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Mavericks Personified: Stephanie Cole
High-tech history

Stephanie ColeA question projected on a large video screen greets students as they file in to Stephanie Cole’s U.S. history class in University Hall.

Who was Lord Cornbury?

Their choices: a) the cross-dressing governor of New York in 1700; b) a masculine nickname given to Queen Anne; c) an actor famous for playing Juliet in the 1600s.

Soon after taking their seats, the students pull out devices that resemble television remote controls and punch in their answers. A colorful pie chart, generated in seconds, indicates that about half respond correctly.

Such radio-frequency personal response systems are gaining popularity in academia. But the technology is still considered new, says Dr. Cole, who just completed her third semester using the PRS.

“It is generally more common in the sciences and math,” she said. “No one else in the humanities is using it at UT Arlington.”

Cole appreciates the technology because it tells her immediately if students understand what she’s saying. If more than 60 percent answer a question correctly, she proceeds to another topic. With a lower percentage, she revisits the material.

“I like the fact that the students know where they stand compared to their classmates,” said Cole, who notes that students are not graded on their answers. “In fact, sometimes I ask them if they understood what I just said and let them use their clickers to answer.”

The clickers come packaged with textbooks and are required for Cole’s introductory history courses. One of her students, Ally Wade, sees an entertainment as well as educational value.

“What I like best about the technology is that it takes an interactive approach to learning and is therefore more entertaining than regular lecture classes,” said the Plano freshman. “It helps in the learning process because it lets the professor know whether to move on to the next subject or stay with it because students are not yet getting it.”

Typically, Cole projects 4-7 questions per lecture. Sometimes she uses the PRS as an icebreaker, like the time she showed students a Pepsi commercial featuring a young Jimi Hendrix (most knew who the rock legend was). Or she might pose a grammatical question based on a common error made on a writing assignment.

The technology can also enhance group activities. When studying the temperance movement last semester, she divided the students into teams and had them make up their own questions. The group with the highest number of correct answers won.

“I see this as a way to make everybody participate in class,” said Cole, who recently received a grant to study the PRS as an active learning strategy. “Sometimes students are afraid to speak. But with this system, they can still respond.”

So who was Lord Cornbury? The answer is A.

— Mark Permenter

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