LearnStar Empowers Texas Tech Students

Interactive instructional tool dramatically boosts tests scores and learning.

Arecent research study funded by a$100,000 grant from the NationalScience Foundation (www.nsf.gov)and led by Texas Tech University, focusedon the use of instructional technology toolsin designated math, chemistry, andpsychology courses in order to evaluatetheir success in increasing student learning,motivation, and test scores. The three-yearstudy began on Sept. 1, 2003.

LearnStar (www.learnstar.com) technologyhas already been tested as part of theproject, with results clearly demonstratingthe tool’s power to dramatically increaselearning, as reflected in student test scores.The tool was used in Texas Tech coursesduring 2003 and 2004, with a combined testbase of more than 1,500 students. The mosttelling data comes from a test group of 123students in the Math 1351 Calculus I coursewho used it on a weekly basis to supplementtraditional lectures and enhance theirunderstanding of core mathematics principles.A control group of 42 students attendedthe same lectures but participated inconventional discussion sessions instead ofusing LearnStar; there was a significantincrease in the exam scores for the LearnStarstudents over the control group.

For example, on the spring 2004comprehensive departmental exam, thestudents who used LearnStar in the classroomreceived a test grade of 70.2 percenton average, compared to the control groupwhose grade averaged only 47.7 percent.Furthermore, students in the control groupwere not poor students in general; theirSAT scores were nearly identical and theirhomework grades were actually higher(69.1 percent versus 67.2 percent) thanstudents using LearnStar.

Interactive Instructional Tool

LearnStar is an educational softwaresystem that provides an interactive environmentfor enhanced learning in theclassroom. The program can be used with avariety of handheld or laptop computers,in computer labs, or with LearnStar’s wirelesskeypads. Assessment programs,such astests and competitions, are led by a teacherusing the LearnStar program, withstudents logging the answers to questionson their computers or keypads in a fun,interactive format. LearnStar contentmodules are available for a huge variety ofcourses, and teachers can also use theEditor to tailor activities to their own needs.

Students usually use LearnStar in acompetitive format to answer timed,multiple-choice questions. The faster thecorrect response is given, the more pointsstudents earn. Students are naturally drawninto the excitement of the competitions,increasing their motivation to assimilatenew ideas. LearnStar thus provides a stimulatingand fun format for students to challengethemselves and enhance their learningof the course material.

In the Texas Tech calculus study, questionswere displayed on a television orprojector screen and students logged theiranswers on the 900MHz LearnStarkeypads. A teacher station was connectedto the television or projector to allow theteacher to pause the program and provideexplanations when too many studentsmissed a question. The immediate feedbackprovided by LearnStar proved to be apowerful tool in diagnosing and correctingstudent misconceptions.

The Texas Tech teachers who usedLearnStar also praised the benefits of usingit both as a motivator for students to learnand as a tool to review for exams. Theynoted that while the competitive formatwas especially useful for review and drill, italso worked well for conceptual questions.For instance, the calculus classes used notonly questions which tested computationalskills, such as evaluating indefinite integrals,but also questions requiring deepunderstanding of the fundamentalconcepts.

Helping Teachers and Students Alike

Another key component of the Texas Techstudy is the use of LearnStar in Math 4371,the Texas Tech capstone course for elementaryeducation majors with a math specialization.The goal of the course is to give thesefuture teachers (most of whom plan toteach at the middle school level) an understandingof the pedagogical issues involvedin using classroom technology, and theconfidence that they can reap the benefits ofputting these tools into action. The studentsnot only used LearnStar to review thecourse material they were studying,but theyalso experienced LearnStar from theteacher’s perspective. They developedcompetitions and lesson plans for using thetool to teach key objectives tested by annual,state-mandated assessment tests.

At the end of the study, each of thestudents filled out a questionnaire ratinghis or her experience using LearnStar inthe classroom. One hundred percent ofthe respondents agreed or strongly agreedwith the statement, “LearnStar is fun,” and95.4 percent agreed or strongly agreedwith the statement, “I would like to useLearnStar again.” When asked how helpfulLearnStar had been in their learning thecourse material, they gave LearnStar a 4.23(on average), on a scale with 5 as highest.The same students gave all other aspects ofthe class an average score of 3.09.

These students tend to be extremelydifficult to motivate, according to theirteachers, but they were very excited aboutusing the LearnStar technology in theclassroom. The teachers, too, are nowaware of the benefits of this tool for theirfuture students in the K-12 classroom, andare likely to advocate the use of similartechnologies in their classrooms, throughouttheir careers.

The findings of this research study illustratethe benefits of educational technologyfor students and teachers alike. By continuingto put useful technology tools in thehands of educators, giving them the confidenceto use the technology with theirstudents, and advocating the adoption of thetools by administrators, educational technologycompanies like LearnStar can helpstudents learn and make learning fun.

G. Brock Williams is a professor at TexasTech University, teaching mathematics andstatistics. He led the calculus and teacherpreparation courses as part of this researchstudy and routinely uses LearnStar in theclassroom with his students.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.