UT Classtalk System
It was in the Spring of '95, that Professor Eric Mazur from
Harvard University gave a talk to our department on his teaching
method referred to as "Peer Instruction". In the same
semester, Professor Michael Downer of our Department was experimenting
with the Peer Instruction method in his General Physics class
for Physics majors. I learned about the Classtalk system from
Downer and Mazur. I was convinced that the system did have the
potential to enhance the teaching of various courses, especially
those general physics courses in our department.
The classtalk system is a student-instructor interactive
system. Through a set of network boxes, students' calculators
are connected to the instructor's computer in front of the lecture
hall. Our Classtalk project was started with an AT&T Grant.
We conducted the first pilot program in weekly discussion sessions
in the Spring of '96. By the end of '96, as a part of a lecture-hall
renovation project, we completed installation of two identical
systems in two physics lecture halls in the Painter Building.
The two UT systems have the best seat-to-port ratio among the
largest Classtalk systems now in use.
We began a full scale operation with one system in the Fall
of '96 in our Engineering Physics class. Some of the benefits
in using the system are the following:
- Engaging student's attention.
- Instant feedback for the instructor and for the students.
- The posting of Classtalk on the Web makes students to be
more aware of their attendance and participation in large classes.
It takes a team effort to put together the Classtalk system
and takes persistent dedicated effort to make the system a viable
instructional tool in our classroom.
- Our gratitude to the AT & T Foundation, from whom we
received a grant which allowed us to start the Classtalk project.
- We thank Professor Mel Oakes for his guidance and his personal
interest throughout the project. Thanks to our former chairman,
Austin Gleeson, for his strong support of the project, which
led to the installation of the two Classtalk systems. We appreciate
- the support of our present chairman Ken Gentle and secretaries
of Physics Department, especially Olga Vorlou and Pat Morgan,
- John Kerrigan and his computer group staff,
- Ricardo Ruiz of lab supply room,
- Karl Trappe and Andrew Yue of lecture demonstration,
- John England of the Electronic Shop.
- Thanks to our Classtalk assistants, Don Hinsin and Lixin
Shou, who wrote the C-program which allows the transfer of the
Classtalk system output to the Web pages. Subsequent help from
Todd Tilma and Daniel Parcher is acknowledged.
- My gratitude to our colleagues Roger Bengtson, Michael Downer,
Jack Turner, Qian Niu, C. Fred Moore and C. DeWitt, who worked
hard to incorporate Classtalk in their classroom teaching. We
specially acknowledge the ongoing dedicated effort of Jack Turner
in improving the present system.
- Our thanks to the Dean's office of the College of Natural
Science for the ongoing support of the Classtalk project.
- Thanks to Lou and Marty Abramhamson, Fred Hartland of Better
Education Inc. Their technical support and encouragement have
In a long run, we hope that the present system will be used
by more instructors in our department, and maintained by a classtalk
administrator together with some minimal supervision of a professor.
- UT Classtalk System: Layout
- Classtalk system is a commercial system manufactured by Better
Education Inc. If you are interested in further details of the
system please see the website of the Better
C. Chiu, Department of Physics, UT-Austin, Spring 1998.