PALS: Practical Active Learning Stations

Frequently Asked Questions about PALS

Do you offer technical support?

We are currently in the evaluation phase of the PALS project and studying the effectiveness of the system in terms of its ability to improve student performance and experience when compared to traditional classrooms and state-of-the-art active learning classrooms. We have automated much of the configuration process through puppet manifests and shell scripts and these are available to the public for use. Detials for representitive hardware and configuration steps for a PALS system are available on the construction page. Please contact us with any questions that you might have about a PALS setup.

Can I buy a PALS system?

We are not in a position to offer "turn-key" systems. We acknowledge that there is value to drop in systems but this value comes at a cost. Turn-key systems often come with on-going technical support and as a result have a high price (either a large initial cost or on-going maintainence fee). This high cost is antithetical to the purpose of PALS which is low cost in order to increase access. As a result, you will have to build your own PALS system in house.

What other low cost alternatives exist?

If your primary interest is in screensharing with local and larger displays, one option would be a combination of HDMI splitters and Nx1 HDMI switch. Each student station could have an HDMI splitter attached to the monitor to display content locally. The other line out of the splitter could tie into a switch that would allow the instructor to select student content to share. This would remove the need for software configuration and a computer driving each student station. It would limit what student data could be collected and shared and ease at which the instructor could view and select content.

How do students feel about these low cost alternatives?

In our expereince, students have found the low cost alternatives satisfying and enjoy working in these spaces. Results regarding student perceptions from the first series of interventiosn will be made available soon.

Can't I do active learning without a special classroom or technology?

Yes, active learning is a pedagogy that can be employed in any classroom environment. For many disciplines, it can be beneficial for students to see the digital artifacts that thier classmates generate. The local displays can also be used to support collaboration and mimic practices found in industry (e.g., pair programming).

Why not use an existing screensharing solution or something like WiDi?

Many services exist that can accomplish some level of screensharing. A downside to these approaches is that they may require software to be installed or services to be purchased. It also limits the amount of control the instructor has over what is shared and does not provide an additional local display. With PALS, a user simply connects a device to the local display and it shares content locally and with the instructor station. There is no software to install. Likewise, with wireless streaming and display technologies, these may work well for streaming to one display but again limit what the instructor can see and there may be compatiblity or configuration issues with a student's personal device.

Does a smaller, local device make much of a difference?

Many standard active learning classrooms have larger displays for group work. These are often visible by many in the classroom and also serve to display instructor content. What we have observed is that students feel more comfortable sharing locally with the smaller displays. Also, these smaller displays also tend to serve as a focal point for smaller groups that may share larger tables.

What are the benefits of a system like PALs?

Through our initial deployments of PALS, we have seen several benefits. With the local displays, students can more easily work in groups and mimic practices such as pair programming. Students have also commented that they appreciate seeing different approaches to problems and with the PALS system, several student solutions can quickly be shared with the entire class on the larger displays placed around the room. Via the instructor station, student progress can be monitored through the screenshots of the student stations that are regularly captured.