Stumbling into some pitfalls with ResponseWare

December 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Posted in student response systems | Leave a comment
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I’ve just run a session introducing the online ResponseWare Student Response System to some academic colleagues, and have identified some pitfalls… by stumbling straight into them. I should start by saying that I think online SRS are the way to go, especially now most students have a smartphone, and all of our lecture spaces have excellent Wi-Fi following an ambitious upgrade project. ResponseWare has the advantage that it integrates perfectly with the Turning Point clickers that are already in widespread use across the university, and that it therefore minimises the learning curve for tutors and does not require them to recreate their resources and quizzes for a new system.

So, the gotchas were:

  • If possible, iOS and (especially) Android users should install and use the ResponseWare app rather than using web-browser access; it gave a reliable and superior user experience. Of course the app needs to be up to date (v2) and will need updating again before the end of the year following another upgrade to the ResponseWare service.
  • If not, iOS and (especially) Android users should use an up-to-date version of Chrome rather than the default browser. I had one user with an iPad v1 (iOS 5) and another with a Samsung tablet using the default Android browser (Internet) – neither  of which worked.

There was also an embarrassing gotcha in my presentation:

  • The response grids for my short-answer questions used an unreadably pale grey from the slideshow’s colour scheme; I should have tested the presentation first before delivering it. Mea maxima culpa…

One of the attractions of ResponseWare is that students without suitable mobile devices (or have run out of battery charge) can be given a clicker so they can still take part in the voting. The tutor just needs to bring a small number of clickers (enough for 10% of the cohort perhaps) as well as a USB receiver. This will work fine for multiple choice questions, but will not work for short-answer questions – and this may become an issue as tutors start to take advantage of the short-answer questions enabled by ResponseWare.

One of the participants asked whether requiring students to use their phones/tablets/laptops in sessions will simply encourage them to become distracted by Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat etc. etc. etc. My answer was that there are plenty of legitimate uses for such devices (such as notetaking or looking up references) and that we need students to develop the self-control to pay attention to their own learning as well as our teaching – especially if it has been made more engaging through the use of SRS and the pedagogic techniques they facilitate.

Nevertheless, this seems like a good place to repeat that link to to a post by Clay Shirkey which includes strong evidence against the use of laptops, tablets and phones in class, except when specifically requested by the tutor. He argues that they are a constant (and highly effective) form of distraction, and that multi-tasking interferes with learning: “Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.”

Perhaps academics need to devise educational approaches that require students to make effective use of their mobile devices, which scaffold and help model good practice while discouraging off-topic uses. I suspect that social (collaborative) learning will be at the heart of this since it is the lone (isolated) student who has the greatest motivation to get distracted by communicating with friends or browsing around something that seems more interesting than a didactic lecture.

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