Are traditional lectures a legacy of our pre-digital past? Academics in the Faculty are using the latest technologies to engage students and to break the traditional model of academic teaching.
It is the constant conundrum of the academic and often the pet hate of the student. Large lectures. They are too large for the academic to fully engage with students, and too big for the student to become truly immersed in the subject. Recognising this problem academics in the Faculty have turned to digital technology to grab the student’s attention and to plunge them into the course content.
Back in 2011 Dr Stefan Petry in the Department of Finance and Dr Angelito Calma and Jenny Pesinain the FBE Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) explored ways of improving student engagement and after much research came across the Zwoor app to conduct quick polls in large corporate finance classes. The app was targeted towards the corporate market but Angelito, Jenny and Stefan through testing it in corporate finance classes, believed it could be adapted to academic needs.
The three were awarded the Teaching Innovation and Staff Development Grant to further develop how the app could be of assistance. “Everybody talks about the importance of student engagement, but how do you do it in a class with 200+ students? Practical solutions that are cheap and easy to implement are very limited. Our project aimed at this void” explained Stefan.
In February 2012, the academics contacted the developer of the app to have them adapt the app more towards our needs in the classroom. In the first lecture of every course, Stefan told the students about the app, how it would be used in class, and how it would benefit the students. He then had them download the app during class. With the help of the app, it is possible to see how many students chose what answer via a histogram. The results are displayed on a website, which was projected in the classroom so that all students could see the results. Stefan then went through each question and explained to the students why a particular answer was correct or incorrect. Here, seeing the results enabled him as a lecturer to focus on those choices that most of the students got wrong.
After the six weeks the students were surveyed to get their feedback. More than 400 undergraduate and graduate students took part in the survey. In addition, Jenny and Angelito from CELT invited students to participate in two focus group discussions, consisting of five students each, to get very detailed feedback on the use of the app in the class, what they liked, what they disliked and what they wished in the future to happen in regards to this course and their other courses. The results were illuminating.
Seventy-six precent noted improvement in their understanding of the subject. Fifty-nine per cent reported that participation in quick polls improved their performance in the subject while 55% reported improvement in their attendance. Three-quarters also preferred that other subjects also use the same initiative ‘Seeing students more engaged with their peers and the lecturer has been a key feature of the project. Students have improved their interaction with the lecturer, allowing the lecturer to provide instant feedback and clarify any misunderstanding, all in real time” underlined Angelito.
Recently at an e-learning forum it was argued that lectures are a legacy of our pre-digital past and while many disagree any initiative that complements the existing teaching model must be considered as Stefan summarised ‘the technology is there. However, most of the current offered software is not practical enough to be implemented in the classroom, or it is excessively expensive. We need more targeted solutions for student engagement and learning at an affordable price. This app is a good start.”