Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Student activation in large classes

I have learned so many wonderful techniques for student activation that would work like a charm if I had ten students for a week - but what do you do with 100 students when you have them one hour? Luc Bussière from Stirling University in UK led a discussion at Uppsala University about activation techniques in large classes.

Vital for any teacher-student interaction is the ability to ask and answer questions. A question box is an easy technique to get student feedback and to set up a channel for questions and answers. While the technique is as basic as can be - a cardboard box and a bunt of paper - it is immediately accessible for everyone. However, the transcription of questions is time consuming and the format does not readily allow for follow up questions. I would never completely dispense of it because however quaint it may seen in a world overflowing of digital communication the simple box on your desk signals your availability as a teacher.

GoSoapBox and Socrative create fora for Q&A sessions, quizzes and polls. They both have similar functions. The polls are pretty good and provide an alternative to clickers or plickers. The quiz function is more flexible in Socrative than GoSoapBox, with the ability to phrase the answer in multiple ways but the students gets less immediate feedback since summaries of answers are reserved for the teacher's screen. The free version of GoSoapBox only allows 30 students. A drawback with these methods is that they require the students to have their own hardware (or for it to be provided from the course), and opens the pandoras box of the endless distracting potential of startup and login problems, sound effects and social media. But then again - that is how researchers typically experience meetings nowadays, with laptops and tablets open to take notes, check mail, look up references, work on manuscripts and hold twitter conversations on dedicated hashtags. If we believe us to be capable of it, why not the students? I may give it a try, but I will probably wait for a situation that require the students to sit by a computer anyway.

A really neat tool is PeerWise that allows students to create multiple choice questions for each other, with tools for evaluation and discussion and even bragging right badges as incentive for participation. This tool requires very little teacher activity and has been well received by students who see the potential to create a good revision tool for themselves. My first thought is to use it as an flipped classroom technique and ask students to create a question related to the material a day or two before the session. PeerWise is in use in Uppsala and has good recommendations. I will try it.

To have the students give each other peer review on essays and reports by working from a scoring rubric can be used to give students feedback as well as train them in thinking like a teacher rather than a learner - which in my opinion is the best way to learn anything. While I think the feedback and sense of validation can be valuable the real gain for me is the change of perspective. The students are not only providing an answer - they are evaluating it.

The tool Screencastomatic for oral student feedback on written work is not meant to activate students but to be a time saver for the teacher (which is also a vital task for EdTech). It allows for a short audio comment given by the teacher together with a video screencap of the document so text can be highlighted and edited as you speak. A webcam video can be included. I may try it next time I have lots of report to grade.

EdTech is a jungle where everyone tries to find a tool that suits their teaching style. The tools reviewed here have the advantage that they are easy to set up and can complement other materials without the lectures having to be tailor made for them. As always the techniques have to complement the content rather than the other way around.

No comments:

Post a Comment