Educators Learn New Ways of Teaching with Technology

By Ben Boulden

Most hands went up.

Next, she asked them to raise their hands if they recognized a photo of the late actor Jerry Orbach, and then followed that question with another visual multiple choice test — which of four images of a penny accurately depicted the front of the coin.

Agarwal discusses retrieval practice and learning during her lecture.

Her final question resulted in the fewest number of hands in the air: When did Arkansas become a state? Agarwal told them the answer — 1836.

The audience eagerly awaited Agarwal’s feature presentation ‘Make It Stick: Harness the Science of Learning & Transforming Teaching,’ as part of the two-day symposium focused on software and tools for teaching and assisting educators to apply different teaching styles and techniques with educational technology.

The event was hosted by the UAMS Teaching with Technology Committee including members from the University of Arkansas System eVersity, University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Everyone here is involved in teaching,” said Jan Hart, Ed.D., the committee’s executive director. “After more than a decade, the symposium has built a reputation for informing educators about the most recent and effective innovations for reaching students.”

After finishing the pop quiz, Agarwal dove into her topic of how students best retain information. She with other researchers did seven years of research with 1,500 students in grades six through 12 in a public school composed of more than 30 different research investigations. Augmented by other studies done in higher education, they found that learning and the retention of knowledge was most effective using retrieval practice and spacing.

Agarwal teaches psychological science at Berklee College of Music in Boston and maintains a free website,

Retrieval practice uses frequent testing and feedback to test the knowledge of students against to-be-remembered material during the studying process, instead of solely studying or reading the material. Some of that testing isn’t graded and is meant only to strengthen the learning process in a classroom.

Agarwal and her colleagues conducting the study used ‘clicker quizzes’ — quick tests in which students answered questions using a hand-held electronic device. Student input also is key to successful retrieval practice

“I find it helpful to ask my students for their feedback,” Agarwal said. “Maybe some questions weren’t worded very well. Giving them the opportunity to say that and provide that feedback gives them some ownership to feel involved in the original challenge to learn. Try this without consequences.”

During a panel discussion at the symposium, Matthew Windsor, left, Joe Underwood and Harold Evans talk about copyright, fair use and intellectual property in teaching.

Near the mid-point of her lecture, she asked her audience if they recalled when Arkansas became a state. Many more hands went up.

Spacing in education involves how graded testing and learning is scheduled. For example, instead of giving one test covering six chapters of a text book after six weeks of study, an effective ‘spacing’ approach might be to give one test per chapter per week.

Information learned cramming for an exam and repetitive reading of a text isn’t as effective in learning and especially in retaining knowledge absorbed from a curriculum, Agarwal said.

“One thing I find particularly important in the medical field, especially with medical students, is they can use these strategies to learn more in less time,” Agarwal said. “You will forget less so you don’t have to study as much. This will help you learn and this is why I am doing this in the classroom. You don’t have to keep coming back repetitively to the same text. You get more bang for your buck.”

Near the end of her presentation, Agarwal again asked the audience when Arkansas became a state. Everyone raised their hands.

In addition to Agarwal, featured speakers included Michael Moore, Ph.D., UA System vice president for academic affairs and eVersity, who opened the symposium and spoke on “New Models for Supporting Students in A Rapidly Changing Higher Education Environment.” Jerad Gardner, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Pathology, presented “Teaching Bigger, Better, and Faster with Social Media.”

The symposium also included 17 breakout sessions, two lightning sessions, and seven workshops. Six research and educational posters were displayed. Forty-five presenters came from UAMS, UA Little Rock, UA System/eVersity, UA Pulaski Tech, Arkansas State University, and other higher education institutions in Arkansas as well as presenters from Tennessee and Texas.

Topics included augmented reality in education, accessibility to the web, fair use and intellectual property, using telemedicine in schools, gamification, video recording for proficiency testing and academic dishonesty in the 21st century.

“The symposium draws attendees from other Arkansas colleges and from all the different colleges at UAMS. Whether you’re a teacher who needs to know about virtual reality or a professor who wants to communicate more effectively with a class, there’s something here for every educator,” said Nicki Hilliard, Pharm.D., a Teach With Technology committee member and a professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmacy Practice.