Knowledge Broker

Exploring technology for next-generation classroom response systems
Beatty, Ian D.
Hewlett-Packard Co. (University Mobile Technology grant); Microsoft Corp. (University Relations grant)

Effective pedagogy --- identifying students' initial understanding and misconceptions, engaging their minds in the activity of learning, continually monitoring their individual progress, and adjusting one's teaching to the ever-changing circumstances of the classroom --- is difficult to practice with medium-sized and large classes. Technology can help, in the form of Classroom Communication Systems (CCS) and Classroom Response Systems. These are combinations of hardware and software that help an instructor give students questions to answer or tasks to accomplish in class, individually or in small groups; collect the answers; and immediately display a statistical summary or histogram of the answers for the instructor and potentially the entire class. In concert with appropriate pedagogic techniques and curriculum, such systems can enable interactive, active, dynamic pedagogy in large classes to a degree not previously possible.

Currently available systems, however, are pedagogically limiting and not ideally suited to forward-thinking university instruction. They are also closed and proprietary, not amenable to creative innovation, improvement, or extension. We believe a need exists for an open CCS that is:

  • designed according to sound, current thinking in educational research; and
  • not just a CCS product, but a platform for ongoing research, innovation, and growth in technology-assisted classroom pedagogy.

We have, therefore begun exploratory development of the Knowledge Broker, a next-generation CCS to serve both as a tool for practical teaching and as an instrument for research into technology-enhanced classroom pedagogy. In the process, we are finding other uses for Tablet PC technology in university instruction.

This project was born in collaboration with, and has provided support to, Prof. Gino Sorcinelli's ConferenceXP project in the UMass Isenberg School of Management.

Update: As of 2005, this project has been suspended indefinitely due to lack of support.