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Hotseat helps boost engagement in large-enrollment courses


Continuing lecturer David Bos says one of the biggest challenges he faces as an instructor is keeping roughly 1,400 students in his freshman-level biology classes engaged in the content.

But after introducing Hotseat into his curriculum in the spring semester of 2012, Bos says the social networking-powered mobile Web application enabled his students to ask questions outside the classroom and answer each other. The tool also helps Bos identify which concepts students understand, as well as which topics require additional coverage or demonstrations in class.

"There are pedagogical and logistical problems related to running a big class, and Hotseat is a problem solver," Bos says. "The whole concept of children being seen and not heard was outdated when I was in school, and this generation in particular wants to have a voice. If I want my students to participate, my strategy is to give them a voice as opposed to saying 'I will dictate.'"

Hotseat, developed by Purdue and piloted in 2009, captures student comments about a class and allows everyone in the class to view and respond to those messages, including the professor and teaching assistants. Students can post messages to Hotseat using their Facebook, MySpace or Twitter accounts. They also can send text messages or simply log in and post to the Hotseat website.

"It takes a lot of pressure off of me because students are answering each other, and I've never seen a student answer another person's question incorrectly," Bos says. "It's essentially like crowdsourcing.

"When a student posts a question on a topic and it gets 30-40 'likes,' I know it's something I should revisit in class," Bos adds. "I can also arrange posts by the number of likes and see very quickly what rises to the top. Then I look for YouTube videos, external websites, hand-drawn examples or even my own kids' toys to illustrate topics that might be confusing for students."

Lead developer Kyle Bowen, director of Informatics at Purdue, says students are comfortable using Hotseat because it lets them work on their studies from where they already live digitally.

"We're not asking them to go to a new destination or use a new technology, but Hotseat is flexible enough that if there is a new social media tool that becomes popular we can add that, too," Bowen says.

While some instructors use the tool as a real-time backchannel of discussion during lectures, Bos decided against using Hotseat in that way due to the content-heavy nature of his course and limited discussion time. In fact, he says the non-prescriptive nature of Hotseat is one of its most appealing aspects.

"You can use a screwdriver to turn screws, but you can also use it to pry something open," Bos says. "It's partly up to the instructor to make sure Hotseat is used in a way that best fits the class. Using the technology in this way fits my style of teaching, the age of my students and the size of my class, but it's not a one-size-fits-all approach."

Writer: Andrea Thomas, ITaP, 765-496-8204,

Sources: David Bos, 765-494-8528,

Kyle Bowen, 765-496-7486,

This article originally appeared in Purdue Today.


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