Joe MacNeil, Ph.D. Chemistry


All of the technology innovations I’ve tested have had the goal of creating new pathways for student interaction and feedback in large classroom settings that are not innately suited for general classroom discussion.  PollEverywhere is a software platform for allowing students to respond rapidly to prompts during the classroom session, and AirServer is a software parallel to Apple TV.  It provides the opportunity for me to use iPad apps in the classroom, and for any student to take project their work for the entire class to see.  CreateDebate is an external, public space for hosting debate-style analysis of topics.  Here, students can interact with themselves and with the general public to develop and evolve their critical analysis and writing skills.


AirServer has been the easiest to implement so far, as I have only used it to incorporate a series of gen chem specific iPad apps into my classroom lecture.  In a class of 50 students, only 4 have iPads of their own.  As many of the bast apps also have some expense related to them, being able to present them for the class has been important.

I’ve used PollEveryehere in my gen chem classes in each of the past two semesters.  I find that the user interface for faculty is very good, although student experiences have been mixed.

I used CreateDebate in a general science class to debate the question “Should the US allow the construction of new nuclear power plants?”  Because this was a public forum, I allowed my students to participate using pseudonyms as long as they told me how to recognize their posts.

create debate

Successes and Challenges

CreateDebate was definitely my most popular new technology tool with my students.  while they complain about having to write even short papers in my class, many of them added a lot of content to this debate.  They were not at all disturbed by the fact that it was open to the public, and continued to go back to it for the 3 weeks that it was live.  In their course evaluations, they asked for more similar experiences.

AirServer was initially a challenge . . . I was using it over the wireless network in Beckwith and competing with 40 other computers.  I have now learned how to set up a private local network between my iPad and my computer to avoid bandwidth limitations in streaming video.  In January I attended a conference in an NSF-sponsored Atlanta focused on innovative new ways to use iPads in the chemistry classroom and lab settings.  While many of these are based on the expectation that all students have access to iPads, I also came away with 25(+) new apps that offer some excellent interactive activities.  For now, being able to integrate them into my lecture and move my class further from the static PowerPoint model to more dynamic animations has been great.  I’d love to design more guided-inquiry experiences for students based on these apps (I did write one as part of the workshop) but until students can run them, demoing is about the best I can do.

In general I was very happy with PollEverywhere, but it has been my most challenging to implement.  I tried to have all my students register so that I could track their answers, but a number of them had difficulties with their accounts.  I’ve recently given up on this, and now let them respond anonymously.  I’ve also been a bit disappointed at how long it takes to get everyone to post an answer.  I tried very hard to create the expectation that they should bring their computers and have them set up to respond to a question by the start of class, but this has not worked.  In order to get everyone’s response, I have to wait at least 4-5 minutes, which is much too long for the sort of “in the moment” response I’d envisioned.  An informal poll found that the hardware clicker solution, used in Biology, is more popular than PollEverywhere.  I will be asking this more formally at the end of t he semester.


Student  response to CreateDebate has been very positive, and I was more than satisfied with the ways students participated.   I’ve used a couple of classroom sessions to focus on demonstrations of chemistry concepts with iPad apps, and student performance on subsequent multiple choice questions was 10-15% better than last year.  Since on average this year’s class is a little weaker than last year, I think this is strong validation.

PollEverywhere has been  mixed bag.  I think students were very uncomfortable with the fact that I was tracking their responses.  Since I’ve gone to an anonymous response model, total responses are down a bit, but time to respond and general classroom attitude have both increased.  One of my hopes was that by practicing more multiple-choice style questions during the class would improve their multiple-choice test taking skills on my tests, but to date I do not have any strong evidence to support this.  They are not doing worse than previous years, but they are still doing pretty bad!

Next Steps

For next year, more integration of iPad apps to my gen Chem classroom.

Investigating good e-texts for chemistry classes

Investigating on-line homework options for gen chem to find a new way to give them practice and feedback on multiple-choice questions

Either keep PollEverywhere in anonymous mode or move to hardware clickers

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