At Purdue University, the Informatics team has been developing apps to get students excited about learning.
"Our primary goal is to improve student success, and one way to do that is through engagement," said Kyle Bowen, director of Informatics at Purdue.
Within the Information Technology department at Purdue, a team of full-time IT staff members and about eight students develop learning technologies. And last month, three engagement apps that the team developed earned the 2011 TechPoint Mira Award for Educational Contribution to Technology. This award recognizes departments, programs or teams in Indiana.
Keep reading to find out how these three apps take advantage of social and mobile tools that students already use.
Each of these apps addresses a different instructional challenge. Hotseat provides a platform for students to communicate with their professor and other students in large classes.
"While a lecture is going on, it gives the students another mechanism by which to engage the instructor or to engage other students in the class."
Through Hotseat, students discuss what the instructor's sharing with them, ask questions and vote on thoughts or questions they want the instructor to address. And they can do it through Facebook, Twitter, an Internet browser or an Internet-enabled mobile device.
Purdue has seen the most success with this tool in classes of 100 or more students. Through the app, the students feel like their opinions are heard and they have a safe place to ask a question they think may sound dumb.
"They can go ahead and ask that question and get that answer fairly quickly without feeling like they're taking everyone's time up with it."
Another tool, Mixable, tackles the issue of engagement outside the class. Each course uses this app in a different way. For example, students can get online help, discuss lab work and share bookmarks.
About 2,000 students used Mixable this year in a limited pilot. Pilot was limited to make sure the technology worked as intended. The students' chief complaint was that there weren't enough students using it. And that's a good problem to have, Bowen said.
Students generally found Mixable easy to use. And with a Facebook app, they embed it inside their Facebook profile.
In a typical engineering course, students come from different engineering programs and form different groups within the class. Mixable enables them to have a conversation across those program lines.
Video files can be large, and that creates a burden for students and instructors.
"We were seeing a growth in the number of courses that were exploring using video, but the challenge was, 'How do you do that in an efficient and easy way?'"
And in classes like American Sign Language, you can't necessarily turn in written assignments. So DoubleTake allows students to record videos of their sign language with tools they already have: their smart phones. Instructors give students a video assignment, receive it from their iPhones (Android support is coming soon), fill out an interactive scorecard, and have students do peer-based evaluations.
With all of these tools, the Purdue Informatics team is taking advantage of mobile devices and social environments that students already use. And through the apps it develops, the university is working on improving engagement, and ultimately, student success.