Monthly Archives: May 2013

An Experiment in Using Moodle and Learning Catalytics for “Active Learning”

I attended the CEESA 2013 Conference in Prague and was inspired by Alan November’s Keynote address (@globalearner) to try something new. For background, I use a flipped model and I’m always looking for ways to better engage my students during classtime. The main purpose of flipping was to increase student comprehension by making better use of my classtime.

Alan November mentioned Eric Mazur (look him up on Youtube for some background) and the work he did to transform his Intro to Physics lectures at Harvard. He started using a tool he created (later to become Learning Catalytics) to engage students during class rather than simply lecture. I was intrigued by this so I started thinking about how to create an environment like this in my class. (As I mention later, it’s similar to using clickers of some sort, only better.)

My first attempt actually used Moodle. I created a PowerPoint with some questions from the IB Test Bank to review concepts related to energetics (Topic 5.1). I created a “Choice” activity on Moodle for students to access. Then it worked something like this:

  1. Show the question and ask students to answer the question independently.
  2. Post the number of students that chose each possible answer. (For this activity, I focused on multiple choice questions only.)
  3. Ask the students to discuss the answers in small groups and come to a concensus within their groups. (I’d usually give 2-4 minutes, depending on the conversations happening.)
  4. Have the students re-select their answers on the Choice activity in Moodle.
  5. Post the results again, and re-discuss if needed. Note that up to this point, I haven’t actually told the students which answer is correct.
  6. I’d repeat the cycle until I felt the need to discuss the correct answer with the entire class.
  7. Repeat this process for all of the questions.

Below is a screenshot of the student view of Moodle for the “Choice” activity. It’s limited to multiple choice questions. I suppose on some level this is like using clickers, without the clickers.


And below is the teacher view of the answers to the “Choice” as they come in. This will fill in with more students as they answer. I have covered the student names to protect privacy.


So at this piont, 2 students have selected A, 1 student has selected B and 1 student has selected C; no students have chosen D yet.

My first attempt at completing this took quite a bit of class time for only a few questions. I found I was giving too many iterations of the “Discuss and re-vote” portion of the activity. So during my second attempt (using questions related to Topic 5.2) I only did one iteration of the “Discuss and re-vote” portion. If all of the students got the answer correct, I simply moved on to the next question. If there was still disagreement/misunderstanding I would take time to discuss the question and allow the students to see the correct answer. And again for this activity, I only did multiple choice questions.

During these two attempts at what Alan November termed “active learning” I saw a few things in my class. First and foremost, I was really happy with the conversations happening. By formalizing this process I essentially forced the students to discuss chemistry. Contrast this with a previous typical day when I’d give practice problems and circulate around the room helping students individually or in their improptu study groups. Certainly there were chemistry conversations going on, but they weren’t as intense, nor were they as lengthy. And they rarely involved the entire class at once. I haven’t yet given a test for this topic (soon) so I can’t yet speak to how effective it will be for my students’ success on their exams. I’ll post a comment when I have some results.

What about negatives? I can think of a few obvious drawbacks to this method. First, it takes more classtime to go through the same number of questions with this technique. So I either have to take more classtime, or give fewer questions. I’m currently thinking fewer problems will be the answer, given that the students are more engaged with their learning. A second drawback actually comes from a student. I asked my students for general feedback on the method and most were quite positive. I had one student, though, that said he prefers to work on practice problems at his own pace. If he gets an answer quickly – and it’s correct – he wants to be able to just move on to the next problem without waiting for his peers. I think his point is valid. This method – in my mind – doesn’t allow for as much differentiation on the spot. However, I discussed with this student the idea that talking about the concepts will be more powerful as a learning tool than simply doing the problems alone. So we agreed to keep discussing the practice and look for ways to make it better. I also agreed to not use this method for EVERY sub-topic.

Given the brief introduction to Learning Catalytics at the CEESA Conference, I decided to take a look. ( They offer free teacher logins where you can access hundreds (thousands depending on the topic) of questions,  or you can add your own questions. They only charge for student logins. However, they provide a free 30-day trial for up to 100 students. So I signed up and started creating questions for Section 5.3, Hess’s Law. Then I activated the student logins and had my students sign up for their own accounts.

Finally, in class we worked through the questions together. I would post a question and the students would see it on their laptop/tablet/phone. They would answer individually first. Then I’d let them know the percentages for each possible answer and have them discuss in groups. (Essentially I used a similar format to my previous activities. The biggest difference was using the Learning Catalytics interface. The second difference was that I now had more variety to my questions. I’ve got some examples below.)

After using Learning Catalytics only once, I’m ready to try it again. Due to lab work and other timing issues, I just haven’t had an opportunity to try it again yet. One of my goals will be to create/find questions that really challenge students to know the concepts well. And I will continue to use some questions from the IB Test Bank as well.

Below are some screenshots to show you the process. Some are from my teacher screen and some are from a student login I created to see the process from that perspective.

First, a simple multiple choice question from the student screen.


Next, the teacher screen while students are submitting answers. I can monitor the progress and decide when to stop the voting.


Next is the teacher screen after round 2 of submitting answers. This would have been after the students discussed the question in small groups. Since 100% of the answers were correct, I let hte students know this and simply moved on to the next question.


The next screenshot shows the student view of a “sketch” question AFTER the students have submitted answers. In the teacher view I let the students see the answers. (They are anonymous to other students.) I forgot to take a screenshot of the question being answered the first time, but you can see the question. The students were asked to sketch an enthalpy diagram. This is one area where I REALLY like the flexibility of Learning Catalytics.


The next image shows the teacher perspective of this problem during the second round of drawing. As you can see from the previous image, I can show the student responses. Then I had the students discuss and re-draw their diagrams.


The next screenshot shows the student view of a sketch question. The students are to sketch a line representing the enthalpy change of the reaction.


And this view shows the teacher perspective on this same question. Notice that I can easily see that there is one student with an incorrect answer, and quite a few with the right answer (or in the ballpark).


Next, the image below shows the student view of a calculation question. The students have to complete the calculation and enter a value.


The image below shows the teacher view of the calculation question above, after two rounds of calculations. For this question, I chose to go through the full calculation after the first round of discussions, as there were still some groups/students with incorrect answers. I didn’t have them resubmit. Below this portion of the screen, the actual student names with their numerical answers is shown. I left that out to protect the identify of my students.


One nice feature of Learning Catalytics is that students can login and see their results from the activity, including all of the correct answers. This wasn’t possible from the first two activities when I used Moodle, although I could have set them up simply as worksheets with a markscheme posted on Moodle.

There are other types of questions as well from within Learning Catalytics. If you’re interested, I’d recommend creating a teacher login and exploring a bit. This isn’t meant to be about Learning Catalytics exclusively. Yes, I took quite a bit of time to go through the screenshots with you here. But ultimately my aim is to share a technique I’ve used that really got my students talking chemistry. I’m excited about the possibilities and look forward to exploring this technique and expanding how I use it in my classroom.

I’d be interested in feedback about other methods of “active learning” that you use in your classroom.


Until the next post, happy teaching!



Filed under Peer Instruction