Gadgets Magazine

Using Technology to Build an Interactive Classroom

Posted on the 15 February 2013 by Nrjperera @nrjperera

Since the founding of education, teachers and instructors have struggled to engage their pupils while explaining challenging concepts that require the utmost attention and focus. In recent years, though, the problem has been compounded drastically, as many students of all age group and status now carry smartphone technology that is an all too attractive distraction for wandering minds. While a number of school districts have banned the devices from their classrooms, a growing number of educators are discovering the value of incorporating familiar technology into their class work.


In the 1970s and 80s, cognitive scientists made a number of breakthroughs regarding the human brains ability to process and retain information, leading a small group of physics teachers to test these new discoveries in the classroom. As early as 1989, eons ago in the world of technology, Harvard professor of applied physics Eric Mazur published “The Essence of Physics”, an interactive software package designed to summarize a one-year introductory physics course through interactive tutorial. The package included interactively solved problems in an effort to engage students in a more tangible way than that of rote lecturing. While the program represented an important step toward more involved lesson plans, it still largely relied on the standard approach to teaching. In the time since, though, Mazur has continued to push his ideas regarding peer instruction and interactive learning in the classroom and even in large lecture halls. As online media has grown from a niche market in the early 90s to perhaps the most influential communication tool of all time today, Mazur’s ideas are beginning to seem downright prophetic, as online technology has allowed learners at all skill and education levels to seek out instruction from official and unofficial sources around the globe.

“Students have to be active in developing their knowledge”, says Mazur. “They can’t passively assimilate it.” In Mazur’s physics courses, he keeps lecturing to a minimum by both incorporating more active experiments and projects for students, as well as allowing the students themselves to do most of the talking. In classes of around 100 students, a daunting prospect for any instructor, Mazur splits students into small groups and allows them to discuss a problem he poses. He projects multiple answer choices on a screen, and allows students to use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Using this method, Mazur is able to get immediate feedback on how well the class as a whole is understanding concepts. If an overwhelming majority of students are answering correctly, he’ll move on, but otherwise, he might lead a discussion on the subject before posing the question again. The process essentially elevates an impersonal lecture of 100s of students into an engaging discussion. “What we found over now close to 20 years of using this approach is that the learning gains at the end of the semester nearly triple”, Mazur says.

Coming back to the issue of smartphones in class, teachers can implement Mazur’s “clicker” method by utilizing survey building applications on student’s phones. Most students today are very familiar with taking quizzes and surveys on social media sites, many even building their own to test the knowledge and analyze the interests of their friends. Instructors can utilize these tools in the classroom without purchasing any specialized survey-taking technology designed for classroom use.

The ubiquity and ease-of-use of technology today has helped create a generation of students who are not only consumers of highly stimulating media but creators of sophisticated video and audio projects. It is perhaps obvious that students growing up in such a high sensory and interactive world would have trouble focusing on a method of relaying information that originated long before even the printing press. As most people think back on their school years, they remember the engaging fun of completing projects in 1st and 2nd grade, aspects of learning that were slowly phased out as they became older and class began to feel increasingly like a chore. Incorporating an interactive and peer-lead element into the classroom reintroduces the engagement and sense of accomplishment students feel when they are truly comprehending new concepts.

Sameer Bhatia  is the founder of, a provider of online learning management system software.

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