Using the iPad for interactive problem solving

In a conventional lecture class, an instructor typically finds out whether students have learned the material only after it has been assessed, which can happen days, weeks, even months after the material was presented. But particularly in a class that demands mathematical reasoning skills, inviting students to show their thinking publicly during class allows the instructor to get a sense of students’ understanding and reasoning in order to make adjustments in real-time. Dan Levy invites students to use an iPad projected to the front of the class in order to demonstrate the steps they take to solve a problem. In this video, Levy explains how this practice invites students to be a “part of the learning process” for the whole class.


Dan Levy, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Student Group



Harvard Kennedy School


Advanced Quantitative Methods

Group Size

74 students

  • Start small. Especially at the beginning of a course, work to get students comfortable with public problem-solving using less complicated questions. Vocalize that your intention for using interactive problem-solving is to gain insight into student thinking, not as a “gotcha” tool for wrong answers.
  • Examine thinking as much as answers. Use interactive problem-solving to check the effectiveness of your lectures and to identify which topics and skills students are mastering and which ones may require reteaching.
  • Communicate the value of well-reasoned wrong answers. For students, demonstrating thinking publicly can be uncomfortable, so making it O.K. to be wrong will ease some of that discomfort.
  • In a review of previous research on iPad use in higher education, researchers found that students hold positive attitudes about using iPads in the classroom and are motivated to learn when using the technology. In contrast, professors tend to be more skeptical of iPad use in the classroom because such devices can be distracting. Authors caution that although some studies do provide evidence in favor of iPads and their role enhancing student experiences, more research is needed to develop pedagogical guidelines that improve academic achievement (Nguyen et al., 2014).
  • Hattie and Timperley conducted a meta-analysis to investigate the link between feedback and student learning and achievement. The type of feedback with the highest effect size involved error correction and giving students information about how to execute a task more effectively (2007).  
  • According to Shute, features of effective formative feedback include verification, elaboration, and specificity (2008)
  • Formative feedback can be used to emphasize a learning goal orientation by showing students that skills can be developed with practice and effort and that mistakes are a part of the learning process (Hoska, 1993, p. 105)
  • MIT showcases an undergraduate lecture course where students engage in active problem solving using traditional blackboards
  • University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching provide a helpful guide on “Choosing Your Technology” to best serve your instructional needs
  • In another Instructional Moves video, Brett Flehinger describes how he adjusts his lecture plan to achieve daily learning outcomes while also being responsive to student understanding and energy