Perry Samson, a professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, has been teaching at U-M for 38 years. In his early teaching years, Samson thought that getting through a lecture without students asking many questions was a sign of a job well done. Samson says he has since come to realize that silence in class often indicates student confusion rather than understanding.
Working with a group of students, Samson co-founded LectureTools, which was acquired by technology company Echo360 in 2012. The platform lets students give feedback to instructors in real time using their phones, laptops, or tablets. They can ask and answer questions, make notes, and use an alert to signal when they are confused. This information then shapes how instructors can approach the next class—whether they need to review material or perhaps explain it in a different way. Samson said that the platform allows him to experiment with his teaching to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “It helps me identify when I’m being boring, when I’m going too fast. It’s changed the way I teach,” he said.