Teaching with Technology: 2 Tools to Increase Engagement and Success

Eugene Matthews headshot above words "The Empowered Educator Series"
Online Learning
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author: Eugene Matthews, Ph.D., Park University 

Tool 1 for Increasing Student Engagement and Success: ZipGrade

An Inexpensive, but Effective App

ZipGrade is one of two mobile applications I use consistently to reduce my grading time by at least 90%, evaluate my teaching and student knowledge, reduce student anxiety and enhance student success. Here’s how I make it work for me.

As the name implies, ZipGrade is a simple and inexpensive mobile application (approx. $15.00 annually) which lives in the cloud and works through my smartphone. It uses Creative Commons downloadable Scantron-style question sheets (20, 50, 100), which I add to my quizzes and exams. After I create my quiz or exam, I generate an answer sheet and assign a point value to each question.

My students take the quiz or exam and complete the Scantron answer sheet using pen, paper, marker, etc. As they turn it in, I instantly grade it using my smartphone, which shows them the correct answers and gives them their “raw” score. Students understand that I’ll verify their answers against the answer sheet later before adding it to the grade book.

ZipGrade Test-Taking Example

As each quiz or exam is scanned, ZipGrade updates the analytics, showing me which questions were answered correctly or incorrectly. These analytics inform me about the quiz or exam question structure and answer choices, and simultaneously gives me insight as to what I taught versus what students retained. I can adjust my teaching style as needed; for example, I might focus more on application through examples, rather than terms and terminology.

An added benefit to my student is knowing where they stand immediately and understanding their grade can only increase. So, students with a 70% know they passed, while students with 90% know they got an “A.” Some students have expressed that not having to wait until the next class period to learn the results has helped relieve some stress and allow them to better focus on other classes.


Tool 2 for Increasing Student Engagement and Success: Plickers

An App to Verify Student Learning

The second application I use is Plickers (with a twist). This simple QR Code-like application rivals many of the more expensive clicker devices on the market today—and can be used the same way as the expensive devices. I use Plickers to validate student learning and verify student understanding through peer-to-peer engagement. The twist I add is incorporating a micro-lecture when needed. Here’s how I make it work for me:

The Plickers cards can be printed on any printer and handed to students at the beginning of a class, or assigned to them and handed out at the beginning of the semester. Each card has an individual QR Code: if a student’s card is lost or damaged it can be replaced easily.

Check Understanding at the Beginning—or Middle—of Class

If I want to verify student learning of a reading assignment, I might engage a short series of questions to start the class off, which students answer through Plickers. If I want to check on student understanding, I usually engage a series of questions in the middle of the class session. In both instances I have the opportunity to apply the peer instruction technique made popular by Dr. Eric Mazur (1997).

After presenting the question, I’ll allow students to consider their answer for about 30 seconds, then collect their responses through Plickers. If less than 40 % of the class answers correctly, then I provide a micro-lecture and ask the question, then re-poll. If 40%-70% of the class answers correctly , then I have them turn to a classmate and explain why they believe their answer is correct.

After about 2 minutes of discussion, I re-poll the class using Plickers, and answer any questions. If greater than 70% get the right answer, then I respond to any questions and move on. Often that missed question will reappear in a quiz or exam.

The Power of Peer-to-Peer Learning

What I’ve discovered consistently validates Mazur’s findings, and shows that sometimes a student who got the right answer is able to explain the solution in a way that’s easier for another student to understand. GRASP can be a painstakingly slow process, but it is very effective.

Hear more ideas from Dr. Matthews. Watch his presentation Teaching with Technology 2.0: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at your convenience on The Empowered Educator Virtual Event website.