Technology supported large group teaching

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This page provides a structure in which material about technology-supported large group teaching and learning can be summarised. It is work in progress. If a method has initials against it, someone has volunteered to take responsibility for writing a "starter for 10". If you want to volunteer to write an already slated summary, please email Seb Schmoller. Likewise if you would like to suggest a topic not already slated. Thank you. [15/9/2010.]

Contents

Back-channels

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Collaborative learning of the Mazur type

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur http://web.mit.edu/jbelcher/www/TEALref/Crouch_Mazur.pdf

Personal response systems (PRS)(SR)

Method summary

(note throughout this piece I have used the term PRS, although lots of different names are used,but happy to change this)


A Personal Response Systems(PRS) or “clicker” is a small keypad, sometimes with a screen for text entry, that enables the user to vote or respond to questions posed by the lecturer during the session. The responses are collated almost instantaneously onto the lecturer's PC thus giving them immediate feedback on the question asked. In most cases the lecturer will share the collated response with the audience and the response will be used to influence the direction of the session.

PRS are also known by a variety of names( Studies have identified up to 26 differnt names (1). These include Audience Voting Systems, (AVS), Electronic Voting Systems, (EVS) and Classroom Response Systems. PRS are becoming increasingly widespread in UK Higher Education following on from examples of successful usage in US universities(2).

Personal Response Systems are well-suited to large lectures and more formal sessions, they have been used with classes of hundreds of students. They have been found to be an effective way of engaging students and increasing interaction (Kay and LeSage 2009).

It is now possible to achieve similar results with software on mobile devices and laptops. This may be software supplied by the PRS manufacturer or through products such as Poll Everywhere that enable you to vote via SMS, Twitter or a web browser.It may well be that in the medium term, we will see the dissappearance of the PRS as a a separate deviceand but the functionality continuing through mobile devices.

If you are not familiar with PRS, a good place to start is to watch this short video from Prof. Jim Boyle that describes his use of them.

Key features

In terms of hardware and software, a typical setup today would consist of the following:

  • Hardware,

A PRS handset, these come in of various degrees of sophistication ranging from simple keypads (probably the most common still) to ones that will allow free text entry. They all transmit the student response, There will also be a receiver, typically a USB device that is plugged into the lecturer's PC. This is likely to be a reliable radio-frequency (RF) device, earlier versions of PRS used infrared technology, much like a TV remote and this was alot less reliable..

  • Software

The software will typically have three main elements:

First of all authoring software where the questions to be asked are created. This is often an add-on to PowerPoint so that the questions can be embedded within the presentation. Typically the software will provide an additional toolbar in PowerPoint where various question types can be selected and a range of parameters set. This software is generally fairly easy to use

Then there will be the presentation part of the software that sets up and presents the questions for students to respond to. This will have a range of optional features including a timer so that responses have to be received within a predetermined period of time and options for setting the number of attempts a student may have had answer the question.

The third element is the display and analysis settings e.g. whether the responses are shown as bar charts, pie charts etc. The data can also be saved in a standard format such as a CSV file for further analysis in say Excel. An important feature is that if it is desired, an individual clicker can be linked to the student identifier so that responses can be tracked and monitored. However "anonymous" usage is more common.

How the method improves teaching

Kay and LeSage in their review of research into Audience Response Systems identify some 13 benefits from using the technology in class. They argue that:

"Extensive qualitative research suggests that learning performance increases as a result of using ARSs (Brewer, 2004; Caldwell, 2007; Carnaghan & Webb, 2007; Horowitz, 2006; Hu et al., 2006; Kennedy & Cutts, 2005; Latessa & Mouw, 2005; Poulis et al., 1998; Schackow, Milton, Loya, & Friedman, 2004). In addition, many experimental studies report that classes using ARSs significantly outperform those using traditional lecture formats..."(3)

Many of the uses of PRS revolve around two key ideas.

First of all, PRS provides the teacher (and by extension the students) with immediate feedback from the class as a whole. Whole(or nearly whole) class feedabck is important as it may show a very different pattern than the responses of a few “keen” students or students asked at random. This feedback can be quite detailed and specific and would be difficult to obtain quickly in other ways, particularly with a large class. Immediate feedback gives the teacher the opportunity, if they so choose, to respond straight away, perhaps spending more time on a topic than they had initially planned. This is the essence of “contingent teaching” or “agile teaching”(ref). students gain feedback because they will see, usually at the same time as the teacher the histogram or other graphical depiction of the class response. An individual student will then see how their response lies in relation to the rest of the class.

The second key idea is that the use of PRS can increase student engagement and interaction during the lecture. PRS can help the student stay focused on the topic at hand and more directly engage with the content beyond listening or just taking a few notes. PRS can also be used to help organise focused and structured discussion.

We will illustrate some of the uses of PRS by describing five scenarios. It is important to emphasise that in reality you will often be using a mixture of methods and approaches, combining elements from more than one scenario.

Scenario one: Testing understanding and making teaching decisions based on the response.

This approach comes into its own when teaching topics that build sequentially. If a student does not understand one stage they will have difficulty in understanding the next. This applies, for example, in quantitative Economics courses. The teacher will use PRS to ask questions at regular intervals to test understanding. On the basis of student response, the teacher will make a decision as to whether to spend a little more time on that topic, move on or perhaps provide additional supporting material in the VLE.

The teacher can also see what wrong answers were most frequently selected and this may provide a quick indication of where student difficulty lies.

Types of question you may want to ask Typically these questions will have a narrow focus, seeking to test understanding of the topic at hand. The questions need to be ones that can be answered relatively quickly so as not to take up too much of the session and they are not designed to lead to long student discussion.

This approach raises the question of how to decide whether to move on or not? Clearly there is no simple formula that says "if X percent get it wrong, spend more time on the topic, otherwise continue". But it does provide you with valuable information in order to make such a decision.

Some of the factors you might consider when deciding whether to continue or not include:

  • could dealing with the topic be handled in another way e.g. through classes, a discussion on the VLE or handouts?
  • would continuing with a lecture as planned "makes sense" if significant numbers have not grasped the previous topic?
  • practical considerations including time left, what you feel you must cover during the remainder of the lecture, whether you have other examples or materials to hand for topic in question etc

Another approach is the so-called "back channel" approach. Here you will have one simple question such as asking the students whether they are understanding the topic or whether the pace is too fast or slow and you will leave this question open throughout the session. You will ask students to respond periodically to that question and you will be monitoring responses (responses will probably be hidden from the students). This way you can see what is happening during the session in terms of reported student understanding but is probably a less engaging experience for students.

‘'’Scenario 2: Increasing student interaction and engagement

In this scenario the main aim is to change the lecture from a time when students are primarily taking notes to one where the students are interacting and engaging with you and each other.

A number of studies have reported that students using PRS claim to be more engaged with the lecture and indeed to have learned more, so just asking questions at regular intervals can provide a motivation for students to stay focused and to think about what is being said. However there are techniques that can be employed to enhance this (Draper ref).

An example Jim Boyle is a professor of engineering at Strathclyde University. He has been using PRS for a number of years. One technique he will use is to pose a question that he knows from past experience will produce student responses across the range of options he provides. He asks the question then shows the students the results. He will then ask students to spend a few minutes in twos or threes discussing their answer. He will then ask the question again and typically there will be a substantial increase in the number of students selecting the “right” answer. If you want to see the technique at work follow the link below to this short video .

Types of question you might want to ask. This type of question may probably have a "correct" answer that may require calculation or interpretation but perhaps most importantly it will require two or three plausible "incorrect" answers. Typically these incorrect answers will be based on the kind of misunderstanding or misinterpretation that the teacher knows students are likely to have for this particular topic. Often the hardest bits will be creating plausible incorrect answers

Scenario 3: Encouraging critical thinking

Here your aim is not so much to test student understanding of a sequential topic, rather you are seeking to engage students in thinking more deeply about the topic. Clearly this overlaps with scenario 2 and you may well want to use ask the question, student discussion, pose the question again approach. But there are also a range of other possibilities. It is likely that with this approach you will pose a relatively small number or perhaps only one question and give students a longer period of time to reflect(indicidually or in small groups) on their answer. Your session will be moving away from traditional lecture format to something more like a class but on a larger scale.

An example There are examples from Anthropology and Philosophy described in Bruff (page ref.) . A variant is to ask students to call out answers to a question you pose. You will write down four or five answers and then using PRS, students will vote on what they thought was the best answer. You will then probably make teaching points around this.

Types of question you may want to ask These may not be “right/wrong” questions but may use techniques such as the “one best answer” type question. These questions may be variants on the form of

"Which of the following statements best (describes, explains etc) XXX”. This is followed by a series of statements that students select from".

Students will need to take an analytical and evaluative approach in answering the question and the very fact there is not a single “right” answer may be a good teaching point.

"Since students expect multiple-choice questions to have single correct answers (and, in fact, often expect every task or challenge to have a single correct answer, one that should be memorized and regurgitated on a test), when you tell them that the clicker question you’ve been discussing with them doesn’t have a single correct answer, you’re creating conditions that can have a very positive impact on their intellectual development!" (Bruff page ref.)


Scenario 4: using PRS for Assessment

What this is addressing In this scenario the prime motivation is to use PRS as a means of assessing students. In most cases this will be formative assessment but there are a number of examples, particularly from the USA were PRS responses contribute to final marks(Bruff ref.).

You may want to use PRS at the beginning of the session to assess prior knowledge and there are examples where out of class tasks are set and PRS is used to assess these. PRS can be used to check whether pre class-reading has been done and this can motivate students to do the reading.

Sometimes assessment via PRS will be used to encourage attendance. There are reported examples where marks are given for having responded in x number of sessions (and fewer or no marks if responses are not received for the full number of sessions). Sometimes marks are awarded on the basis of the number of correct answers given(ref).


Scenario 5: Collecting data to be used as part of the teaching Here the PRS is being to collect data that is in itself used as part of the teaching process. A PRS system can be used to collect opinions on for example a controversial topic and the teacher will use the distribution of opinions collected live in the class as data for their teaching.

An example This may not sound like a mainstream use but surprisingly perhaps two of the first four users at LSE have opted for variants of this technique. In the first example, a statistics class the range of answers was used to make a teaching point about distributions. In the second case students (on a Media course) were asked to identify a range of images from the news and this was used to develop a discussion around media images and variations in significance of the images for different groups.

One interesting feature of this approach is that it illustrates the potential of being able to show immediately the responses. Indeed this technique only works because you can share the response in almost real time with your students. It seems likely that students will find such an approach engaging as their input is having a direct effect on the structure and content of the session.

Types of question you may want to ask Questions as in the above example may be both factual and attitudinal and their effective use may require a combination of both. This approach does of course require you to be able to anticipate the likely range of responses so you can teach to them effectively.

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

  • pracitical issues
  • time issues

Places and people that have successes to describe

  • see next section
  • also Surrey, LSE case studies etc

Research and other supporting resources

A good meta-analysis of the educational role of PRS be found in Kay and LeSage (2009)(ref) The best set of resources on using PRS can be found on Derek Bruff's website.teaching with classroom response systems, resources forassessing and engaging students with clickers.This is an amazing collection of advice, examples, studies and references covering a variety of disciplines and a range of variants on the technology. It has been put together by someone who thought long and hard about the use of PRS in teaching and draws not only on his own experience but also that teachers across many disciplines.

I would also strongly recommend Bruffs book "teaching with classroom response systems, creating active learning environments" the book was written as a practical guide for teachers and as the author says it concentrates more on the teaching and the technology. It deals with many of the common questions that teachers ask about these PRS in the classroom.

A long-time advocate of PRS (he uses the term EVS) in the UK Steve Draper. He has researched and written widely on electronic voting systems and interactive lectures and has put together an extremely useful website on the topic. His site includes many useful links and resources and has a list of people and institutions in the UK using the technology as well as a list and links to publications from the UK on PRS. Draper's website also contains pages for the Interactive lectures interest group (ILIG)

A good introduction to PRS and one that can be used very effectively in workshops or similar events introducing lecturers to PRS is this short video by James Boyle. The video shows PRS in action in a large class at Strathclyde and demonstrates how it can be used to engage students in purposive discussion. The video is part of a case study put together by JISC

There is a JISCmail list on electronic voting systems that is worth joining if you are interested in the topic. It has been fairly quiet lately

An FE and HE interest group "Engaging students through in-class technology (ESTC) has a Ning page that is worth checking out.

Footnotes and references

1. Draper identifies some 23 different names for PRS and he cites Kay who claims to have identified 26. See Steve Draper's excellent Interactive lectures interest group (ILIG) site.

2. They were first introduced at Stanford University in 1966 (Kay and LeSage 2009)

3.Robin H. Kay, Ann LeSage, Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature, Computers & Education, Volume 53, Issue 3, November 2009, Pages 819-827

Learner use (or not) of Internet devices in classroom

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Lecture capture (SR)

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Method X

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Method Y

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Method Z

Method summary

Key features

Rationale for using it from a learning theory point of view

Issues to take account of / points to watch / "do's and dont's"

Places and people that have successes to describe

Research and other supporting resources

Personal tools