Large classes present a number of challenges for HE academic staff. Students typically sit in vast tiered lecture theatres whilst a lone figure patrols the stage in front of them, seeking to impart knowledge and enthusiasm of the lecture topic. It can be very difficult to actively engage students in such an environment and to gauge whether the students are actually learning anything. One approach that a number of academics in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) have tried is to experiment with different lecture response systems. Such was the level of interest that we made this topic the subject of our School of MACE eLearning Community of Practice meeting in Sept 2015.
We discussed four different lecture response systems during the meeting: Mentimeter, mbclick, Twitter and electronic handset based systems (commonly known as clickers)
1. Mentimeter is a free (at least for the basic version) web-based system which allows students to respond to questions using their mobile devices. Lecturers pre-prepare a bank of questions in Mentimeter which can then be accessed in class using a unique access code. The questions can be MCQs or more open ended and the results are presented immediately and anonymously to the class. My colleague @EricLouUoM , who uses Mentimeter considers it best for surveys, or polling classes or for asking provocative questions. The free version is relatively unsophisticated but perfectly adequate for occasional questions in a lecture. It exports the results to a spreadsheet and also comes with a Powerpoint plugin. Eric’s top tips for using it were to check the lecture theatre wifi and notify students to bring their mobile devices to the lecture beforehand.
2. mbclick is a an Online web-based interactive teaching tool which was developed by by Geoff Rubner in School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering here at the University of Manchester. It is a University of Manchester product so it is free to use for all UoM academics. It provides a really easy-to-use classroom system for interacting with the students in lecture theatres with large numbers. Helpfully it works over wifi, 4G and even old SMS, so it does not require students to have Smartphones. Mbclick provides instant feedback to the lecturer and students. It can liven up a lecture and additionally students can get an individual report emailed to them with the results from each mbclick session – for feedback and revision purposes. Dr Ben Rogers who is the MACE pioneer of mbclick gives the following tips for using it:
- Don’t do it every week! The novelty wears thin quickly
- Keep each session to 3-4 questions
- It brings a lot of discussion and noise into the lecture theatre BUT, students also like order to be kept
- CHECK the wifi and 4G in the lecture room!!!
3. Twitter is a another way of promoting student interaction in lectures. In theatres with double screens, the class twitter hashtag (for example #mace60023) is displayed on one screen from the lecturer’s iPad or other tablet device. This enables students to post questions or make comments which the lecturer can then answer in real-time. Of course, the posts are not anonymous but posting a tweet can still be less intimidating for some students than putting up a hand to ask a question in class. One of the School of MACE’s Twitter gurus, @PaulWChan uses Twitter in this way in his revision classes.
4. Electronic Handheld Voting Systems (clickers)
Clickers use radio frequency communication between the lecturer’s laptop and each student’s individual clicker device. The clickers can capture attendance and test student understanding through quizzes and tests. BUT clickers only work if students bring their clicker devices to lectures. The lecturer receives instantaneous anonymous results, which can be exported to excel or to a VLE. The School of MACE purchased a set of clickers (350 in total) which can be booked out using the university library. The system does not require wifi, but there is a piece of software that must be downloaded to the lecturer’s laptop to allow questions to be added to an existing powerpoint presentation. For further information on clickers our MACE guru is Professor @AWGale .
This list of lecture response systems is not intended to be exhaustive. There are other tools out there, and, of course, often a show of hands can be a very quick and effective way of gauging student understanding. However time is short, so I’ll finish with some key points that I gleaned from the presentations:
1. No one size tool fits all. Instead work out what you are trying to achieve pedagogically ( provoke debate, test understanding, peer instruction etc) and seek out a tool that enables you to do this.
2. The tools are becoming simpler and more robust to use and SMART mobile devices more ubiquitous (one tip shared was that if students did not have their own mobile device they could work together with their neighbour)
3. Use lecture response systems sparingly, otherwise students can switch off and not engage with the activity.
4. Lecture response systems, in the experience of a growing number of School of MACE academics, are an effective way of increasing class interaction and assessing where the class is up to in understanding a new topic.
If you would like to know more please do contact the academic staff mentioned here. I am sure they will be happy to help further.
Over to you….
Do you have experience of lecture response systems – as an academic or as a student?
What other tools apart from mentimeter, mbclick, clickers, twitter or a good old show of hands have you seen used?