As college students, we've attended hundreds of lectures between the three of us. Ranging from 20 to 400 students, these lecture halls are places where the joy of learning is real - but so is the pressure to say the right thing. Oftentimes, only a meager handful of students have the bravery to stop a lecturer to voice concerns, like "I can't see the board." "The microphone is too quiet. Can you turn it up?" or "Can you go over that one more time?" Indeed, these comments all provide invaluable feedback, but too often go unsaid amongst students afraid to invoke the wrath of an irate professor or the annoyance of their classmates. Asking for help is a very necessary part of learning, but can be a daunting task, especially from within a large audience. And perhaps even more dishearteningly, many who don’t raise their hands are under-represented students afraid to attract negative attention. We wanted to address this situation by implementing a platform that would allow discreet, real-time audience feedback for lecturers, so that we can empower all students through improved instruction.
Traditionally, the students that get the most out of their education are those that are confident enough to raise their hand and speak in front of class: the ones that ask all the questions and give all the answers. The social pressure associated with stopping a large class is often enough to discourage students from asking the most important questions, a key step in the learning process. This leaves out many introverts and, historically, women and minorities. This problem is especially prevalent in STEM classes, the same ones with some of the least diverse enrollment statistics. In addition, the information available to lecturers is often very limited. How well is the class understanding the content? What are some questions that students might have that haven’t been brought up? Again, these insights conventionally lie on usually lackluster and biased participation of just a few vocal students. We wanted to solve these issues using LectureSense.
A major logistical challenge that we faced was that no one on our team had any prior full-stack webdev experience. While we were very excited about making a platform to provide real-time feedback to lecturers, we were unsure about how to proceed and what tech stack to utilize. Luckily, we were able to find multiple mentors and fellow students who were willing to teach us the basics of ReactJS, which we then used to create this platform.
Within our hack, two core challenges were: identifying the most important metrics to highlight collecting and aggregating student data and presenting it effectively to lecturers
Our approach to this problem was to create a portal that can allow students and lecturers to quickly and harmlessly communicate common concerns and ask questions without disrupting the class and, importantly, without any pressure on what to say or how to say it. Students can focus on the knowledge being presented. LectureSense is composed of two separate dashboards: one for students and one for lecturers.
The student dashboard
Designing the web app, we had to consider: how could we build a tool that naturally enhanced the learning experience without distracting the students or the lecturer? To address this, our design process emphasized simplicity above all. From the student’s perspective, there are two main functionalities: questions and immediate feedback buttons. The students can see questions posed by their peers without knowing who asked them. They also have an option to “upvote” questions they find relevant. Students are not anonymous to the teacher, however. This was thought to increase accountability for the learning process during the lecture and keep questions focused and relevant. The questions are saved in a question bank for students and the lecturer to look at after the lecture - perfect for taking to office hours. The process of generating questions and having the courage to ask them through LectureSense is thought to greatly enhance student engagement.
The lecturer dashboard
Delivering a great lecture is hard and mentally taxing. Lecturers can only use so much mental bandwidth reading intangible audience queues or looking at complex lecture analytics. Our goal is to enhance the flow of a lecture, not stop it in its tracks by distracting the lecturer. With this in mind, looking at the Teacher View screen is as simple as quickly glancing at the audience for a raised hand. If one of the student buttons gets enough heat, a large, noticeable image will pop up on the teacher’s screen, letting the lecturer know that they need to slow down, or speak up, or that students are finding it difficult to read the writing on the board.
The LectureSense Solution
As an educational platform, LectureSense presents a solution to both of the problem spaces we sought to tackle at the start. It removes the social pressures and other frictions associated with raising a question in class. Students can submit a question as soon as they have one -- no more holding on to three different trains of thought about what questions to ask when the teacher stops talking. More importantly, our solution gives more inclusive access to the material and professor, allowing for more introverted students to offer their insight to the class without any of the social pressure of vocal members of the class dominating classroom discourse and direction.
With immediate feedback through LectureSense, lecturers can quickly identify and address areas of confusion that students might have, or adjustments to speed or volume that may boost understanding, all without the disruption caused by having to address one raised hand at a time. Thus, LectureSense is the perfect tool to aid not only in improving the quality of instruction, but also in fostering an inclusive academic environment where all students’ needs can be heard and addressed equally.