Asking the Right Questions in the Age of Technology: 

Student Active Learning in the Large Classroom



Randall W. Phillis

Department of Biology

University of Massachusetts

Amherst, MA  01003



In the Fall semester of 2000, the Introductory Biology Course at the University of Massachusetts was redesigned by integrating web-based class preparation resources for students.  These supplemented an active learning environment which used the in-class communication system ClassTalk.  This  system facilitates an active classroom environment by allowing instructors to challenge students with problems during class.  Student responses to the questions are compiled for display and used for discussion.  The addition of out-of-class preparation using a set of web pages and quizzing resources were intended to allow more challenging problems to be posed during class, and improve the quality of student activity during class time. 


The redesigned section was offered with two other sections, one of which also used ClassTalk, but did not use web-based class preparation resources for students, and one which was a traditional lecture course.  Several comparisons between the sections have been made.  An interesting result is that the correlation between success on exams and SAT scores was very high in the ClassTalk and Traditional sections, but was considerably reduced in the section in which students were guided through preparation for class.


One key aspect of the redesign has been the creation of an extraordinary number of questions that have been used for quizzes, in-class challenges and exams.  We are interested in examining the development of series of questions that develop difficult concepts, reveal common misconceptions, and expose complexity underlying core concepts.