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Understanding understoodit.com

Alumnus explains his popular app

Liam Kaufman had more than 400 educators sign up for his app in 48 hours (Photo by Orbelina Cortez)

Drawing on a broad educational background that includes a psychology degree, a master's in medical sciences and his most recent bachelor's degree in computer science, alumnus Liam Kaufman has created a web app, Understoodit.com, which allows students to anonymously indicate to the instructor if they are confused during a lecture.

Writer Sara Franca asked Kaufman about  the initial response to the app, and his plans for the future.

In a nutshell, what does Understoodit do?

It runs in a browser on your phone, tablet or notebook and allows students to either click 'confused' or 'understood' and the professor can see, in real-time, what proportion of the class is confused or understands the material being taught.

Where did you get the idea?

As a student in large classes, I noticed that students weren't putting up their hands. Either they were embarrassed to say they were confused, or they were shy. Likewise, ESL students would rarely put up their hands, either for linguistic or cultural reasons. I was convinced that technology could be used to ameliorate that issue and allow students to communicate their understanding.

What kind of response have you gotten in your test classes (from professors and students)?
The response from testing in three different first-year computer science classes was quite positive and acted as a catalyst for me to focus on Understoodit full time. Since then, the interest in Understoodit has been amazing. Over 400 educators signed up in 48 hours, including those from UBC, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia and CMU.

On @understoodit, hundreds of people have tweeted a sentiment similar to 'I wish I had this when I was in school'.

Can anyone download it now (and use it)?

It runs in your browser, so there's nothing to download. The prof simply has to direct their students to a URL for it to work.

For the summer, signing up for understoodit will be by invitation only, but I'm giving priority to Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener/Waterloo-based educators at both the secondary and post-secondary level. My plan is to work with educators over the next three months and add features that will make Understoodit even more useful in lectures. After the summer, the plan is to further expand the list of users.

On a personal note, what is currently the most-used app on your phone/iPad?

My favourite app is The Economist, it provides a word-for-word, actor-read, audio version of each issue. It allows me to listen to The Economist while taking the subway or doing dishes!