This section describes basic pedagogical uses of several forms of classroom technology, from chalkboard/whiteboard to handheld electronics. Check with the Instructor of Record before the semester begins to find out what technologies will be used in lecture and whether you will be expected to set up or run them. You should also check what technology is (or is not) available in your section classroom. (For more information about classroom technology, please see ETS Classroom Consultations and Support below.)

Chalkboards and Whiteboards
Document Camera
Presentation Software
In-Class Chats and Tweets
Setting Policies on Student Use of Electronics in the Classroom
Try It First
ETS Classroom Consultations and Support

Chalkboards and Whiteboards

Chalkboards and whiteboards are nearly ubiquitous in our classrooms for the simple reason that they have proven remarkably useful in diverse teaching environments. They remain effective for noting key words, formulas, and simple graphs on the fly. Colored chalk or markers can give multiple dimensions to a graphic drawn incrementally or allow different “voices” to be represented visually.

If you change or re-purpose a graph you’ve drawn, be sure to erase completely the parts that no longer apply and replace them with clear, new markings. Remember that many of your students will be viewing the graph from 15 to 20 feet away, and your work needs to be clear at that distance.

You may want to consider bringing your own chalk or markers with you, just in case your classroom does not have a supply.

One final bit of professional etiquette: Remember to erase your work after class ends so the next instructor can start with a fresh board.

Document Cameras

A document camera captures real-time images of physical objects, such as leaf samples or sheets of paper or book pages, and sends them to a digital projector for display on a classroom screen. They have a zoom feature and can be used to show small items to an entire class for close observation.

Some classrooms are equipped with document cameras. If you want to use one in your section or lab and your classroom lacks one, ETS loans out document cameras and other instructional equipment for classroom use.

Presentation Software

Presentation or slideware programs allow users to integrate different media (text, graphics, sound, movies) into a projected or online presentation. They can be an effective tool for instructor and student presentations. Keynote (for Mac computers), PowerPoint (for PCs and Macs), and Google Presentation are three popular slideware programs that are generally easy to use. You and your colleagues may be aware of dynamic alternative presentation tools online.

Some uses of presentation software are less effective than others. The most important question with slideware is how well it fits into your discipline, your classroom dynamics, and your learning objectives. For example, some faculty members teaching large-scale lecture courses in certain disciplines, such as physics, biology, and engineering, find slide presentations absolutely necessary. In history, the caution is that if you put most of your verbal content into the slides you’ll find yourself competing with them for your students’ attention — so if you do use them, use them in moderation. In literary studies, the bullet-point approach goes very much against the grain of the kinds of knowledge and reasoning you want your students to practice, so slides are best used to display an image or very brief text that you want the class members to analyze together.

Regardless of class size, if direct engagement with students is important in your teaching philosophy, you will want to be sparing in your use of presentation software or give students ways to interact with the slides in the classroom. It can be useful in section, however, to show and discuss certain slides from the faculty member’s lecture presentation to reinforce concepts presented there.

If you decide to use slideware, you need to be sure the classroom for your section includes a computer projector. See ETS Classroom Consultations and Support below.


Many large lecture courses make use of clickers — handheld devices or smartphone apps that students obtain and then use in their classes to respond to quick in-class quiz questions or polls. Students’ responses are transmitted to the instructor’s device and the results can be projected onto a classroom screen display.

Clickers can be highly useful for increasing students’ active participation in the learning process in large-enrollment courses. For example, they are especially effective in a think-pair-share strategy that Eric Mazur describes (Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual, available at the GSI Teaching & Resource Center): the instructor poses a multiple-choice question that requires students to apply a concept; students think about their answers briefly, then indicate their response with the clicker; this is followed by pairing up with a neighbor to share their answers and explain their rationale. The instructor then takes a second poll to see whether the consensus has changed. If a significant portion of the class still chooses a wrong answer, the lecturer knows to give further instruction on that point.

Other examples of clicker use are given in the latter part of Daniela Kaufer’s talk for the How Students Learn series (text summary and video available). To learn more about how clickers can be used in your classroom, go to the ETS Clickers page.

In section meetings, clickers may or may not be desirable. GSIs considering clickers for a section meeting should consider whether the contemplated use of an anonymous response system would make sense in their smaller class setting and what impact it would have on participation dynamics.

For a low-tech alternative to clickers that doesn’t create anonymity, the GSI can distribute packs of four cards or papers in different colors (for example red, yellow, blue, and white) to each student. The GSI can ask the class to respond to a multiple-choice question that requires application of a concept, and students can indicate their answer choice with the associated color.

In-Class Chats and Tweets

In-class chats and tweets can be used to gather student questions and comments throughout a class session. Students may be responding to course material or to a live debate or role-play in class. You can set the students a specific task, such as evaluating an argument or responding to a course reading. This activity has been found to encourage very broad participation; introducing a written medium can provide a way for otherwise reticent students to participate more comfortably. The in-class chat can also prime students for further collaborative activities outside of class using threaded discussion (the bCourses Discussion tool).

If you have a bCourses site established and have enabled the chat tool, you can hold a class session for student interaction in a virtual chat room using students’ online devices, or, if not all students have such devices, holding class in a campus instructional computer lab.

Interested GSIs can find out more technical details about these and other interactive web technologies by at the campus’s Academic Innovation Studio.

Setting Policies on Student Use of Electronics in the Classroom

Many instructors are troubled when students use their laptops, tablet, or smartphones in class in ways that distract other students. As an instructor, you have a major role in maintaining a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning, so one responsibility you have is to decide whether you want to set a policy on the use of personal electronic devices.

In determining your classroom policy on laptops and other personal electronic devices, here are some things you might wish to consider:

  1. Does the Instructor of Record have a policy that you should use, or are you responsible for crafting your own policy?
  2. Recent research has found that, contrary to popular opinion, students do not multi-task effectively. Instead, they shift their attention quickly among tasks, breaking their attentional focus repeatedly. Learning requires sustained focus. (For some of the research on this, please see the GSI Teaching Conference talk by Silvia Bunge, GSIs and the Science of Learning.)
  3. Research has also found that students who take notes by hand tend to understand the material better and remember it better than students who take more “complete” notes on a keyboard. The reason for this is that when writing by hand, students cannot write everything down and must therefore summarize or sift what they are hearing to write down the most salient points as they go, whereas keyboard users are more likely to passively transcribe every word or copy the content of the instructor’s slides.
  4. Are there classroom-related benefits to allowing students full and complete access to their personal electronic devices? Do these outweigh the level of distraction introduced, both for students using the devices for non-course-related activities and for other students nearby?
  5. How would banning personal electronic devices affect student learning and/or class engagement?
  6. Would your students benefit from occasional course-related use of personal electronic devices? If you want students to use devices in particular in-class activities, and all the students in your section have them, you can state that there will be sessions during the semester for which the devices will be useful or necessary and that you will remind students when such an activity is coming up.

Another option is to ask students what kinds of uses they find beneficial in the classroom and which they find distracting or inappropriate. Bring them in on creating a policy, and distribute that policy to the entire class.

Whatever policy you decide on, be sure to explain it clearly to your students, both in the section syllabus and on the first day of class. For more information about personal electronic devices, please see the resources page at the end of this section of the Teaching Guide.

If you decide not to permit the use of personal electronic devices in your classroom, you should know that there must be an exception for a student who has a Letter of Accommodation from the Disabled Students Program stating that the student must be allowed to take notes using a laptop. (If other students ask why this student is allowed to use a laptop, you are not to mention the disability accommodation because that is confidential information. Instead, you can say that the student has permission by prior arrangement and give no further explanation.)

Try It First

Before the semester starts, do a test run of any equipment you plan to use in your class. Try out the presentation or activity in the classroom or lecture hall where the class will meet, with the personal computer or other devices that will be used during the semester.

ETS Classroom Consultations and Support

Staff members at ETS can help you get started with classroom sound, projection, recording, or other technology. Here are ways you can learn about ETS support for classrooms, look up frequently asked questions, or request assistance: