Harvard’s ‘active’ system helping other universities improve outcomes

Learning Catalytics–a project co-founded by interactive and educational technology experts Eric Mazur, Gary King, and Brian Lukoff at Harvard University–drew upon what Harvard says is 20 years of advanced research, innovation, and implementation of active learning at the University. Harvard explains that the system engages students by allowing them to use their own mobile devices or computers to answer questions through the cloud that are not simply multiple choice, but instead are open-ended and require critical thinking. In addition to textual responses, the system also supports numerical, algebraic, and graphical responses.

Meanwhile, instructors are able to assess student understanding of class material in real time and can identify, with the help of the system, which areas require further clarification. Learning Catalytics can also group students together for further discussion and practice.

This wide array of features is what drew Pearson to acquire the company  in 2013, as well as what drew Hogan and UNC to Learning Catalytics.

“With Learning Catalytics, it is possible to have students draw their models and submit them,” said Hogan. Now, I can see 400 graphs and can quickly scan for common mistakes.”

“The program also tells me who is sitting where, and how they answered each question,” Hogan continued. “Because students enter their seat numbers, the program can assign them to a neighbor to talk to who has a different answer. This enriches the discussion and means student groups become more diverse… [making] the class feel more like a community.”

In addition to having already spread to the Physics and Astronomy Departments at UNC, Learning Catalytics is now used by a wide array of institutions, including (but not limited to) the Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, The Ohio State University, Cornell University, and even some high schools.

As for any downsides to the system?

“Downside might be how powerful it is and how much data you can get – meaning it can be overwhelming,” Hogan explained.