Getting Student Feedback Easily
This week’s tip focuses on using technology to get quick student feedback. Formative student feedback is essential in order to monitor teaching effectiveness and to provide information which can be used to improve teaching and learning in our courses. All of us who have been teaching have experienced the situation where we just completed what we believe to be a great class only to find out later, that for the students, it was not either; the pace was too fast, the content to detailed or above the comprehension of the most of the students, e.g. it was over their heads. This scenario is more prevalent when we are confident of our teaching and have a deep understanding of the materials we are presenting, and we overestimate students ability. The simple act of stopping and asking, “Are any questions?” or “Do you to understand?” almost inevitably results in students providing positive feedback that they understand, even when they don’t. This occurs even when the wait time between when the question is asked and when the instructor moves on to the next point is a reasonable 6 to 8 seconds. The average wait time for most instructors, between asking a question, giving the answer and moving on to the next topic, is generally less than two seconds. Fortunately, there are many easy, user-friendly technologies available that can be used to quickly collect and analyze student feedback during class and provide insights into what students think, and do or do not know. Here are four free tools that make use of a BYOD – bring your own device – approach.
“there are many easy, user-friendly technologies available that can be used to quickly collect and analyze student feedback during class and provide insights into what students think”
TodaysMeet is a free web-based backchannel class discussion/ brainstorming tool that does not require students to download an app or to register. As the instructor, you should register to create an account, which is free. One can use this to have students brainstorm about a concept, provide opinions and comment on what was clear or unclear or ask questions in real time. The first time one uses TodaysMeet, there may be some reservation and delay on the students’ part. However, if the tool is used in a consistent and regular fashion, students’ quickly see it is business as usual and it can provide quick useful feedback with a minimal commitment of class time. With TodaysMeet all responses are anonymous. To help students quickly access the website is useful to provide the QR code, with can be projected or distributed.
Poll Everywhere is a web-based online polling tool that allows students to answer questions, brainstorm, do team competitions, etc. With Poll Everywhere one can create multiple-choice questions, open-ended or fill-in the blank, short response questions, ranking polls, clickable images, brainstorming exercises or Q&A polls. While not as simple to use as Today’sMeet, there is more flexibility and it is better adapted to meet the needs of many teaching and pedagogical environments. I particularly liked the open-ended question format whose responses can be graphically represented by word cloud. For example, at a recent workshop on effective studying, I asked 180 students “what is learning?” In less than two-minutes they generated a word cloud which was then used to facilitate a general discussion on what it means to learn something. The multiple-choice question can be used to check student understanding of concepts, to encourage critical thinking and encourage discussion one can use questions where there can be more than one answer. While it is possible to use the web-based free version, the University (CTLE) has purchased a subscription which faculty can sign up to use. For more information on how to get a UM-Poll Everywhere account simply go to the CTLE website (see ctle.um.edu.mo/resources), click on Resources, and then Poll Everywhere. On the CTLE website, we provide tutorials and information on how to get started and how to effectively use Poll Everywhere for learning.
Students’ responses to the question “What is Learning?”
Qualtrics is a powerful research survey tools that is used by hundreds of companies and universities around the world. In addition to its research functions, Qualtrics can be used to collect simple feedback during or at the end of a class. It was used by VRAA Prof. Ni at the last UM town hall meeting. To use Qualtrics you need to have a UM-Qualtrics account which you can get through the library (see the link above). Questions can be a variety of types, from ranking to multiple choice to opinions, etc. Again students do not need to download any apps or register, they simply need a link to the poll which can be given in the form of a URL or QR code. One simple application is to ask students at the end of the class to go to the poll and answer two questions: what did you learn today? and what would you like to know more about? The UM Library and ICTO provide resources which enable academic staff to get started using this resource, and we have demonstrated its use in a variety of CTLE workshops.
UM-Moodle this is the campus’s learning management tool. Unlike the three previous tools, individual student responses can be tracked and monitored. If you are not currently using Moodle, you should be. The UM strongly expects and encourages that all UM-courses will have a Moodle site which is actively used. More importantly, the use of Moodle will save you time and allow you to make your class more learner-centered and aligned with 21st-century university teaching and learning. Moodle is supported by ICTO as well as CTLE. Both the ICTO and CTLE websites provide links that are helpful in getting started and using Moodle, see faq.icto.umac.mo/category/ummoodle/ and ctle.um.edu.mo/2013/07/02/ctle-services-6. Moodle tools can be used for many learner-centered teaching activities some of which have been addressed in previous teaching tips. Both the quiz and survey functions in Moodle allow instructors to collect student feedback. For this teaching tip, I will mention one use of Moodle that will save you time and effort, e.g. using Moodle to take attendance. This is described on the CTLE website, the page is accessed by clicking on the E-Learning menu, then “Monitoring Attendance in Class -Large and Small with Moodle and Mobiles”.
“Using mobile devices for in-class academic activities also helps to reduce their use for non-academic activities and establishes within the class a culture of using mobile devices for learning”
If we want to meet students on their home ground, then it behooves us to use approaches that are part of their everyday existence, i.e. digital media accessible from mobile devices. Using mobile devices for in-class academic activities also helps to reduce their use for non-academic activities and establishes within the class a culture of using mobile devices for learning as opposed to a social environment where students are surfing the web or using Wechat with friends.