Researching Learning and Teaching Issues using Technology during Class

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This week I’ve been busy lecturing on pedagogic research for our final and fourth module on Education Research in the Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching. As part of this, I was trying to give the students a sense of what action research they can undertake within their classrooms using both qualitative and quantitative data. I thought I would share what I have done in this week’s blog post for firstly, those persons teaching academic practice/ pedagogic research and may want to try a different approach and secondly, for those persons who might be interested in the snap-shot of results which we got for areas around an evaluation of an assessment, perceptions of exams and mindfulness.

We explored three ideas:

  1. An evaluation of an action plan assessment from our first module
  2. Perceptions on the use of exams for measuring students’ learning
  3. Finally, on a spur of the moment, the efficacy of a mindfulness exercise based on an article on the Times Higher Education which suggests that mindfulness exercises ‘help students stay focused in class’ which I found on my Twitter stream on Tuesday.

Evaluation of the Action Plan Assessment

The participants were first surveyed about an action plan they developed for themselves during their first Module using Kahoot. The intention was that the action plan would be something that they would revisit over the 18 months they were with us. Here are the results (summary: most did not look or do the actions on their action plan after finishing Module 1):

Action Plan

Using these results as a prompt, the participants were then asked to “interview” someone from across the room to determine why participants on the programme were unable to complete the actions within their action plan and to determine whether the assessment was fit for purpose.

Primarily, the reasons were that they didn’t have the time, it wasn’t on top of their priority list and probably did not make practical action points. However, they did think the assessment was good for them to start thinking about their teaching but perhaps throughout the programme, they should be asked to come back to it at each module. These recommendations we will probably be built into our next programme in January, 2019 (not in this year’s programme, as unfortunately, UK programme curriculum is not designed to be receptive to just-in-time changes – an issue I raise in my chapter on “Examining Pedagogical Autonomy in International Higher Education Systems” in our upcoming book “Academics’ International Teaching Journeys“) .

This is a good example of using students-as-researchers in a research-based teaching approach (from Jenkins and Healey research-teaching nexus) within the classroom to help understand a current teaching practice.

Perceptions of Exams

Similarly to what I did with the action plan, I first surveyed the participants’ perceptions of exams as the best way of assessing students’ learning and then asked them to interview other participants on the reasons for their answers. This is the result from the survey (summary: most thought exams was not a good idea):

Exams

The participants’ discussion was interesting as they questioned whether the questionnaire item was worded appropriately as it did not indicate what was meant by learning (in terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy). Further, they thought that exams might be appropriate if we intended to test students’ competencies in knowledge and this may vary by discipline (for example, in medicine they’ll be required to know some knowledge), and it will be dependent on what are the outcomes that we want for our students (if it is to remember stuff, or to be to apply their knowledge etc).

I thought some these answers were quite insightful in recognising that the use of a particular assessment is dependent on the context and the knowledge that is being tested. I did wonder to what extent that our programme had shaped these notions or whether these notions were there prior to the start of the programme – in other words, was there some learning gain in the way that our participants were able to think about learning and assessments.

Mindfulness

In this particular exercise, after reading the study on the Times Higher Education, I wanted to test to see if this was true. So, at the start of our 3-hour lecture, the students did a 3-minute breathing exercise. Around 2 1/2 hours into the lecture, I surveyed them using Kahoot on whether they thought this mindfulness exercise helped them to focus. They were quick to point out to me that we had no control and I agree with them. So, this is a quasi-experimental design with no control group or pre-test. Here is what we found (summary: most didn’t find the breathing task helpful):

Mindfulness

Maybe unsurprisingly, the participants did not feel more focused because of this breathing task. Perhaps, 2 1/2 hours is too long a time to have anyone keep focus and maybe I should have topped them up every hour with a breathing task! Or perhaps, this research needs a more rigorous approach before we conclude it does not work :).

I probably should have gotten the class to discuss the reasons why we got different results but I didn’t because at 2 1/2 hours my participants were flagging (Kahoot names that came out were “time for lunch”; “tired”; “time to go home”).

However, I thought this exercise was an interesting way of incorporating current research into the classroom to test and see what is happening and create a forum for participants to think why the results may be different/ same to what has been found in research, and hence increase their criticality.

Final Thoughts

I’ve never incoporating these sort of research elements before in the classroom but I thought they worked well to get the students talking, moving across a lecture room, meeting other students and thinking critically about ideas in learning and teaching.

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