Using a Pen-enabled Computer to Promote Student Engagement & Active Learning in the Classroom & Beyond

Silvia Porello, Muhlenberg College


Creating opportunities for active learning in high enrollment science courses is uniquely challenging. Active learning activities often result in partial engagement of subgroups of students, while leaving those that would benefit the most in the fringes. This is because the majority of students feel uncomfortable speaking in front of their peers, and the sense of anonymity in a large class makes it easier to become passive learners. Educators must therefore find creative ways to “reach” everybody in a large enrolment class. Here I describe the use of a pen-enabled tablet in high enrollment General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry classes as an effective way to promote student engagement and collaboration, and to aid in assessing student progress.

The use of this technology in a WiFi-enabled classroom allows the free-hand writing on any type of material, from PowerPoint slides to Word files, ChemDraw structures and everything in between. By wirelessly projecting the tablet screen in the classroom, the educator is able to “bring the whiteboard to the student”. Students work on problems in small groups before borrowing the tablet to share their answer from their own seat. Others may use the tablet to add to the initial response, or challenge it altogether promoting lively discussions. Students report feeling comfortable with the technology and rarely refuse to participate as they value participation without feeling individually exposed. This tool is particularly effective in pulling the quiet groups into the discussion. Furthermore, the instructor can choose to provide guidance or to remain an observer while assessing the understanding of essential topics. Introduction of new content can be kick-started if the problem is carefully designed to lead students in the direction of a new concept. The utility of the pen-enabled devise is not limited to the classroom setting. Support outside the classroom is also greatly enhanced via the ability to free-hand write on student’s electronic notes and online homework screenshots helping to provide timely and effective feedback at times when an in-person meeting is not possible.

Student feedback indicates this technology has greatly enhanced their learning experience. From my perspective, it has dramatically changed the classroom dynamics, creating the right setting for active learning in my high enrollment courses. A myriad other applications of this technology are possible and can be adapted to a broad range of content areas.



ChemDraw is the drawing tool of choice for creating publication-ready, scientifically meaningful drawings for use in ELNs, databases and publications, and much more.

Key Terms/Tags:

Freehand electronic pen, molecule editor, drawing tool

Directions for ChemDraw:

  1. Visit the ChemDraw website.
  2. Request a free trial or purchase the equipment. Check with your campus’s instructional technologists to determine if the institution already owns and operates this tool.