When Carl Braunlich, Associate Professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, enters the lecture hall of the Introduction to Hospitality class he teaches, he encourages his students to pick up their phones. Braunlich knows all too well that the young people he teaches have grown up with technology embedded into their lives. He also knows how jarring it is to be told to put away a smartphone and listen to someone lecture at you for an hour.

Braunlich is part of a growing body of lecturers who have embraced active learning techniques and technology in the classroom. A 2014 study found that students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use active learning methods. Rather than swim against the rising tide of technology, the best lecturers have adopted a ‘go with the flow’ approach. If students are comfortable using digital devices, why not turn them into teaching tools?

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Another way to foster active learning is through the creation and use of interactive materials. Traditional textbooks are difficult to update and don’t offer the best value for money to professors or students. But change is on the horizon.

Assistant Professor Christopher Bone of the University of Oregon designed an interactive textbook using Top Hat Textbook with his colleague, Amy Lobben, in response to an observation that students were not able to solve real world dilemmas. Bone noted that although technology was so prevalent in their everyday lives, young people were not great at using it to solve problems.

The resulting text, Our Digital Earth, an interactive text about the role that geospatial data and technologies play in our everyday lives, was a hit. Students loved the videos, embedded quizzes, the real-life earthquake simulation game and the accessible tone in which it was written. They also loved the price point. At $41, the book is far more affordable than a new print textbook. With more and more students electing to forgo the purchase of textbooks in order to save money, interactive content is an engaging, cost-effective way to help them optimize their learning.

Bone says that many lecturers continue to teach in a conventional way—by asking students to memorize facts from a set of print materials and then testing them during a traditional exam. But he’s decided to take a different approach: “If we give students a real problem and the means to collect real data, then we’ve set them up for success beyond the classroom walls.”

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