Doceri app frees faculty from podium for greater class interaction

Using an app called Doceri, Christine Masters, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, can walk throughout her classroom while projecting a computer desktop — on which she can write and sketch — using her iPad. No longer restricted to standing at the podium, she can now engage with all 200 of the students in each of her class sections, not just those sitting in front.

"Doceri lets me not only be able to move around the room while I'm talking to the students, but also put it in their hands to draw," said Masters. "The E MCH 213 Engineering Mechanics: Strength and Materials course that I teach is the beginnings of engineering systems, and so the way that we tend to lay out the math we're going to do is by starting with an image. We sketch what it is we're envisioning for the system, and then we use math and equations to analyze it."

While her students discuss their sketches with each other, she walks around the room and identifies a student whose sketch is on the right track. She then hands the iPad to that student and asks him or her to draw the sketch for the whole class to see.

"I really like the notion that I can have them share, especially their sketches. I can't really do that when I'm tethered to the podium," said Masters. And, she added, it is impractical to ask students in a large class to come up to the board to sketch, except perhaps those in the front row, and it is potentially intimidating. With Doceri on the iPad, she said, "If I can see that what's on the paper of a student sitting three-quarters of the way back is right, I can have them share that with the other students."

Masters explained that the notion of beginning with a sketch is vital. "Engineers tend to be very analytical. They want to jump right to the equations and the math, and one of the things that my courses are training them on is the planning before you do the math. A key piece of the planning is sketching the figure," she said.

Masters is one of 23 faculty taking part in a 2012-13 pilot of Doceri facilitated by Information Technology Services (ITS). Another participant, Michael Evans, instructor of nursing at Penn State Worthington-Scranton, reported similar benefits of the app.

"I used Doceri in Nursing 390: Transition and the Professional Nursing Role," said Evans. "It allowed me to be more mobile and interactive in the classroom. It allowed me to move around more in the classroom and highlight important items in my presentation."

Doceri has additional potential benefits beyond freeing the instructor from standing at a podium, according to Brian Young, ITS instructional designer who provided consultation to the faculty in the pilot.

He explained that an instructor can import reusable images into the Doceri app, for example, a periodic table of the elements, an image of a structure, or a photo taken with the iPad camera, which can then be drawn on and annotated during class. After class, the annotated images can be saved and exported as PDF files that can be posted within ANGEL.

"One of the driving forces behind selecting Doceri for the pilot," said Becky Carolus, manager of ITS technology classroom support, "was to find an affordable means by which instructors could annotate their presentations so they would not have to be tied to a high-cost annotation system at the podium, and had the flexibility to move around anywhere in the room and have their students solve problems."

"Unlike a number of other tablet annotating products, Doceri allows you to see your presentation on the device you are working on. Doceri was also one, if not the only, product that would allow you to save your annotations. We've been looking at other products for a number of years, but none were as affordable and easy to use," said Carolus.

Doceri also allows instructors to record videos of the computer desktop with audio for just the price of an iPad, rather than a more expensive course capture system, according to Young. He added that such videos would be especially effective in the form of short segments targeted to homework solutions or frequently recurring student questions. The videos could then be posted to the ITS Streaming Server or YouTube.

Pilot participant Lee Silverberg, assistant professor of chemistry at Penn State Schuylkill, said he used Doceri in his CHEM 112 and 212 courses that are taught via Polycom. He used Doceri to annotate slides and draw pictures during class, and said he appreciated the classroom mobility that allowed him to hand the iPad to students to let them draw answers to questions. In addition, he said that when he teaches those courses online next year, he plans to make recordings of his lectures. "For the online courses, it is a very easy and uncomplicated way to make lecture recordings," said Silverberg.

Masters, Evans and Silverberg agreed that Doceri was easy to use once they became comfortable with connecting the iPad to the podium computer, and that Young was very helpful with any troubleshooting that was necessary. "I was really excited when I got exposed to Doceri. This is just so much easier," said Masters.

Masters and Evans also had advice for other instructors interested in using Doceri.

Masters recommended that other instructors try it, "but do whatever they need to do to be comfortable and confident before they go into class. It was a really big help for me to take it to my actual classroom when there wasn't a class there and try connecting it so that I knew when I arrived at my class with my students there that I’d know a little bit more about what I was doing."

"Give it a try," said Evans. "I think that it is imperative that instructors continually evolve and integrate new technology into the classroom in order to meet the needs of today’s learner."

Penn State has now licensed and installed Doceri Desktop in 314 ITS general purpose classrooms and two conference rooms at University Park, as well as in podium PCs at those campuses that participate in Cooperative Lab Management (http://clc.its.psu.edu/UnivServices/CLM). Campuses not part of Cooperative Lab Management can purchase licenses from SP Controls, the maker of Doceri, at volume pricing. Instructors who wish to use Doceri must supply their own iPad.

To learn more about Doceri, visit http://doceri.psu.edu/. Penn State faculty can also attend the Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology (http://symposium.tlt.psu.edu/) on March 16, which will feature a "Campus Perspectives on Doceri Use in the Classroom" panel presentation.

Last Updated April 25, 2013