display-ability, store-ability, search-ability, copy-ability, link-ability, manipulate-ability, compute-ability, and simulate-ability. Most important for interactivity of the lecture materials are search-ability, manipulate-ability, compute-ability, and simulate-ability. These abilities provide sufficient power to help illustrate and visualize sequential processes, complex systems and tedious computations.

The challenge in the switched-on classroom with hypermedia materials is to maintain group focus on the subject. This is probably best done by systematically and clearly alternating between lecturing and exploration. The instructor must at times call for everyone's attention and may need to enforce this by taking control of the student's monitors. At other times, the students need to be encouraged to run through the hypermedia materials individually. Without proper planning and control the switched-on classroom can become a source of distraction and chaos as illustrated in Scenario 3 of this section.

Simple Processes. Hypermedia has been used for some time now to show sequences and animations of processes. Usually these animations have been a part of individualized instruction or used as demonstrations for the class as a whole. When the animation is built into the lecture notes in front of the students in a switched-on classroom, they can run through the animations on their own or at the command of the instructor. In the classroom context, the lecture revolve around the animation or the animation may be an ancillary illustration to a point made in the lecture. What is unique, however, about the classroom context is that students can share their observations of material and gain a sense of group appreciation for the concept.

When the process has some sort of stochastic element and could result in different outcomes for each student, such as the flipping of ten coins, aggregation across the group can

result in interesting discussions.

Complex Simulations. A number of computer simulations have been written to illustration complex systems. Many of these are run as individual, stand-alone simulations. As such they can be treated in the same way as other hypermedia materials that the students explore on their own and then come together for group discussion. Other simulations involve competition or collaboration across the network. For example, two students may be opponents in a chess game or in a flight simulator combat game. The whole class could participate as players in an adventure game, a market simulation, or a global conflict resolution game.

Complex simulations may require much more time. If they do, they should be run out side of the classroom in computer labs. Class time should be devoted only to getting the students started and for sharing and discussion of the results.

PowerSlates. Working out problems on the blackboard has often been an effective method of teaching. It allows the instructor to show and explain each step along the way. When it is supplemented with problems that the students work on their own, we have the complete educational cycle from input to process to outcome. However, interactivity is limited by the time that it takes to write each step and compute intermediate results. Students are left to faithfully and tediously copy the steps into their notebooks. The number of example problems that can be done is severely limited; and students rarely have the opportunity during the lecture to work their own problems and explore the dynamics of the problem.

Computer labs have allowed instructors to present more problems and show their solutions and have allowed the students to have hands-on experience and explore additional solutions. However, up until the recent past most of the computer programs used to solve problems on the computer bore little resemblance to the problem solving process shown on the blackboard. The reason for this discrepancy was that in the classroom the instructor was interested in teaching a conceptual understanding of the problem and did so by showing it manually step-by-step. In contrast, computer programmers had a different objective. They programmed in the spirit of batch processing to produce accurate output as quickly and efficiently as possible. There was no consideration for the educational process until recently.

Now there is a trend to program computational software that not only produces the result but also allows the user to construct and show the steps along the way. Early attempts at this are found in spreadsheet and computer-aided design (CAD) programs. These programs allow the users to graphically construct the steps in the process or the parts of the design while the computer performs the underlying computations and simulations. As a simple illustration of interactivity using compute-ability we will look at the PowerSlate as used in HyperCourseware.

The PowerSlate takes as its model the traditional blackboard or slate. The PowerSlate shows the steps of the problem performed sequentially under the control of the instructor or the student. Each PowerSlate start with an input description of the problem and a set of data. Problems may be manually input by the instructor or the student or retrieved from a problem set. Computation for each step is controlled by a set of buttons. Figure 7.11 shows a PowerSlate for a problem in statistics. In this case the first button retrieves a set of data previously collected from the class. Initial sums are computed when the first calculator button is clicked. Following each step, the next calculator is shown until the end.

Figure 7.11 Interactive screens that serve as PowerSlates. The top panel shows data sent and collected by the class. The middle panel show the first step in the computations. The bottom panel shows one of the last steps in the computation.

During a lecture the instructor can explain each step on the PowerSlate. Students can follow along at their own workstations performing each step in sync with the instructor. Since the computations are rapid, a number of problems can be demonstrated in a limited amount of time. When the students understand the process, they can then explore a number of additional problems on their own to see what happens if different numbers are changed at different stages along the way. Thus, the PowerSlate not only provides a new level of interactivity, it does what we tell our students to do on their homework and exams: "Show your work!"


This chapter covered a number of tools and techniques that can be used to supplement the interactivity of lectures in the switched-on classroom. It should be emphasized, however, that these tools do not and should not replace the face-to-face, human interactions among the students and instructor. The electronic media merely opens up additional channels of communication and should in no way shut down or minimize the importance of personal contact and interaction.

This chapter focused on the lecture format. Although many educators berate the "sage on the stage" model and prefer the teacher as "facilitator," the lecture model nevertheless has a number of positive elements. Students need to be given coherent introductions and overviews of the subject matter, they need to participate in a common group focus on the material, and they continue to need teach as good role models and subject matter experts. Having said this, the point of this chapter has been to facilitate and enhance these objectives by adding interactivity to the lecture process. In the next chapter, we will shift our focus to group processes and collaborative exercises.

Exercises and Projects

1. Develop two sequential polling exercises for the electronic classroom that has three iterations. In the first exercise start with a pre-structured multiple-choice question and finish with an opened inputs. In the second exercise start with an opened-ended questions and focus in to class generated multiple choice question.

2. Generate an outline of a lecture that you would like to give on your favorite topic. Indicate how you would alternate between lecturing and interactive exercises.

3. Write a short paper (250-300 words) on your attitudes about the lecture method as a model of education. Give an example from your experience to support your attitudes.

Suggested Readings

[Table of Contents] [Part III] [Chapter 8]