On 24 October, Turning Technologies, the vendor of the ‘Turning Point’ desktop software and ‘ResponseWare’ electronic voting platform, held a ‘User Conference’ at the Thistle City Barbican in Central London.
Maximising the Potential of the Lecture
Professor Mazur opened his keynote by describing his own early experiences in the 1980s as a lecturer at Harvard University. He recalled how he came to perceive a prevalent illusion amongst colleagues, who often believed that students appearing forward-facing and attentive correlated to them being engaged, and ultimately learning.
This predicated a theme that was present throughout the day, and a key message pertaining to the pedagogical need to maximise the potential of the lecture – that is, the face-to-face, physical contact time shared between an instructor and a cohort of students.
Mazur argued that the greatest value in the lecture is the intrinsic potential for spontaneous interaction. He outlined his belief that fluidity of this nature cannot be as effectively achieved through other unidirectional mediums of information transfer – such as textbooks or instructional videos, which are static resources.
Building on this, Mazur opined that the very architecture of the traditional lecture theatre is often not greatly amenable to structuring a community of interaction. He explored the view that the ubiquitous layout is typically modelled after amphitheatres in the ancient Greek tradition. He observed that most often, the ancient Greeks did not use their performance spaces interchangeably as learning spaces, and thus, it is perhaps peculiar as to why this approach has proliferated to become the most common mode of educational architecture. From his own experiences, Mazur observed that such structural design can be conducive of similar etiquette that one may enact when attending the theatre. As such, when entering into a lecture, students may unwittingly come to embody a passive persona, or, indeed, take on the outright social expectation of limited interaction thereafter.
It was this that Mazur sought to correct with pedagogical adjustment.
Value of Peer Instruction
In the tried and tested tradition of most pedagogical models across Higher Education, learning outcomes and assessment practices tend to focus on gauging the capability for students to demonstrate that they can apply taught concepts into new contexts.
Mazur noted that, in his experience as a confident speaker, facilitating the transfer of information to his students has always been fairly straightforward. However, ensuring that said knowledge is assimilated by a learner to the extent where it can be elsewhere applied has always proved altogether more problematic. He expanded on this to question commonly-utilised methods of in-class monitoring, such as factual-recall exercises. Mazur commented that he believed these to be little more than a remembrance exercise, and, as such, were often an inadequate and inaccurate evaluation tool for guaging whether a student has actually learned. As a result, he began to experiment with different approaches to challenging his learners.
Mazur’s subsequent ideas about peer instruction are thus rooted in the belief that peers are sometimes more suited to explaining solutions to presented logical problems in a more readily-attainable fashion than instructors. His view is that students who have recently solved a given problem themselves may better understand the thought processes involved in finding a solution, and can therefore help to address this through interaction with their peers.
This process of ‘externalising’ answers – and thus shifting the pedagogical focus from fact retention to reasoning, is deemed as valuable by Mazur – even if a student’s solution may be initially incorrect. He posited that the very fact that some level of reasoning has taken place within an individual means that, subsequently, any correct explanation that an instructor may later provide will be more meaningful and rewarding – as it will serve to challenge or validate a student’s own thought processes.
Furthermore, he argued that this approach personalises the learning by encouraging students to interact in a close-knit fashion that an instructor who oversees a large cohort cannot reasonably match.
Mapping Peer Instruction to Electronic Voting Systems – A Workflow.
The model that Mazur enacted to achieve this was to pose a conceptual question to his students and have them provide an anonymous answer via the use of an electronic voting system – in this case, Turning Technology’s Turning Point software and clickers.
Initially hiding the results from the class, Mazur would then take a moment to consider the feedback.
- If more than 70% of students had got the question correct, he deemed that the implication was that the question was too easy and students will subsequently have nothing to discuss if asked to.
- If 30 – 70% of students get the answer correct, he deemed this to be an ideal split, as it creates a scenario where peers can explore their answer with a neighbour who answered differently.
Providing that the response to the question was sufficient, Mazur would then encourage his class to seek out someone who had provided a different answer, and then share their thought process and attempt to convince their peer as to why they were correct.
After allowing the students time to confer, Mazur would then repeat the poll and compare the answers – usually noting that the way in which people had answered had since changed, quite often, resulting in more students answering correctly.
It would be at this point that Mazur would explain the solution to the problem.
Electronic Voting Systems Workflow – Turning Point Cloud/7 – Minute-to-Minute Tool
Dr. Christopher Wiley of the University of Surrey then built upon the foundations of the previous sessions with an intent to dispel what he perceived to be longstanding myths regarding the use of Electronic Voting Systems in Higher Education.
He discussed his approaches to embedding Electronic Voting Systems within the Arts and Humanities – an umbrella of fields that he felt traditionally were overlooked.
Using Turning Point’s ‘Moment-To-Moment’ polling option, Wiley demonstrated how reaction or opinion could be captured across a given talking point or range of issue over a set period of time.
The demonstrated example invited the audience to watch a popular music video, and vote depending on how they perceived the performers to be represented in the visual narrative of the video.
He explicated how this could map to other arts subjects and wider mediums, perhaps by embedding the activity as a formative task having first established a familiarity with a given topic prior to lectures.
Wiley also demonstrated an application of Turning Point’s Demographic Comparison option – whereby early in a session, demographic or teams can be established, and then answers across these subsets compared at the end of the session.
As such, he highlighted the practical use of these workflow for:
- Small class sizes in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where the anonymity of response may be highly valuable for student confidence within an intimate setting.
He also highlighted that:
- The positives in game-based learning, which may not have an immediate effect upon a student’s results, but but may improve learning
- Feedback shows that Electronic Voting Systems often emerge as a powerful tool for improving student satisfaction.
- He has noted that students often value equal interaction opportunities when in large cohorts
Self-Assessment Skills and Metrics for Peer Engagement
Fabio Arico from the University of East Anglia then shared his approach to embedding self-assessment using in-class polling technologies.
This tangent built upon an area that was earlier touched upon by Professor Simon Lancaster, who explored a link between a student’s confidence in their own capacity to answer a given problem and their overall understanding of the concept. Parity was drawn between gauging confidence through polling and the process of pure factual recall – which may be non-revealing as a measure of a student’s understanding. As such, Professor Lancaster commented upon the trend within Higher Education for monitoring student happiness, and posited that, perhaps, too much focus was weighted on the concept of course satisfaction, and not enough in course confidence.
In addition to Eric Mazur’s peer-assessment workflow, Dr. Arico advocated the inclusion of an additional ‘confidence’ question after each poll, asking students to assess their own confidence in regard to their own response.
Arico’s subsequent approach was to explore the added-value that could be garnared when strategically harvesting the response data from polling responses. He observed that for the most part, he notices how instructors tend to waste this data by using the technology purely to entertain students – which he believes to be a short-term approach of limited value.
By employing consistent methodology in how polling was deployed, Arico was then able to interrogate the data gathered over a series of lecture using an entropy index. Dr Arico then shared a finding that he gleaned from the polling data that he had gathered over a number of years. He saw that the data indicated a trend whereby ‘low attainment’ students were typically poor self-assessors, whereas high attainment students tended to demonstrate greater metacognitive skills. As such, he saw that many ‘at risk’ students struggled to adequately self-assess – hence highlighting the important to track student confidence through formative means throughout a given program of study.