Lecturer in Applied Social Studies
At an undergraduate level I am mainly involved in professional education for Social Care Workers, Youth & Community Workers and Early Years Professional Practitioners. I teach a range of subjects including Introduction to Social Care, Disability Studies, Management and Leadership in Change Management. I supervise both undergraduate and post graduate research. I also am involved with the taught MA in Child, Youth and Family to whom I teach Leadership, Strategy and Governance. In consideration of the applied nature of the courses that I am involved with, I am conscious to ensure that the students not only understand the theoretical content that I am presenting to them but are confident in the way that it may apply to their future practice. It is vital that the students develop to engage with evidence based practice. A large part of my teaching therefore incorporates engagement with critical applied discussion, provision of examples and the use of scenario or problem based learning. Due to the large numbers that are present in some of the classes, it can be challenging to ensure effective engagement from all students. This in part is due to the dynamics of various groups and individual personalities but mainly due to the various learning preferences and rates of learning across the student cohort. It is with these concerns in mind that I have become more interested in expanding my use of technology in my teaching practices to promote a more inclusive learning environment and to facilitate engagement. In addition to the use of technology within the classroom, I use the VLE to facilitate students’ independent learning and allow them to engage with material in line with their own learning preferences and process.
Underlying all of my teaching approaches is a philosophy of inclusion and recognition of the diversity of student experience and learners’ ability. My teaching philosophy mirrors the principles of professional practice in the course areas that I teach including equality, respect, self-autonomy, diversity and inclusion. I feel it is important for me to reflect to students the professional principles that they will require in their future applied practice and to demonstrate to them the respect and values that they will be expected to demonstrate to individuals that they work with in the future. This includes a requirement for me to take adequate responsibility to ensure that the learning environments that I create are inclusive, equal and respectful of diversity. It is with this in mind that I incorporate technology in my teaching. I aim to empower and encourage students to become aware of their skills and to build on them to facilitate them to maximise their learning experiences here in the college and in the future.
The digital collaboration that I undertook with Damien Raftery of our Teaching and Learning Centre in the academic year 2017/2018 was the use of a Blackboard quiz as part of the summative assessment. The quiz was used for 10% of the overall grade for a first year 10 credit module, Introduction to Social Care, and was completed in the classroom environment using the student’s own mobile device. The primary intention of using the quiz was to limit the amount of time spent on corrections. There was a total of 97 students in the class and there are three pieces of assessment over the year. By using the online assessment, results were automatically calculated. This saved me time but also importantly allowed for the students to get immediate feedback on their work. It was important that no student would be disadvantaged by using the technology for summative assessment. As this was a form of assessment new to the students, I carefully planned with Damien a number of steps to ensure every student was both comfortable and confident with using the technology., Several practice quizzes were set up in advance to allow the students to get used to accessing the system and to the types of questions that might arise. This process proved to be very beneficial to students with regard to their overall engagement and revision of course material. Damien and I worked together to develop the practice quizzes as well as the final quiz. Careful consideration was given to the types of questions used, the ordering of questions and the instructions that were provided. The use of practice quizzes assisted us in determining the best way to present and word questions to ensure students understood what was being asked of them and to provide answers that could be accurately assessed. We had several concerns in developing the test including the ability of students to use the test and the reliability of the wifi and students’ phones on the day. In order to address these concerns we planned two sessions with the students; one demonstrating the system to them and telling them how to use it and the other a mock quiz in the classroom setting allowing us to test the reliability of technology and the wifi. A practice quiz was also set up for them to use at home which doubled up as a revision tool and a means for them to practice using the system. Students did not have any difficulty in using the quiz and found the instructions to be clear and for the most part found the quiz easy to access through the Blackboard app. There was four students in the in class practice quiz session who did not have access to a phone or laptop. This was in two cases due to a cracked screen and in two cases due to not having a phone with them on the day. To overcome this issue on the day of the test, we decided that some extra devices would be brought to the test for students to use if necessary. A 15 minute time allowance was allocated for the completion of the test once the student commenced. This proved to be more than sufficient in the practice test and allowed the students plenty of time in the final test as well. To prevent copying, a random order option was selected so that students would be given questions in a different order. This appeared to work well. Although there was no major concern with the strength and reliability of the wifi during the practice test, it was decided that on the day of the class test, there would be a staggering of time to prevent issues arising. The test involved a small written element as well. One half of the class were given the written work to complete before the test and the other half of the class completed the tasks in the opposite order. This prevented any problems arising with too many students attempting to use the wifi at one time. This worked well on the day.
My current teaching practice includes the use of VLE (Blackboard), including discussion boards and online quizzes, Turnitin, e-mail, Twitter (@SocialCareITC), PowerPoint, and YouTube. In the digital collaboration, the VLE that was utilised for the collaboration was Blackboard, specifically the online quiz tool. Many different question types are available, however to keep things simple for the first online quiz the types of questions used were limited to multiple choice, multiple answer and matching question types. The quiz was set up on my PC and was accessible to students to complete either on a laptop/ computer or through their phone using the Blackboard app or browser.
There are various ways that I use technology to support student learning and engagement. I will discuss each piece of technology separately. VLE: My use of the VLE is aimed at allowing students to engage in an independent learning process and manage their own learning approaches so as to maximise their contact time and their use of materials. For example, I put all class notes up ahead of class time and leave them available to students for the remainder of the term. This allows students to engage in their own process such as reading the notes in advance of class and therefore increasing their understanding and engagement in class discussions. Similarly many students reinforce their class learning through later reading of the notes. The VLE also allows me to provide links to additional readings/ videos/ websites that they may use to expand their knowledge and application of the topics covered in limited class times. Thus allowing students with various learning abilities to approach topic areas in a style that best suits them. Within the VLE, I use PowerPoint as a main framework for the topics covered during lectures. I will often embed YouTube links in the class notes that enhance explanation and application for students. Email: I will use email to notify students of new material that is being released on the VLE and to tell them what will be covered in upcoming classes. I will often email readings or sets of questions for students to consider in advance of class. This will increase student engagement in the classroom discussion in my experience. I also find email a useful tool for students for contacting me with questions. The large class sizes often deter certain students from asking questions during lectures and email provides an access point for them that they are more comfortable to use. Twitter: I will post articles of interest (both academic and newspaper) to the class topics allowing students opportunities for understanding of application to practice.
The use of these technologies has allowed students to engage in an autonomous learning process that suits them. Students have told me that they all use these supports differently, for example some, but not all, read the notes and additional readings before class because they feel that lectures are not a forum that they take in new information effectively. Where they have read up on the topic in advance they find it easier to engage and are therefore using their time more efficiently. I also find that students are more likely to engage in class discussion where they have had opportunity to engage with materials outside of the lecture hall. However, some students have expressed that they engage better with the readings following class discussions and therefore this approach works better for them. Having notes and readings accessible to students to engage as best suits them is a big advantage to the use of technology for me. Embedding YouTube clips into the lecture notes has provided a dual advantage. Firstly, students are able to access it from home and report that it is useful for them to get a basic understanding of topic quickly and easily therefore engaging them further into the other available material. I have also found it useful within the classroom environment to reinforce learning and to support students’ attention span.
The use of technology is more effective for some students than it is for others. Not all will engage with the process or develop as effective autonomous learners. There is a lot of reliance on students being aware of their learning needs and having the motivation to do their best. Many incorrectly believe that class attendance is the only requirement. It is not possible for me to monitor their engagement with technical supports in any effective way. I talk to all students at the beginning of the academic year and explain the methods that I am using, how they might be used and might be beneficial in order to overcome this issue as much as possible. I have also encountered some technical issues with YouTube clips in the classroom.
As mentioned above, the primary purpose of using the online quiz was to reduce assessment time and work load. In addition to meeting these aims, several other benefits to teaching and learning became apparent through the process. Additional benefits were seen in ability of students to use the practice online quiz in their own time as a revision tool. Students used the tool to revise over material covered in class and during their own study. Students reported that the use of the quiz allowed them to reinforce learning at a more immediate pace than their usual revision techniques. I found that this had the added benefit of improving class engagement for the future classes as students’ knowledge was more up to date and they were confident in it. For future modules, I plan to use online quizzes regularly for reinforcement purposes as well as for assessment purposes. It is intended that quizzes, carrying no assessment marks, will be set up for each module topic so that students can revise over what we have covered in class in their own time. The objective of this will be to provide students with the means to strengthen their knowledge and to identify gaps in their knowledge and understanding as soon as possible. Quizzes will also be used in the classroom setting as a means of summarising information and as a way for me to see levels of understanding amongst the class. It is envisaged that class engagement will also increase as students are more up-to-date and confident with the material. More broadly, this collaboration with Damien greatly improved my digital skills and opened me up to a wider range of tools and techniques for teaching and for student engagement in the classroom. I am now more aware of the various technologies available, the benefits of their use and the am more confident in utilising them. Furthermore, I have become aware of the use of alternative digital tools that are being used by other staff in the department and there has been increased dialogue and knowledge transfer amongst the team.
In recent years, students’ use of mobile devices to access the VLE has increased substantially and it is now possible for students to take online quizzes in the VLE via their mobile phone or other mobile device (Raftery, 2018). To use online quizzes, questions – in particular, multiple-choice questions – need to be designed with care. I found very useful the short guides by Brame (2013), Clark (2015) and Jennings (2012). More generally, when students are completing online formative quizzes prior to the summative quiz, this gives them repeated opportunities to engage with module concepts and actively retrieve prior learning thereby using the testing effect to strengthen their learning (Brown et al., 2014; Didau, 2015). The immediate feedback from online quizzes also assist students to develop self-regulation by monitoring their own learning, an important ability in itself (Deans for Impact, 2015).
I have found in house VLE professional development very useful as well as a SPEEDS information session and workshops related to online quizzes, Turnitin and classroom response systems. Follow-up personal support and advice of the Teaching and Learning Centre helped me with using the technology well. Training relating to inclusive learning environments have helped me to underpin the principles of my approaches. With respect to the digital collaboration, as well as attending an initial workshop and ongoing 1-1 support on creating and using online quizzes, I found useful the following videos created by Damien: • Creating a Blackboard quiz with video embedded in the instructions • Adding an MCQ question • Copying a question and adding an open ended (Essay) question • Deploying the quiz for students to take • Looking at student responses
With regard to assessment time, there was a big reduction in the length of time spent correcting and processing the work. Although setting up the quiz did take longer than writing up an assignment, there was still a significant saving of time. Given the class size of 97, I would calculate the time saving at roughly 12 hours. This was a significant in managing my work load. Another time benefit was for the students in that they were able to get immediate feedback for the work that they had done and did not need to wait the usual 3-4 weeks for feedback and results; this also meant that class time usually used to give back marks could be used more productively.
In order to gather students’ feedback on the use of online quizzes as a form of final assessment, Damien and I developed an online questionnaire through Qualtrics. The questionnaire asked a range of questions aimed at students’ opinions on the use of the online quiz, any difficulties that they encountered and what were the benefits of this approach. The questionnaire was distributed to the entire class group through email. There was a total of 31 responses out of 107 students, a response rate of 29%. Of those that responded, there was overwhelmingly positive feedback about the in class test, with all students in agreement (about three-quarters in strong agreement) with both the statements ‘I would be happy to take more in-class online tests that count for marks’ and ‘I would be happy to take more in-class online tests to help me learn’. Of those that participated in the survey, almost all had used their phones to complete the class test, mostly using the VLE app with four using the browser on their phone; one student used a laptop. Students overall found the test easy to access (97%) and with clear instructions (97%). Most students agreed with the statement ‘I think the online test was an effective measurement of my module knowledge’ with none disagreeing. The majority of students found it to be preferable to a paper test with only four preferring the paper option. Additional supporting comments included; • ‘I felt it less stressful than doing a paper test’ • ‘It was much easier and quicker and it was great to have the test results straight away’ Also evident from the findings was that students found engagement with in the practice test beneficial to their learning, module engagement and preparation for the final test. The students found it easy to access, with clear instructions. Over 80% of the respondents did the practice test more than once, with the remaining doing the practice test once. The students strongly agreed with the statement ‘It was important to me to have the opportunity to experience doing an in-class practice test’, with no one disagreeing. Indeed, a number of comments requested the use of more practice quizzes. • ‘It was very useful as it gave an idea of what to expect’ • ‘It was a fun way to study by trying to improve my score each time I complete the quiz’ • ‘More practice quizzes throughout the year to practice independently. Maybe after each topic’ There was substantial agreement that the practice quiz helped student to prepare for the in-class test and most of the respondents agreed with the statement “I feel I learnt a lot from practicing with this quiz”, with no one disagreeing. Technical issues with devices and wifi did not arise. For this practice test, one student reported that his/her phone was a bit slow but no other problems were reported. This led to student confidence for taking the summative in-class test. Overall the feedback from students was very positive and would support the use of this approach in the future.
I would encourage teaching and learning practitioners to use this approach as a means of both formative and summative assessment with their classes. Some reflections from my own process might be useful to others in preparing for the introduction of such a process in their own practice. This project proved to be a learning curve in relation to both the use of technology and the development of appropriate questions for effective assessment. With regard to the use of technology, it was very useful to have access to support and an opportunity to collaborate. The availability of both a structured and less formal support system proved invaluable. Initially the sharing of ideas with colleagues and Damien facilitated in the development of some excellent practical suggestions for issues that were being faced. The inclusion of objective viewpoints was critical in determining the best approach to take and in considering a range of plausible options. Furthermore, the process of developing, trialling and the completing the online quiz was dependant on having sufficient support, guidance and collaboration. Although the test proved not to be difficult to set up, having the support of someone with knowledge and previous experience of the system was invaluable. I would advise engagement with digital learning support from the beginning to ensure a smooth development process and to assist in skill and confidence development. From a pedagogical viewpoint, consideration was needed for the question formats, order and timings to ensure that the learning outcomes and assessment objectives were adequately met. This was a more in depth process than I had anticipated and required more time planning than initially allocated. Support from colleagues that had previously developed quizzes and that were familiar with the software again proved invaluable to this stage of the process. I would recommend that sufficient time is allowed for the development of the questions and that support is provided. Also necessary for this stage of the quiz development is the use of a trial or practice run. During the completion of the practice quiz, issues with a variety of questions arose. These related to the students’ understanding of the questions; the ordering of questions and the ability of the learning outcomes to be tested by the answer submitted. It was vital that these issues were identified and rectified before the final assessment to ensure smooth running as well as fairness for students. Some practical aspects of planning also became evident during the practice process. The time that would be required for students to complete the quiz and subsequently the length of the quiz were clarified by allowing the students a trial run. Furthermore, the need to separate the class into two groups to allow for any potential difficulty with wi-fi connections on the day was highlighted. I plan to use the system in the coming years as a method of both summative and formative assessment. Engaging in the collaborative process has provided me with the necessary confidence and foundational skills to utilise classroom response systems such Kahoot and Socrative in the classroom environment for enhanced engagement, formative feedback and learning. It is hoped that through continued use of these methods as well as the ongoing use of Blackboard quizzes, confidence and skills will continue to grow both for the students and for me. Consistent engagement with these systems will also allow for the development of a bank of questions that can be reused at different times. This will further allow for a reduction in time spent planning and developing. In summation, I would advise educators to engage with this process of assessment. In doing so, I would advise them to seek support and allocate sufficient time for planning and development in the initial stages. Having a trial run of the test, and sufficient time to reflect on the success of the process, is another vital step in ensuring that the final assessment runs smoothly and is effective.
Brame, C. (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Available at: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/ Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., McDaniel, M.A. (2014) Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Harvard University Press Clark, D. (2015) Top 10 Stupid Mistakes in Design of Multiple Choice Questions. Available at: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.ie/2015/08/top-10-stupid-mistakes-in-design-of.html Deans for Impact (2015) The Science of Learning. Available at: http://deansforimpact.org/the_science_of_learning.html Didau, D. (2015) What If Everything You Knew about Education Was Wrong? Crown House Publishing Jennings, D. (2012) The Design of Multiple Choice Questions for Assessment. Available at: https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/UCDTLA0042.pdf Raftery, D. (2018) Ubiquitous mobile use: student perspectives on using the VLE on their phone. Irish Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning 3(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.22554/ijtel.v3i2.44 Raftery, D. & Anderson, V. (2018) The Future is Mobile: Summative online MCQs with Blackboard app? Irish Blackboard User Group, IT Carlow, 30th May