An app for everything: Every student has a favorite

Lonnie Strickland teaches a large, discussion-based business class at Alabama where participation is a major part of the grade. In the past, he would lead discussions at his podium and make notes on a large paper seating chart. But he couldn’t engage his students by simply standing at the podium and recording participation at the same time.

“I needed something that I could literally walk around in the classroom and acknowledge when someone said something brilliant,” Strickland, who teaches strategic management, said. “Or acknowledge when someone said something less than brilliant.”

His idea was iParticipate, an iPad app that allows Strickland to easily track participation and attendance using a digital seating chart. Strickland can carry the iPad through the classroom and tap on a student’s name when he or she contributes to the discussion.

“I was sort of chained to the podium. I had to go back to the podium to take a pencil and check when someone said something,” he said. “This constant walking back and forth and updating the seating chart was disrupting to the flow of the conversation, which can go pretty fast.”

Strickland is testing the app, which emails him attendance and participation grades at the end of every class. He plans to eventually have the app integrated with Blackboard Learn so that students can easily access their grades immediately after the class ends.

“You will be able to attend a class, and then after the class is over, walking down the hall, you’ll be able to look at your smart device and see your attendance record over the whole semester and in that particular day,” he said, adding students will also be able to see “how much you participated in the class you just walked out of.”

The app is being developed by Ben Sigmon, a junior majoring in electrical engineering. It was originally a project through the Computer-Based Honors Program, but Sigmon has continued to work independently with Strickland on the project. He is working on adding new features to the app as well as increasing its efficiency. For example, Strickland’s iPad has a separate app for each class. The plan is to make one app that contains data for all of his classes.

Sigmon is also working on adding students’ pictures to the seating chart, which are already provided to professors from the University. This will make taking attendance much easier than using a paper roster.

“Instead of calling role, they can look at the seating chart and just look at which seats are empty - which seats are supposed to have people in them, but don’t,” Sigmon said.

So far, Strickland hasn’t run into any major problems while testing the app. He said it’s just a matter of becoming familiar with the technology.

“It’s more just getting used to the system of walking around with an iPad,” Strickland said. “In the past I had very large seating charts that I had to remember who said what. And this way, I don’t have those anymore. It’s just a matter of holding it in your hand and moving the screen around so you can see who’s talking.”

Taylor Konkel, a junior majoring in management information systems, worked on the app with Sigmon in the spring through CBHP. She said it will give students more incentive to speak up in class.

“For students, it increases accountability,” she said. “Going to class regularly has been proven to have a positive correlation to good grades, and this app can be the extra push they need to get there.”

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