I am currently writing a short course about using ResponseWare as a lecture engagement tool. This will also be used for some live sessions as part of our Window on Teaching series. My task is to show how the ResponseWare personal response system (PRS), in which students respond to questions using their own mobile devices, may be integrated into lectures in a research-intensive University (Warwick). The design has to avoid an unintended emphasis on shallow knowledge checking, and should instead use the technology to nudge the students towards a deeper engagement with theory and its application.
We can understand the value of ResponseWare by thinking about how it transforms roles, relationships and responsibilities. It extends the agency of students and lecturers, allowing them to shape the flow of events (thoughts and actions) in the lecture.
By using ResponseWare we can transform the relationship between the lecturer and students, between students and students, and between theory and practice. The example below illustrates some of these transformations.
We can, for example, add more carefully constrained points of focus in the lecture, at which points everyone stops and acts in response to the same provocation to think. We can change the pace of thought and action – using a fast sequence of questions (with a limited amount of time to answer) or a single slow question to be pondered for a longer length of time. We can come back to the same question repeatedly, tracking how student understanding changes as a result of the lecture. We might also hand over agency to the students, as in this example where students get an opportunity to write questions – which is itself a challenging task demanding a clearer and more precise understanding and ability to express an understanding.
In this particular example the problem of connecting theory and practice is addressed by combining a more conventional lecture with immediate opportunities for the students to apply new theoretical knowledge.
Note also how ResponseWare’s in built messaging system is used to gather ideas and feedback from the students in a written form – one of the aims of the lecture is to get the students articulating their theoretical knowledge more precisely so that it can be used in practice.
There are no doubt many varied ways in which this can be done, with differences between academic contexts. For this example I chose an imagined module about applied design theory. This is a lecture towards the beginning of the module. The module is aims to get the students understanding and applying what are often quite abstract theories. It is assessed through an individual design project. There might be a tendency for the students to focus upon the practical challenges of the project, ignoring the deeper theoretical issues. This is a crucial lecture in that it aims to get the students making connections between design theories and their interaction with clients, through value-led designing.
An example lecture design
The timeline below illustrates the flow of events over the hour.
There is a period of settling down and bringing the focus of the whole class together – this might be lengthened slightly by the need to get the tech in place, but practice should make this faster. The technology does take up a little extra time, however it can also make the initial minutes of the lecture more focussed and consequently more useful.
I would then communicate the intended learning outcomes (ILO) and the nature of the forthcoming activities (teacher and students), with an explanation of their connection to assessment (all joined up following the Biggs’ doctrine of constructive alignment). In conventional terms, the main body of the lecture consists of me giving a survey of a set of design theories and illustrating how we can derive investigative design questions from them so as to undertake value-led designing. How I do that might be altered a little if I find that the students have read very little of the material already, or if they are more advanced than expected. So I need some easy way of getting to know where the students are at. I also want to the students to try out the technique (deserving questions from theory to use in a value-led investigation) as soon as possible – preferably in the lecture. Once they have done that, and reflected upon it together, I will recap and talk about what comes next (and I want them to know that they can have follow up discussions after the lecture in the VLE so that I can get away quickly and not have to deal with a crowd of inquisitors).
This is what the timeline looks like, with my use of ResponseWare and PowerPoint indicated with the icons. Notice also that in the student activity they will be authoring ResponseWare questions themselves using the Turning Point software. Have a look at the timeline, and then below I will step through the innovative uses of ResponseWare that happen in the lecture.
I would want to get the first ResponseWare question on the screen before the students have even got into the room if possible. I want to get them focussed and engaged right away. But I don’t want to do it in a trivial way. No icebreaker. I want to send out the message that this lecture is crucial for them personally. So my first ResponseWare connects the lecture directly to their own personal design projects (indicating that this is a constructively aligned lecture):
Next, before racing on with my part of the lecture, I want to get a quick indication of their background reading:
Then, I want to heat things up a bit, so I’ve put in a question that might be a bit provocative. This can act as a lead-in for the theoretical work. It also acts to counterbalance the next part of the lecture, which will be largely me speaking.
I then move into the more conventional part of the lecture, with a series of plain PowerPoint slides and a carefully worded monologue explaining the theories and their use in value-led designing, and illustrating design questions that can be derived from them. I end this by explaining what I want the students to do next. In small groups they are going to propose some design questions, derived from the theories. We will then gather the questions together into ResponseWare (via Turning Point) and collectively evaluate them. So the students are contributing to the lecture directly, and trying out the methods described in my lecture.
ResponseWare includes a messaging channel, allowing the students to write and share messages with the whole class (you might need to enable this in Preferences -> Software). I use this facility for the students to send their proposed questions to me, to be gathered together into the presentation.
For this stage I could get a volunteer to cut and paste the proposed questions from the messaging tool back into the presentation as a series of new questions. For example:
The students evaluate all of the proposed questions and discuss their value together as a whole class. The anonymity of voting helps with this. Finally I get the students to think about how they will use these methods in their own projects and to feed back their reflections using the messaging tool. I can save these texts and put them on to the VLE (along with the question ideas and the ratings).
After a lecture recap by me, I then want to reinforce the message that the students need to read the key texts containing the theories we are using. I want to nudge them into assuming this is just a normal thing to do, so I ask them a final question which asks for a personal committment: