Alum pilots class participation smartphone app

January 23, 2014

Jordan Smith

Many courses at Georgetown University and other D.C. schools are piloting nClass, a smartphone app, developed by Georgetown alumnus Gaurav Malik (MBA ‘12), that aims to encourage classroom participation and help instructors log student attendance in class.

The app allows professors to give in-class quizzes, collect anonymous comprehension feedback, and organize classroom participation using a virtual hand-raise feature. Students can either indicate that they want to say something in the app, or write a comment or question in the app for the professor or their classmates to see.

nClass uses a smartphone’s GPS to track student attendance. Malik dismissed the possible privacy concerns such a function might have. “We are not following you around or tracking you,” he said. “If a particular student had concerns, they can not allow nClass access to GPS on their phone.” Professors can also choose to forgo the use of GPS to keep attendance in nClass.

Malik says that nClass is more than a competitor to devices such as the iClicker, which is used in many large introductory lecture classes at Georgetown. “Why should students carry that remote control-looking device in their backpack?” he said. “We are not just a clicker device; [quizzing] is one feature that we have.”

The app runs on the iOS and Android operating systems. Students without such smartphones can still use a web version of nClass to participate in classes using the app.

Malik says that because students do not need to buy proprietary hardware, nClass is a more economical solution. “Right now we are in pilot mode, so the app is free,” he said. “We would like to keep the app free for students and have the school pay a lump sum [for the service].”

Rachel Barr, associate professor at Georgetown, participated in nClass’ pilot program last semester. “[Students] can use [their] laptop or cell phone and so are less likely to forget these items when they come to class,” she wrote in an email to the Voice.

nClass helps Barr formulate participation grades and facilitate discussions in her General Psychology class. “If students choose to post a photo [onto nClass], it helps me learn student names a bit more easily,” she said. “This is something that I find hard to do.”

In return, nClass collects feedback about their app. “The students and I requested things like longer text lines for longer questions and responses, summary reports of quiz answers, [the] ability to use a laptop [to] login [to nClass], which [they] built, and better online instructions and directions,” she wrote

Barr plans to continue participating in the pilot program this semester.

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