Interactive tools could be first step toward better teaching

A wireless system used by the Army for explosives safety training has improved classroom and exam performance, but integrating it more completely into the courses could increase its value.

The TurningPoint classroom response system has improved the performance of students and instructors at the Army Defense Ammunition Center at McAlester, Okla., where military and civilian Defense Department personnel learn about explosives safety.

“I think this represents a valuable tool,” said Pat Wheaton, a logistics management specialist and instructor at the center. Enabling all students in a class to answer questions has helped identify areas that the instructor needs to clarify and reinforce before moving forward.

But the system could do more — maybe a lot more, Wheaton said. “We’re probably getting 25 percent of the value we could get out of it.”

TurningPoint is comprised of wireless handheld devices that communicate with a transceiver plugged into a PC, and it integrates with the typical PowerPoint presentations used in classrooms. An instructor can ask a question and get an immediate response from the class, and the results appear on a slide.

That is helpful, but the software also comes with 40 standard reports in Extensible Markup Language format that can track performance by individuals or demographics as part of a broader student management system, said Mike Broderick, chief executive officer of Turning Technologies, which makes TurningPoint.

The technology is in use for six courses that are part of a pair of yearlong intern programs at DAC. The ideal situation would be to issue devices to students at the beginning of training, Wheaton said. That would let instructors track student performance through the program, identifying areas that need attention for specific students.

For now, the training center has improved performance in the classroom and on exams even using the system at only 25 percent of its value, Wheaton said.