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Collaborative Learning in Undergraduate Classroom Project Final Report

Team Members:

  • William Beachley (william.beachley@Colorado.EDU)
  • Jun Chen (jun.chen@Colorado.EDU)
  • Huda Khan (
  • Sarah Kim-Warren (
  • Scott Zweig (


1. Statement of Problem

1.1.Traditional education within undergraduate college level courses is usually centered around lecture-based teaching methods, where information is presented by the instructor to the students, and collaboration and interaction between the instructor and students during class-time is fairly restricted. Most traditional lecture-style classes neither allow for students to be more actively engaged in discussing or understanding the topic during class time nor allow for explicitly gauging studentsí level of interest in the topics taught during class time (5.5).

Certain interactive systems, such as the 'Clicker' and 'ClassTalk', attempt to enhance in-class interaction by allowing students to submit their answers to questions posted or assigned by the instructor and by allowing the instructor to view the tabulation of student answers in real time (5.2, 5.3). However, the functions of these systems are rather limited as interaction is instructor-initiated. For our Semester Project, we designed and implemented a web-based feedback tool that allows students to provide feedback and post inquiries during class time without interrupting the lecture flow. Our web-based system allows both students and instructors to initiate opportunities for feedback and interaction. Students can submit their answers to multiple choice questions posted by the instructor and can also post their own inquiries using the system at any time during the class. Additionally, unlike the existing interaction systems, our system is extensible and end-user modifiable, where instructors can modify or add feedback options and multiple choice questions. Creating this expanded window of interaction between the instructor and student will help further empower the students to provide information and comments that will help the instructor to modify their teaching style to better suit the students' learning needs.

2. Rationale

2.1. Per our previous class experiences, we believe that asking questions and getting immediate feedback from instructors helped us more than we expected. Students learn more easily and produce better results with effective collaboration in class (5.5, 5.7). However, collaboration in larger classes can be difficult because the lecture becomes the primary focus in this setting. Various pedagogical methods, such as supplementary and peer instruction and pair cooperative groups (5.6), have been introduced into large classroom environments to facilitate greater collaboration between students and instructors (5.7). As noted above, 'interactive systems' such as the 'Clicker' and 'ClassTalk' are attempts at providing technological support in the facilitation of greater interaction between instructors and students during class. The 'Clicker' system allows the instructor to post questions related to the topic being discussed and students to register their responses by using the answer options on their 'clickers'. The instructor can then view statistics on the responses entered by the students relative to the correct answers. Similarly, the 'ClassTalk' system allows students to enter their answers to questions or problems assigned by the students and for the instructor to see various statistics regarding the student answers. In this manner, the instructor is given information on how well the students are answering the questions. In both these systems, the instructor initiates the opportunities for feedback by posting questions or requesting student responses during a certain time interval in class (5.2, 5.3).

After analysis of the benefits and barriers to collaborative learning and related work, we identified the following principles that should be considered in the design of improved interactive systems: collaboration should be supported in multiple channels in parallel; every collaborator should be able to participate or initiate collaboration but other people can decide when to respond; user customization and extension of the collaboration space is necessary. We designed and implemented 'FEEL' (Feedback Enhanced Environment for Learning) keeping these principles in mind, believing that a better-designed technological solution would perform much better than existing interactive systems. Within 'FEEL', both students and instructors can initiate different interactive activities, interaction is designed not to be intrusive or distracting, and there is great flexibility for the addition of new functionality and the extension and customization of existing functionality.

4. For implementation Projects:

4.1. Technical approach:

We implemented the system as a web application because we realized that the Internet is widely available today and given this access to the internet, no additional software would have to be installed in order for users to use this service. If implemented as a web application, the system can be accessible to users through PDAs with wireless connections, which are a possible future extension we envision for this system. We used Apache Tomcat as the web server and web servlet container, MySQL for persistent data storage, JSP (Java Server Pages) for web page implementation and dynamic data retrieval and updates, and Eclipse as our Integrated Development Environment or IDE (5.1). Java Server Pages or JSP is a simple, efficient technology for the creation of dynamic web content, and allows for accessing and dynamically displaying information in a backend database. Additionally, both JSP and MySQL are platform and server-independent, allowing for our system to be easily transferable to other platforms and servers. We took advantage of Jakarta Struts, a framework, which implements the Model-View-Controller design paradigm and which is a web-tiered layer built on Servlets, JSP, and XML. In this framework, the 'Model' component handles the domain state and data, the 'View' component defines how the data will be displayed and presented, and the 'Controller' component controls how information is processed and managed. We chose these technologies for our implementation because: (1) it is very easy to write extensible and readable code with them and (2) these technologies are popular open-source technologies and therefore easily obtainable.

4.2. Description of System:

The system supports both instructors and students, providing both sets of users with different interfaces suited to their needs. After logging into the system, the instructor can create and maintain student accounts, add, modify, and remove multiple choice questions, answer and delete inquiries, edit or add feedback options (e.g. 'Too Fast' or 'Too Slow' to indicate the instructor is moving too fast or too slow when covering material during class), and view statistics regarding studentsí answers to multiple choice questions. After logging into the system using their logins and passwords, the students can answer multiple choice questions posted by the instructor, post inquiries to be answered by the instructor, post their feedback using the available feedback options, and add their vote to other posted inquiries they would like answered by the instructor.

'FEEL' is an example of a dynamic web-based database driven application, where information is stored in the database and is accessed and modified by users through their interaction with the provided web interface to the system. For example, when an instructor defines a multiple choice question, which includes the question definition, the available answers, and the correct answer option, this information is stored in the database. When the student logs in to their interface, the information for the multiple choice questions is retrieved from the database and displayed to the student. JSP (Java Server Pages) enables this connection to the database and subsequent retrieval and 'dynamic' display of information through the creation of the HTML page which is finally viewed by the student. Thus, as the information is modified or updated by the instructor, the students are able to view the updated multiple choice questions. Similarly, when the students enter their answers to the multiple choice questions, their answers along with information on which students answered which questions is stored in the database. When the instructors use the instructor interface to access statistics on student answers to multiple choice questions, JSP enables another connection to the database, retrieves the relevant information regarding student answers, calculates the required statistics, and displays these statistics in the formats available.

The backend database, implemented in MySQL, is used to store both the information needed by 'FEEL' as well as the links between different pieces of information. For example, the database stores not only which answers were submitted to multiple choice questions but by whom, linking answers to students. Furthermore, the database is also used to store which students posted which inquiries and when and which students added their votes to inquiries. This information can then be employed within the JSP pages to ensure that when students use the 'FEEL' student interface to vote, they cannot vote twice.

4.3. Description of the System Behavior:

4.3.1. User Accounts: Instructor and Student. The instructor accounts are created at system setup. The instructors can then login and create accounts for students. Both students and instructors must login in order to access the student and instructor interfaces respectively.

4.3.2. Instructor Interface and Functionality

Once the instructorís login and password has been verified, 'FEEL' displays the instructor interface which allows instructors to click on different links to access different functions and view statistics. Using 'FEEL', instructors can choose to:
  • Create Student Accounts. Instructors can enter Name, Login and Password for students
  • Add, Modify, or Delete Multiple Choice Questions. Instructors can post a new multiple choice question by entering a question definition, the choices for the answers, and the correct answer. Instructors can also select from the list of existing multiple choice questions and then edit the information for that multiple choice question. Instructors can also select from the list of existing multiple choice questions and delete any of those questions.
  • Add, modify, or reset the set of available Feedback options (e.g. 'Too Fast', 'Too Slow'). Resetting the count for a given feedback option makes the accumulated count (the number of times students selected that particular feedback option) equal to zero.
  • View, Answer, and Delete Student Inquiries. Instructors can view inquiries posted by students as well as the number of votes that have accumulated for that Sparticular inquiry. They can mark an inquiry as 'Answered' and also delete the inquiry so that it is no longer displayed on the inquiry page in either the student or instructor interfaces.
  • View Counts for Student Feedback Responses. Instructors can see how many times a certain feedback response has been selected by students since the count for that response had been last reset.
  • View Individual and Collective Statistics for Student Responses to Multiple Choice Questions.

4.3.3. Student Interface and Functionality

Once the student login and password have been verified, the student can then access the links that allow them to answer multiple choice questions, click on the feedback options, or answer multiple choice questions. Using the 'FEEL' student interface, students can:

  • Answer Multiple Choice Questions. After selecting a multiple choice question from a drop-down list of all currently defined multiple choice questions, the student is then taken to a page displaying that multiple choice question and allowing the student to submit their response to the question.
  • Post and Vote on Student Inquiries. Students can access the inquiries page, enter text for their inquiry, and submit that inquiry. When first submitted, an inquiry shows a vote count of one. Students can also add their vote to an inquiry by clicking on the 'Vote' link next to any particular inquiry on the inquiries page. Inquiries are displayed sorted by whether they are 'Waiting' or 'Answered' with those in the 'Waiting' queue given priority, then by the number of votes in descending order, and then by the time the inquiry was posted in descending order.
  • Click on one of the Feedback Links. On the 'Inquiries and Feedback' page, students are provided with the list of available feedback options with their respective counts. They can click on any of these options which will add one count to the sum of counts for that option.

4.3.4. Scenario

Prior to class, the instructor has created 3 new multiple choice questions that will be relevant to the course material to be covered during class. Before class has started, the instructor has logged on to the 'FEEL' system via the web with the login and password that were provided to her. The instructor clicks on the 'Multiple Choice Questions' link which takes her to a page which includes a form for defining a new multiple choice question. The instructor enters the first question, the possible answer options she wishes to include as choices, and she denotes the correct answer option using the drop down list that displays the letters 'A' through 'E' for the possible options available for any multiple choice question. The instructor submits this new addition and the question is added to the multiple choice questions stored by 'FEEL'. She repeats the process for the next two questions. The instructor then remembers a question she had already entered a few weeks ago and realizing that it may be relevant and wishing to modify that question, she returns to the 'Multiple Choice Questions' page where she clicks on the 'Edit Question' link. A drop-down list with the question definitions for all available multiple choice questions is displayed. Selecting the question she wishes to edit from the list, she is then taken to a page which includes a form whose fields contain the stored definition for the question, possible answers, and correct definition for that question. She rewords the question the way she wants, changes two of the options, selects a different option as the correct answer, and presses submit. Her changes are saved and then she logs out of 'FEEL'.

Immediately before class starts, she logs back into 'FEEL' on her laptop in the classroom and selects the 'View Feedback and Inquiries' page. She then proceeds to deliver her lecture to the class as she had planned. Meanwhile, different students have logged into the 'FEEL' page using their student logins and passwords. After a few minutes, a few proceed to the 'Post Inquiries and Feedback' page using the link provided. Two people post inquiries, and others proceed to add their votes to those inquiries. Some students also select the 'Too Fast' feedback link. As the instructor proceeds to the end of her first 15-minutes, she pauses for a second as she refreshes the 'FEEL' feedback and inquiries page and notices that two inquiries with the status 'Waiting' have been added and have 4 and 2 votes respectively and the counts for 'Too Fast' have gone up. The inquiries with 4 votes is relevant while the other will be covered later in the class, so she answers the first and clicks on the 'Answered' link next to the inquiry. The inquiry status is changed to 'Answered' and it moves down the list of inquiries towards the bottom.

After proceeding for an additional fifteen minutes, she then instructs the students to answer the first of the questions she had chosen for the in-class multiple choice session. The students click on the 'Multiple Choice' link and are taken to the list of drop-down questions from which they select the question the instructor has asked them to choose. Students can choose whether or not to be 'anonymous' when they answer the question, which means that although their answers will be stored and reflected in the collective scores, the instructor will not be allowed to see whether that particular student chose a specific answer for this question. The instructor has decided to give 3 minutes for each multiple choice question, and as she was describing which question the students must answer first, she had already clicked on the 'Student Answers' link where she can view either individual or collective answers for the multiple choice questions. After 2 minutes, she clicks on the 'Individual' Answers link and she sees a grid where half of the studentsí names are listed. Each cell is color-coded to correspond to the answer option selected by the students, and the legend is provided. She notes that Eric has selected option B whereas Jennifer has selected option A. Scanning the colors, she notes that many students have picked C. She notes that a few cells are gray, denoting that those students have answered the question but have chosen the 'anonymous' option. After 3 minutes, she instructs the students to finish answering the question. She then clicks on the 'Collective Answer' link, and is taken to a page displaying the numbers of students who picked each of the available options. She sees that a majority of students picked C, while some picked A and B. The correct option was A. She makes some conclusions regarding the studentsí understanding of the topic, noting that there is still some confusion regarding the concepts represented by options C and A. She discusses the question with the class, and also chooses this opportunity to answer the inquiry that had been posted earlier during class. She then goes to the 'View Inquiries and Feedback' page where she clicks on the 'Answered' link which changes the status of that inquiry to 'Answered' and moves that question to the bottom of the list of inquiries.

4.4. Evaluation of the Program/System:

While the system was being designed and implemented, our project team tested various parts of its functionality. At various stages, team members were able to give their feedback regarding the system. At the final testing stage, our team was satisfied with 'FEEL' functionality and implementation.

We also constructed student evaluation and instructor evaluation exercises to test 'FEEL' functionality and conducted these exercises with two students and two instructors. The actual exercises are attached as part of Appendix A in this document. The evaluator from our project team showed a detailed demonstration using the 'FEEL' system to the testers. The demo and evaluation exercise for the instructors focused on 'FEEL' functionality for instructors using the instructor interface, whereas the demo and exercises for the students focused on functionality for students using the student interface. In addition to viewing testers as they used the system and noting their feedback, the evaluator from our project team also collected comments regarding what testers liked and disliked about the system.

The students were able to vote on posted inquiries fairly easily as well as to answer the multiple choice questions without difficulty. The students both made positive comments regarding 'FEEL', noting that it would be useful to post inquiries without disrupting class and that it would be helpful to use 'FEEL' within their classes. One of the students noted that 'FEEL' could be disruptive if students were allowed to post irrelevant queries, while the other noted that 'FEEL' would not disrupt class if students were paying attention. The students particularly liked the multiple choice questions features and the ability to post their answer as anonymous so the instructor would not be able to view which option was chosen by the student.

The instructor was able to complete the tasks in his exercise without any difficulty. One comment was made regarding the absence and potential use for the ability to undo oneís actions in 'FEEL'. One of the instructors also thought that the use of 'FEEL' may be a cause for distraction during class. The instructor particularly liked the ability to view studentsí instant feedback as well as the ability to view results to multiple choice quizzes instantaneously during class and thus to assess whether the material was being understood by the students.

When designing 'FEEL', we desired our system to be intuitive and easy to use and for students and teachers to be able to use this system without disrupting the flow of the class. There was encouraging positive feedback from students and instructors regarding 'FEEL' functionality and ease of use. Both students and instructors seemed to view 'FEEL' as capable of being integrated into the class and helping in student learning and interaction and in instructor assessment if students used this application to post questions and inquiries relevant to the class.

4.5. Potential Further Developments of 'FEEL':

A wide variety of technologies can enhance classroom collaboration. The main emphasis of 'FEEL' technology is to facilitate greater student activity in giving feedback to the instructor or asking questions during class. Although the present set of functions available in feel is not very large, the 'FEEL' system itself is very generic and has been designed to provide a foundation for future extension and customization. Some future works we are envisioning include:

  • In addition to allowing instructors to set student accounts, students will be allowed to change their own passwords.
  • More advanced inquiry management: while the instructor is verbally answering an inquiry during class, a TA enters the text for that answer into 'FEEL'. Each inquiry thus can have the actual answer stored along with it, allowing for later display and retrieval. For inquiries not answered during class, instructors can post their replies out-of-class using 'FEEL'. This addition will help students and instructors create a list of inquiries and answers similar to the 'FAQs' section on some websites, where similar inquiries and answers can be available to students and instructors in different classes over different time periods.
  • Lesson plan specification: an instructor can specify a lesson plan, which is a schedule of a set of topics an instructor covers during a lecture.
  • Student profile creation: by linking feedback with the particular topic when this feedback is given, we can create a profile for each student.
  • Student Behavior Monitoring: the system displays how the behavior of a particular student or of all the students (e.g. answering questions, posting inquiries) changes over time, either within the scope of a single lecture or across multiple class sessions.
  • Student-to-student collaboration promotion: utilizing information contained in student profiles, system can promote various forms of collaboration, e.g. putting students who have difficulty with a same topic together for a group study.
5. References:

5.1. (Apache Server Reference)

5.2. (Clickers, current system)

5.3. (ClassTalk, current system)

5.5. Cooper, J., Robinson, P., 'The Argument for Making Large Classes Seem Small',

5.6. George, Pamela G., 'Using Cooperative Learning in the College Classroom' The NEA Higher Education Journal

5.7. Smith, Barbara Leigh and Jean T. MacGregor., 'What is Collaborative Learning?',

Appendix A

Attached are the evaluation sheets that describe the 'FEEL' demonstration and evaluation exercises for the application evaluation that was conducted. The evaluator filled in the answers in the space provided. Two students and two instructors were lead through the demonstration and evaluation exercises and their comments and feedback as well observations made by the evaluator are included in the documents attached.

Attached are:

A.1. Instructors 1 and 2 Evaluation Missing File (/dlc-2004/uploads/InstructorEvaluation%28full%29.doc)

A.2. Students 1 and 2 Evaluation -Missing File (/dlc-2004/uploads/StudentEvaluation.doc)

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