Opening-up education : promoting active learning with students and staff

Denholm-Price, James, Orwell, Suzan and Soan, Peter (2015) Opening-up education : promoting active learning with students and staff. In: Association for Learning Technology Annual Conference 2015 (ALT-C 2015) Shaping the Future of Learning Together; 08 – 10 Sep 2015, Manchester, U.K.. (Unpublished)


It is well-established that active learning benefits students’ learning (Freeman et al, 2014), however changing pedagogy can be challenging for academic staff. The “Clickers Project” described here, although originally envisaged primarily as an automated mechanism for monitoring student attendance and engagement, additionally made it easy for academic staff to increase in-class interactivity, giving students opportunities for self-assessment and feedback. Over 500 first year students were provided with their own electronic voting system (EVS) “clicker”, which was used in-class to respond to questions and their responses were archived for analysis and monitoring attendance. The clicker used by the project, and the procedures being tested, could be adapted to use an alternative mechanism, such as Socrative or Mentimeter, with the student’s own personal device, and as part of the project’s evaluation we explored student and staff preferences in this regard. To realise the advantages of using an EVS it must be integrated within the overall pedagogic approach. In a subset of the classes using clickers Peer Instruction was used within a flipped classroom (Jungić, 2014): Before the lecture, students have access to Open Educational Resources (OERs) using the Numbas e-assessment platform, with content developed by an undergraduate internship student. The OER comprises introductory subject material within a number of randomised quizzes that students can read through and attempt many times. After each attempt students receive a score and question-specific feedback so they can self-assess their mastery of concepts before class. From this, cohort-level information identifies for the instructor areas where the students are struggling, which informs concept and pair/share questions that students answer in-class using their clickers. The evaluation here is in two parts: A broad overview of the Clickers Project is derived from the evaluation of attendance and progress data against entry level qualifications and other demographic data for the 500+ student participants, alongside data from a survey and focus groups with students and staff. Then we concentrate on the effectiveness of EVS and OER materials supporting the Peer Instruction methodology within a module with 85 students, where progression data are compared to previous years in which different models of instruction were used to achieve the same learning outcomes. The data gathered in-class and from focus groups will be used to present student and staff perceptions of the project and their engagement with it. The project evaluated positively and will continue from September 2015 with a broader scope. However, the results highlight some challenges with infrastructure, methodology, and with student and staff attitudes, which we would like to share. Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415. Jungić, V., Kaur, H., Mulholland, J., & Xin, C. (2014) “On flipping the classroom in large first year calculus courses”. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, (published online December 2014), 1-13.

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