Asking Questions By James Clay Gloucestershire College Assessment is an important check on learning, have the learners understood what they have learnt and can they apply what they have learnt. Assessment can take many forms, most require not just time from the learner to complete, but also from the assessor in marking the work. It also takes time for all the â€œpaperworkâ€? related to submitting assignments. Checks on learning through assessment often happen in the classroom, but due to the issues of time in marking, either practitioners will assess a single learner, or will assess after the lesson, adding discontinuity to the learning process.
Learner response systems (or voting units) like Activexpression allow practitioners to introduce checks on learning in the classroom. They allow all learners to participate.
One of the main reasons we chose Activexpression was that though you can set it up before a session, it can also be used spontaneously in a session as and when needed. This adds so much more flexibility to the assessment process and saves practitioners time. The key for the college was to: •
Improve learner engagement.
Improve learner outcomes.
Addressing the challenge In many FE Colleges learner response systems have been introduced and underused. Gloucestershire College before purchasing Activexpression had a few sets of the Activote system.
The main reasons for this were that they only had one or two class sets that needed to be booked. As a result anyone who wanted to use one had to think and plan well in advance. Sometimes the set would be monopolised by a few people and it was would be difficult for other staff to book it. Other times people would plan on using it and find it was booked out. As systems were used rarely, practitioners did not have the confidence to use them, or required support in the classroom. As part of the MoLeNET Shiny Project, Gloucestershire College purchased over 1500 Activexpression handsets, fifty class sets of thirty handsets. The majority of these were placed in staff workrooms for easier access. This removed the barrier of booking the handsets and ensuring more were available for use. With the relevant software installed on all classroom and workroom computers this meant that practitioners did not need to worry about whether the software was â€œavailableâ€? and ensuring it was in the workrooms did allow practitioners to prepare if they wanted to.
Staff development and training was carried out. Sessions were offered on college development days, ad hoc demand led training was carried out at a time and place to suit the practitioner.
Training was cascaded through teams at team meetings. Teaching Improvement Managers advised and demonstrated Activexpression as possible solutions to identified issues in teaching observations (along with other solutions as well).
Outcomes and benefits The key direct outcomes were: •
An improvement in the use of assessment in the classroom.
More engaging assessment.
An increase in the use of mobile technologies in the classroom.
The indirect outcomes were: •
A diversification of how learners were assessed, practitioners started to consider much more different ways and mediums of assessment.
An increase in the use of mobile devices in the classroom beyond the Activexpression units.
Learners' reaction Learners were very responsive to the use of Activexpression, finding it more engaging than previously used assessment processes. Learner quotes: “this is more fun than doing the test on paper” “they’re easy to use and make the lesson more interesting”
Teachers' reaction Practitioners were very enthusiastic about the new technologies and the impact it has on learning. In some cases teams were using them so extensively that staff in the same area had trouble finding a free set. As a result we centralised some sets for central booking.
Practitioners were surprised by how “easy” the hardware and software was to use. This is more they had expectations it would be “difficult” and it wasn’t. Technology has got a lot easier to use over the last ten years.
Practitioners used the sets in different ways, some for formative assessment, others for summative assessment. Some used them using games show formats to spice up revision sessions. Managers were impressed with how easy it was to embed the use of learning technologies into the classroom through the use of Activexpression.
Key messages and lessons learned One of the key messages from the use of Activexpression is removing “barriers” to using mobile technologies. Ensure that practitioners can “just use the kit” rather than face the hurdles of booking, setting up, working out how it all works, software problems, hardware problems. One thing we did learn was that the hardware and software though “designed” to work with a Promethean Activboard (interactive
whiteboard) worked just as well away from an Activboard. You could grab a set of handsets and a laptop and use it in the field (or even in a field). This demonstrated that it was a true mobile technology. Support for the first session can be important for some practitioners. Without support they may be reluctant or hesitant to use it. Likewise training is essential for some practitioners who like to have used and be confident in the use of a technology before they use it in a classroom.
Next steps Practitioners are now designing questions sets using the technology. They are sharing best practice and ideas.