What is a Catchbox?

Catchbox is really a simple tool—it’s a soft, foam container that houses a microphone and transmitter. Catchbox is easy to use in a large auditorium, where it can be hard for faculty or students to hear questions and answers from the class. An instructor could pass a standard mic around, but that takes far too long, and every time the expensive mic drops, it gets damaged. Catchbox allows students to answer questions, ask questions, and participate in activities.

LSA-ISS engineering is gearing up to have two Catchboxes in each of the major auditoriums they service. Why two? The ball is soft, so the chance of a mic injury is very low. However, just because it’s soft doesn’t mean it makes sense to toss twenty rows up to the student in the green shirt in the back right section! Rather, having the GSI’s in the isles to run the ball to the general area and then toss it to the student can avoid messy situations and keep the ball from bouncing off someone’s glasses or knocking over electronics.

There’s an added bonus to having instructors walking the aisles—the chance to interact with students on a more personal level, and listen to group conversations as they work on a problem or discuss a situation or case study. This brings us to the next section.
 

Why use Catchbox and i>clicker together for classroom response systems?

We recently unveiled our general guide for using Catchbox in the classroom, which you can find on our website along with a variety of i>clicker support. This article will discuss ways to begin to tie Catchboxes into classrooms that already use i>clicker, a very common tool in large courses throughout the university. (There are other options people have used on a more limited basis, such as Turning Point, TopHat, Polleverywhere, or REEF polling, but they all provide the same basic functionality, so for simplicity we’ll focus on i>clicker since it’s by far the most common.)

Many of the large courses on campus have used i>clicker to begin to assess student thinking—it allows an instructor to get an idea of what the whole class has paid attention to, and if done systematically, can even start to look for common misconceptions and confusion. Just because students know words and definitions and what they say on the surface seems to make sense, a deeper dive often reveals confusion that may at best be humorous, but often limits the usefulness of their understanding, as demonstrated by this video. Sometimes these confused ideas can even be harmful! Failure to understand the concepts in a productive way often makes moving onto more advanced materials difficult or even impossible.

Catchbox can be a great tool for more in depth formative assessment of students ideas:

“Why is there so much variation in answers?”

“Why did they all get this wrong?”

“Do they think the correct answer means the same thing I do?”

Even when students select the correct answer in an i>clicker question, they may have arrived at their answer through incorrect thinking that can come back to haunt them. The trick now becomes asking productive questions for both i>clicker and for using the Catchbox in combination.

Assuming you are asking a question that is not purely factual in nature (it requires application, evaluation, or some other higher level thinking skills) here’s three ideal scenarios for putting the combo to work:

  1. Instructor asks a question and the class’s answers are split.

  2. Instructor asks a question and almost no one knows the answer.

  3. Instructor asks a question and almost everyone knows the answer.

In the first and second scenario, it’s obvious that some wires have gotten crossed, and it can be helpful to understand what students are thinking. In these cases, exploring the incorrect answer the students gave can reveal something about how they are thinking. Allow the students to discuss their answers with each other (possibly giving them a hint or two in the second scenario, but probably not for the the first). Then have the students answer again. Now that they’re more secure in their answers, it will be easier to get them to address the class; use the Catchbox to find out from some of them how their answers and the understanding changed. This helps everyone—it reaffirms the thinking of those who now have it correct and makes sure they got the answer through the correct thinking, and it helps those who still haven’t gotten it see how they might change their thinking. It even helps the instructor understand how they might better teach about the concept next time around!

The last scenario isn’t as obvious. It’s easy to think, “Everyone gets it, let’s move on.” However, at times it can be important to probe their understanding further. If the examples used have been too similar, this can allow students to develop an understanding that is too narrow—this understanding may be problematic when applied to a more diverse set of problems. I saw this kind of issue arise all the time when I taught math—students who have been taught how fractions (or really any kind of algebraic manipulation) work in an oversimplified way will often perform well on the initial tests, but will be unable to apply the process in slightly different situations, or even identify situations where the skill would be useful—the problem of “transfer.” With this in mind, asking questions that push student understanding to the help them discover the limits of their thinking can help them develop a more robust and applicable grasp of principles.

As an aside, talking to the group can be great motivationally. Being able to confidently explain something in front of a group of people can help the student feel as though this is something they can be good at, and want to continue. This is especially important, for example, for at-risk students and underrepresented minorities, who might feel as though they don’t identify with STEM fields.

Catchbox can also help facilitate large group discussion that breaks away from “IRE” interactions in large lectures—Interrogation, Recitation, and Evaluation. If we are looking to help create more robust and applicable understanding, as we’ve discussed, it should reflect a more natural way of discussing and grappling with concepts to learn. It’s rare that, in workplaces outside of lecture halls, interactions consist of a one directional flow of information. Preparing students to take charge of their own growth and learning means helping them develop the ability to ask and answer their own questions. This kind of discussion in a large group can be quite chaotic, and having a catchbox to help provide structure and focus during more conversational discussion in class can be very helpful, in addition to the sound amplification element helping make sure that in a large instructional space the students can hear each participant.
 

Alternatives to Catchbox

There are several fully digital options for getting feedback and supporting a whole class discussion in a large classroom or auditorium. ISS recommends using a dedicated platform, such as Canvas (Chat, Discussions, or Conferences), or the Active Learning Platform, which are built into Canvas, or possibly something like Bluejeans Primetime. All of these platforms work essentially the same way—they create a “backchannel,” a forum where students can see slides, post questions, answers, or ideas, and have a conversation. If you are doing a Hi-Flex class, Canvas Conferences or Bluejeans even allow for streaming video and the slides. This requires someone to be monitoring the online discussion and bringing important questions or comments up—since large classes usually have GSIs which are in attendance. The best way to do this is have the GSIs do the monitoring and at least some of the responding. The online option can allow quieter students, who aren’t as comfortable talking in front of an entire class, to still engage.
 

Support

ISS provides support for every stage of the process when introducing and implementing the use of technology and new instructional techniques. First, we work to ensure that the technology is functional and as seamless as possible. Next, we are available to consult with instructors to help them determine the best way to integrate technologies into each course. Finally, we have staff who can be present during class times to ensure that the implementation is going smoothly. If you are interested in working with us on this or any other technology or new instructional methods, please don’t hesitate to contact us. As always, our Technical Assistance Group (TAG) is available during typical class hours to help with any of the technology in your classrooms.