Month: October 2013

BYOD devices

Classroom interactivity & Student-owned tech

I’m investigating and evaluating a variety of services which can enhance lectures by allowing students to interact with each other, the lecturer, and beyond while using both institutional and personal technologies. 

Could I ask you to participate in some or all of the activities listed below.  It would be great if you could use a mobile device for this, although a laptop is equally valid.  This will provide you with an idea of what is possible, while giving me some responses and data to work with.

Socrative: http://  – class number is 768174
Poll Everywhere (device):
Your feedback on how it felt to participate, how the activities looked and behaved on your device(s) would be appreciated.

Our current projects – with big Es and small Ps

The new academic year has begun and, without a major Moodle upgrade to contend with, it has been relatively smooth. We’ve added to – rather than hastily re-edited – our collection of Moodle support materials, and our 10 000 + users are now accustomed to both the Moodle 2 file picker and the file name restrictions (read: pedantry) of the Windows servers – previously Linux would tolerate file names produced by cats walking over keyboards.

The course Rollover period seemed to go on for months rather than weeks due mostly to the size of the task and the increased use of Moodle, especially in support of online submission and assessment. Royal Holloway’s new Moodle-based E-Welcome resource for new students meant a much earlier but remote access to the service – long before most academic staff members had made their courses available.

We are now in a more settled place and the requests for e-learning support beyond administration, basic training, and triage are trickling in. It’s more than a trickle though, and one we welcome. Over the next few weeks we will be working on a number of small-to-medium-sized projects, including (at the time of posting):

  • Supporting what seems to be a renewed interest in the use of Clickers / Personal Response Systems, especially among the Science Faculty staff. This may be a good time to resume efforts in identifying and piloting technologies that allow students to participate in lecture activities with their personal devices.
  • Promoting and supporting the use of Turnitin’s online marking and feedback tool ‘Grademark’. The themes of our involvement are streamlining, consistency and collegiality. In particular we are looking at the Rubrics and QuickMark tools – designing, building and sharing them with course teams to provide rich, personal, and timely feedback for students. 
  • Responding to and working alongside academic colleagues who, without using the fashionable terminology, wish to flip their lectures. Although many are interested in using Clickers and our Lecture Capture service Panopto/RePlay, some see value in bring Moodle into the classroom. Building upon the ongoing success of our technology-enhanced English Study Groups, some of our Earth Science students will be using Moodle to organise, capture and present their interpretations of case studies in relation to laws and guidelines in their fields. 
  • Acting upon and supporting a Student Union request for Course Rep visibility in Moodle. Originally, this was conceived as an unworkable desire to have a course rep e-mail link in every one of our Moodle courses. This would have failed because a) not all courses use Moodle, and b) not every course editor would agree with or act upon such a request. A more robust approach is to support a Moodle presence for the Reps by providing them with Moodle spaces of their own – and the skills to make the best use of them. This approach both empowers the Reps and may kickstart our response to the need to involve students in more meaningful ways in e-learning. Our main challenges here are scope, design, deployment and ongoing support. 
  • Finally, we recently ‘won a day’s strategic conversation’ consultancy on e-learning through a Leadership Foundation for HE initiative called Changing the learning landscape. We will be discussing two very interesting topics; Automated assessment tools, and how to use learning technologies to make our taught postgraduate programmes more flexible as we move into the PG credit framework.

Clickers / Audience Response Systems: an update

The PowerPoint presentation has (finally?) replaced the overhead projector in the role of sharing materials with groups of students in lecture halls and seminar rooms. PowerPoint allows us to draw upon and incorporate a wide range of media formats; using websites, video clips, images, diagrams and animations to support and enhance teaching is now commonplace. 

However, engaging with each and every student in a way that allows the tutor to test their understanding, interact easily, and respond to student experiences, is still challenging. It is in this area that Audience Response Systems, or ‘Clickers’, can revolutionise the way we communicate with students in this setting.

With Clickers, each student is issued with a radio transmitting keypad at the beginning of the lecture, and can use it to respond quickly and anonymously to pre-prepared questions incorporated into the PowerPoint presentation.
Using Clickers, lecturers are able to: 
  • quickly measure students’ comprehension,
  • painlessly test problem-solving skills and performance
  • provide prompt feedback to students
  • invite, capture, share, and display student opinion
  • if appropriate, record and export results for further analysis and/or discussion
With Clickers, students are able to:
  • provide anonymous feedback to the cohort and lecturer
  • receive instant feedback on their understanding / performance
  • participate in a familiar ‘interactive’ or ‘game-based’ environment 
The questions can be a simple Yes/No, agree/disagree, or in multiple choice format. A participation monitor is displayed during voting so the lecturer can make sure every student has responded, and can then close the voting. The results are shown instantly, through a choice of histograms that the lecturer can use to gauge understanding or opinion, and can then redirect, review, or carry on the direction of the lecture based on this. The crucial difference here is that all students are interacting and and can feel more engaged with the lecture. 
A case study on the use of Clickers in Lectures in the Psychology Department at Royal Holloway University

Case study title
Ask the audience: The use of electronic voting pads in psychology lectures
The trial took place over three 2-hour lectures to groups of around 140 second year psychology undergraduates.
Intended outcome(s)
1. To increase student engagement and participation during 2-hour large group teaching sessions.
2. To provide an instantaneous and anonymous measure of student learning, allowing improved formative feedback.
The challenge
1. Two hours is a long time to keep students engaged and attentive. This problem is exacerbated by large group sizes, as students are dispersed throughout large lecture rooms and tend to feel more ‘removed’ from the lecturer than in smaller classes.
2. Most students are reluctant to speak up in front of a large group of their peers, making it difficult to gauge their understanding ‘online’. 
Established practice
1. I intersperse my lectures with videos, experimental demonstrations and small group discussion exercises, with the aim of providing a variety of activities to keep students engaged and attentive. However I felt there was room for improvement and thought that the clickers could contribute.
2. I try to assess understanding during lectures by asking questions (and stubbornly sitting out the ensuing silence, until someone speaks up…) I also include small group exercises, during which I make myself available to answer questions. I find that students are much more likely to raise queries during these times. However, despite these methods, I am still only able to collect input from a minority of students. Even when asking for a show of hands, many students won’t respond.
The e-learning advantage
1. Everyone seems to love the clickers! They are fun to use, for students and for the lecturer, and this contributes to an overall atmosphere of playfulness and enjoyment in which it is easy to maintain attention and engagement.
2. The clickers collect immediate and, crucially, anonymous input from every student in the room. The lecturer can build short questions and quizzes into the lecture material, allowing instantaneous feedback about student understanding (which can then prompt repetition and clarification where necessary). Students are much more willing to participate and answer questions, because of the anonymity of their responses. 
Key points for effective practice
The technology is well-designed, reliable, intuitive and easy to use. It works with PowerPoint, so the voting slides can simply be added to presentations, without the need to start from scratch.
My feeling is that the enormously positive response towards the clickers that I observed in my lectures might have been related, at least in part, to their novelty. For this reason, my inclination would be to avoid overuse, both within a single lecture and across a course. 
To ensure full participation, every student needs to have his/her own voting pad. This might be problematic for the very largest classes, as I believe the college currently owns only 160.
I would say that the main risk is the reliance on technical support, both in delivering the hardware for the start of the session and in ensuring that the software is installed on the relevant machine. I did not encounter any problems with the support, but as the clickers become more widely used, this might be an area for concern. 
Conclusions and recommendations
I have not come across a single person – lecturer or student – with a bad word to say about the clickers! Used in moderation, they can increase participation, engagement and enjoyment for both staff and students. My only recommendation is that the college ensures that the technology is effectively supported, especially as it becomes more and more widely used.