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Don’t Just Sit There…Do Something! Using electronic whiteboard technology to promote group learning

I teach the veterinary pathology lecture course, and for a while now I have been seeking ways to enhance in-classroom student engagement and active learning. While the pathology lab course is naturally active and easily allows team-based work and instructor-student interaction, achieving this in a large lecture hall, with fixed, linear seating, is much more challenging. We’ve instituted what we call “brain breaks” – planned interruptions in the lecture that ask students to look at the lecture topic in a different way. Many veterinary classes use i-Clickers combined with peer instruction to increase activity and engagement, but this approach limits us to multiple choice questions. I started to explore other options.

In Fall 2013, I provided students with portable, electronic whiteboards (Mobiview ®; BG Innovations), which they used in groups of four. The Mobiview is a handheld device that allows students to draw diagrams or figures, edit documents or images, point to specific parts of a diagram, and respond in ways not possible with an iClicker: “Circle the lesion on this image”; “List the causes of [disease].” Groups’ answers are projected to the entire class at the discretion of the instructor. With multiple Mobiviews in the classroom, students can work on the answers simultaneously in their small groups and be held accountable by the ability of the instructor to show their work to the entire class. Their versatility, and their ability to allow students to answer more challenging and thoughtful questions than could be achieved with multiple choice, makes the Mobiview an excellent option. For example, mastering pathology requires the recognition of color and shape changes in diseased organs or microscopic sections. By having students practice analyzing various images in class, the instructor can quickly identify knowledge gaps and ensure that correct answers are obtained for the right reasons. Instructor-student interaction is also enhanced, particularly when the instructor highlights specific answers that are projected on the screen.

To make good use of the Mobiview, the instructor must be willing to replace portions of lecture with whiteboard brain breaks.  Careful planning and preparation prior to lecture is essential. However, end-of-term survey responses suggest that there are definite perceived benefits to the students:

  • 75% of the students enjoyed the use of the Mobiview brain breaks to replace time that would be used for lecture.

  • 85% of the students think that the use of the Mobiview allowed the instructor to pose more challenging or thoughtful questions compared to the use of iClicker multiple choice questions, and

  • 89% of the students thought that instructor discussion on each Mobiview question was helpful in understanding the material presented on that day.

Additional research is planned.