Teacher: Svend Sparre Geertsen
While giving lectures to 150 students, Svend found that a serious barrier to participation was that the students did not want to expose their potential lack of knowledge to their peers. The student-response system (SRS), which uses so-called clickers, makes it possible for all students to participate anonymously.
As part of Svend’s participation in the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Programme (Universitetspædagogikum), he investigated the use and challenges of student-involvement activities in large classes. You can read the results of his investigation here: “Evaluating the Use of a Student-Response System in High-Enrolment Anatomy Lectures”.
He found SRS to be a great solution and has used it often since then. The software he uses is Shakespeak, which is free for all UCPH teachers. Shakespeak is a tool that is integrated in PowerPoint and allows you to ask your audience questions via your PowerPoint presentation, which they can answer in real time via SMS or web browsers on their smartphones or tablets. As a teacher, you can see their responses live on your PowerPoint presentation.
What was your motivation?
The aim was to try to activate the students in their learning. “The most common form of teaching in University settings, lectures, are often criticised for leaving the students as passive recipients of knowledge and being too tedious to hold their attention”, Svend explains.
“I wanted a tool that could help me activate the students, so they would be an active part of the class and not fall asleep.” Svend was also reminded of his own time studying anatomy, when it could be difficult to stay awake the whole lecture.
How did you get started?
Svend was about to give lectures to 150 students and could see the challenges of keeping the students active and on-topic.
He had heard about the SRS tools and was looking for the right software when a workshop at the IT Learning Centre was announced. He was inspired by Ian Bearden, who had used clickers in his classes. He also learned about Shakespeak and decided to try it out.
Trying out the tool became part of a project in the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Programme, where he also had the chance to evaluate the use of SRS in his class.
How did it go?
It was surprisingly easy for Svend to use the software. The real challenge seems to be to formulate the right questions. “Designing the questions is challenging. The magic happens when you’re using the tool right, and part of that is asking great questions”, Svend explains.
The students have no trouble finding out how to vote.
What was the outcome for you - and the students?
The tool makes the students more active in class. “They’re more concentrated because they know in a moment they’ll have to use their knowledge. They’re invested in the class because they have to make decisions about the questions that are asked.”
And the students are happy. In the student evaluation of Svend’s course (in the form of a questionnaire to which 97 students responded), the feedback was very positive:
“99% of the respondents liked the quizzes, while 88% felt that they helped them remember the content of the lectures. About 55% believed that the quizzes influenced how they studied after a lecture and 72% felt better prepared for the exam” (Geertsen, “Evaluating the Use of a Student-Response System in High-Enrolment Anatomy Lectures”).
The system provides a nice break from the traditional one-way communication in large classroom lectures, but it also seems that the students remember the content better because they have to reflect both before and after voting, Svend emphasises. “Actually they may be learning the most when they answer the quiz questions wrongly”, he adds.
The break in the one-way communication also benefits Svend as a teacher. With Shakespeak or similar software, you can get an idea of what the students understand and what you have to go through one more time – or let the students explain the material to one another, which often works well.
How much time did you spend on it?
Svend explains that he has spent more time implementing the system than necessary, because it started as part of the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Programme. “But you can help anyone get started in less than an hour.”
He is aware that the quizzes take time away from other things during the classes, but he is convinced that they are worth it because they add to the students’ learning outcomes.
Svend suggests that you think about the kind of questions you want to ask. As noted, coming up with great questions is the hard part. To this end he recommends the workshops available at the University of Copenhagen.