Interest in how technology can be used to support face to face teaching is growing, and so are the options for how this can be realised. A well-attended and highly interactive lunchtime “Show and tell” session gave staff the opportunity to try out some of the most common systems and hear from practising academics who are currently using technology in their classroom teaching.
A range of software solutions, handsets and methods of connection were demonstrated, along with some of the pedagogic opportunities that they present. The session also allowed participants to discuss the drivers, benefits and challenges of the various practices, and think about the pros and cons of the current move towards exploiting the technologies that students already own and bring to lectures (an approach known as Bring Your Own Device or BYOD).
Classroom Technology solutions – comparison matrix
Poll Everywhere – Dr Paul Wakeling (Department of Education)
Paul outlined how he has been using Poll Everywhere to allow students to text responses in to polls and surveys in class using their mobile phones. The system works with Mobile Phone network coverage (though it is possible to respond to questions online), avoiding concerns about a reliably functioning WiFi infrastructure and Paul reported that students were happy to send text messages to participate with no concerns raised about the cost of participating as the majority had “text bundles” as part of their phone contracts. Paul used the technology to help break up his lectures, providing opportunities for students to “stop and think”. He also noted that free text response questions not only encouraged participation from quieter students who may not normally raise their hands, but also produced the types of depth of response that was not usually offered in face to face discussion.
Paul was able to demonstrate the software in the session and as far as I could tell, everybody was able to respond to his questions quickly and easily. Poll Everywhere allows you to create questions quickly online and then gives you the option of integrating these interactive activities into your PowerPoint presentation. Paul is currently using the free version of Poll Everywhere which is limited to 40 responses, though a range of plans and pricing options are available.
“Clickers” (Turning technologies) – Rob Stone (Department of Psychology)
Rob described how sets of “clickers” are used across the entire Department of Psychology. Clickers are essentially custom handsets that students can respond to multiple choice type questions (no ability for participants to send text), sending student answers to a receiver plugged into the presenter PC. While the MCQ functionality was in many ways similar to Poll Everywhere, it was clear that the ease with which audience members were able to respond and the speed with which Rob was able to ask questions, get results and then move on, would be a convincing argument for investing in this type of approach.
Not only did we get to see how the technology worked but Rob also demonstrated some of the approaches to question design that he and other colleagues in the department use to help support learning with the clickers, including;
- Simple MCQs to assess prior understanding or knowledge recollection
- Asking a question and getting responses, then providing “hints” before re-asking to assess how this has changed responses. Comparisons can be made between before and after responses
- Asking a question and getting responses and then using the responses to stimulate small group discussion / debate before re-asking to assess how this has changed responses. Comparisons can be made between before and after responses. ConcepTests and Peer Instruction [Mazur, 1997]
While these approaches are clearly a useful way for students to self-assess and measure their own understanding, Rob argues that there is more value in the feedback that they provide to teachers who can identify and address areas of misunderstanding or confusion. Although it was widely felt that the clickers offered the easiest user experience for students of all the technologies demonstrated, it was noted that many of the pedagogic approaches were not tied to the technology and could be deployed using a number of the tools on show.
BlackBoard Mobile Learn
BlackBoard Mobile Learn is the app that allows users to access VLE sites, content and activities on their mobile devices (Apple or Android Tablets and most smartphones) through a wifi or mobile data connection. While you might think that the app is primarily useful to provide access to learning resources while on the move, evaluation suggests that students are already using the app to access resources within classes, so participants also played with a couple of the features that might be useful in a classroom setting.
After launching the app, logging in and finding the right course we were able to take a short quiz to find out how much people knew (or could guess) about mobile phone ownership and consumption habits of this year’s incoming students across the sector (see resources section at the end for details of recent surveys at York). While this process requires significantly more steps than responding to questions with either the clickers or through Poll Evereywhere, the results are recorded in the VLE’s grade centre and it is possible for students to return to tests after the face to face session has ended through the VLE.
The app was also used to provide participants with access to some content (in this case an article on the Benefits and Considerations of BYOD) and then participants were invited to comment in a course blog with their thoughts on the subject. While the app might present some barriers to using it for quick quizzes and surveys in a lecture, I think that content delivery direct to handsets and the fact that it would be possible for students to return to activities (in this case the blog) after the face to face session, are two compelling reasons to consider how this technology could be used both inside and outside of formal teaching spaces.
Socrative is a free app for Android and Apple smartphones that provides a simple way for teachers to create, and students to engage with a range of activities in class. One of the nicest features about Soctrative is the fact that it supports you to make questions up “on the fly”, so you can get instant feedback about something that comes up in the session without having to pre-create a quiz, although you can pre-create quizzes if you want.
After responding to a survey on the main benefits of BYOD approaches, using ideas generated in the previous activity, participants then responded to a short answer question, highlighting what they felt to be the main considerations or challenges of BYOD. Once all the answers were in Soctrative then allowed us to vote on the most popular answer provided. You can see the results here though I feel that the one that came out top “not enough time for faff in a 50 min lecture…” highlights the main tension in BYOD – while it may offer greater flexibility and potentially functionality, ensuring it works smoothly for everyone and supports rather than disrupts the learning will be the key factor in how widely BYOD is adopted.
Socrative is currently free to teachers and students but is limited to a maximum of 50 participants. An “enterprise” (ie paid for) version is due out next year which will raise that limit.
A “Text Wall” was used twice in the session, allowing participants to send a standard text message, e-mail or complete an online form and see their contributions appear instantly on the projected Text Wall. This was a great way of collecting a range of opinions (which can also be downloaded) about the drivers for the growth in use of classroom technologies (provided at the start of the session) and also the pedagogic potential of classroom technologies (contributed at the end). The textwall we used seemed to be fairly simple to use and costs from £30 / year.
Google Forms / QR codes
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to look at how Google forms could be used for simple surveys in a classroom setting with QR codes or short URLs being used to make it easy for students to access them on their mobile devices. This idea is currently being considered by at least one department for streamlining their approach to collecting end of module feedback, taking advantage of the higher completion rates you can expect if students are given the time to respond in class. Similar approaches are also already being used by some colleagues who use short URLs to make it easy for students to engage with a range of Google apps in class time.
Click here to complete the survey, telling us what you think about classroom technologies and BYOD through a standard or a mobile browser or scan the QR code below.
BYOD or clickers?
Overall the session raised some quite big issues and gave participants hands on experience of 5 different technologies (as well as some ideas about how they can be used). A variety of views were expressed about the potential for technology in the classroom to both support learning and distract from it, and there seemed to be a consensus about the need for it to be reliable and above all simple to use for both staff and students. Perhaps the biggest question at the end of the session is which approach is best, and indeed if there is a “best” solution at all.
While clickers do seem to offer students a more straightforward learning experience, allowing questions to be answered with the minimum of fuss and the focus to remain on the teaching rather than the tech, it was recognised that they do come at a cost, both in terms of initial outlay and ongoing support. However until handsets and the supporting technology are easily available and supported in every room that a teacher needs it, individual academics will continue to look towards getting the most out of the technologies that the vast majority of students are bringing with them, and in doing so potentially taking advantage of the greater flexibility and functionality available.
Resources / links
Rob Stone’s slides Clicker Questions
Simon Davis’s slides Classroom technologies