Yesterday, I attended the first event of the recently formed Special Interest Group (SIG), Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology (ESTICT) at the University of Leicester. The aim of the event was to share best practice in the use of in-class technology, with a particular focus on the pedagogic uses of Electronic Voting Systems (EVS).
At the University of Bath, we have been running our institutional pilot of Audience Response Systems (ARS) [project website] since the beginning of the 2008/2009, so this event provided a fantastic opportunity to meet with other colleagues from HE and FE institutions from around the UK to get their thoughts on EVS/ARS, the functionality of the software and hardware, the pedagogy that should drive its use… and everything else.
An active pre-event discussion of EVS has taken place on the Ning community website earlier in the week, so I headed to Leicester rather excited about the event ahead. A lovely curry on the previous evening with Dr Steve Draper (from the University of Glasgow) and Dr Jo Badge (from the University of Leicester, and a fellow steering group member) at Shimla Pinks did little to stem my enthusiasm!
With the event aimed at those both those with experience of EVS who wish to share their best practice and those with an interest in the technology that would like to know more, the steering group was delighted that delegates ranges from Learning Technologist in e-Learning teams, to practitioners who used the technology within their teaching. Importantly, it gave a more rounded feel to some of the conversations that emerged over the course of the day.
The event was keynoted by Dr Steve Draper, a Senior University Teacher from the University of Glasgow and a long time user of such technologies, who spoke on Ways to improve learning with EVS: some deep procedures for teachers, and what software features matter for these [talk website]. With the focus on the learning design, and moving people away from simply ‘pushing buttons’, Steve challenged attendees by giving a brief tour of a variety of approaches that could be considered when writing EVS-type questions. In particular, he spoke about the nature of Assertion Reason questions (I have reviewed this approach elsewhere in this blog), Mazur’s approaches to peer instruction, learner authored questions, promoting enquiry based learning using EVS and the nature of contingent teaching. This made me think quite carefully about practice within my own institution where I have not yet, as the Project Lead, considered how colleagues may have developed their practice of using EVS since the project was launched. Indeed, have they at all? This is something I hope to explore in the coming month, in part through leading on the Enhancing feedback in the classroom using ARS online course that is due to run during semester 2.
Following a short break, Mark Goodwin, a Teaching Fellow within the GENIE CETL at the University of Leicester, spoke on Teaching bioethics using electronic voting technologies. This talk gave a more practitioner focus to proceedings, as Mark worked through his ideas about generating ethics-related debates through using EVS in his teaching. He was keen to stress a difference between student interaction and engagement in lecturers, and later in day, highlighting the (sometimes forgotten) difference between engagement and learning in lectures.
Mark Russell, a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire delivered a rather inspiring talk entitled Tracking student progress with EVS: Should we know our students?. During a slightly shortened presentation, Mark gave an insight into just some of the approaches and techniques that he employs within his own teaching to really engage with students, and those that we all might wish to consider. For example,
- Learner Centrered Environments (Bradsford – “How People Learn”)
- Developing independent and Social Learning (Mentkowski. LtL)
- Engaging students at their current level of understanding (Ramsden)
- Staff-student contact (7P’s Chickering & Gamson)
- Maximising students awareness of own misconceptions (Biggs)
- Self-regulation (REAP)
During a presentation of some of his reaching, I liked Mark’s idea, related to EVS question design, about framing questions differently, so that practitioners are testing the same concept from number of different angles and ‘ways in’, which in turn lead to the suggestion that this would identify an misconceptions that the students had. Related to this, he correlated students answers to questions so that if they voted X on question 1 (correct answer), followed by Y on question 2 (incorrect answer – logically they should have got this question correct as it followed from question 1), he wanted to know why.
After a delicious Thanksgiving carvery lunch, the delegates headed back to the main room and split into group for the workshop part of the day which focussed on an Exploration of the pedagogical models which can be used for EVS. Facilitated by two/three steering group members, each group explored the questions,
- What have you done with EVS that has worked well? Why did you do it? What happened as a result?
- What might be required to move from individual innovation to embedded practice?
After a slightly quiet start, the groups quick became animated with a number of conversations revolving with delegates agreeing that a clear focus for the use of EVS should be on the pedagogical model underpinning its use, rather than it being viewed as a magic bullet. A further key comment from my group was that responses and feedback to questions asked are absolutely key to the structure of a lecture – practitioners show that they care about the results generated, and be prepared to alter the session is the results so demand.
The event concluded by delegates discussing the future direction of the ESTICT community, and what form the next event might take. In particular, delegates were keen to see the EVS focus retained for the time being at least. It really does serve quite a niche… but one that we all wished to continue learning more about with a view to developing both individual and departmental practice.
The next event is planned for March/April 2010 and details about this will appear in due course. In the meantime, do head along to to the ESTICT Ning community website, and join in the conversation!