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Building Student Confidence with TurningPoint Mobile

Mobile responding capabilities open the door to boost student confidence in an active learning environment.


To offer a challenging and rewarding education in geography undergraduate level, academic staff with the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter in Exeter, England, advocate a truly active learning approach. Any technological investment made must support this strategy and the learning needs of all students, from the day they join the institution, to the day they graduate.
Following years using Turning Technologies' student response clickers, Dr. Damien Mansell, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography was amongst the university’s eLearning Team who procured TurningPoint Mobile as part of the college’s Technology Enabled Learning (TEL) approach. The university has now invested in a site license to use institution-wide. 

"The clickers were great, however, handing them out and collecting them in for each session takes time, so we were keen to procure a new solution," said Dr. Mansell. "Unlike response devices, which are limited to alphanumeric responses, TurningPoint's mobile responding option also allows students to give free-form text responses on their own wifi-enabled device – smart-phone, iPad, or laptop which is invaluable for lecture feedback.”
What is the key to truly active learning and getting students participating in debate and discussion? Dr. Mansell believes anonymity is paramount, particularly with the new intake of students each year. “At the start of the academic year, lecturers could be addressing as many as 250 students at any one time. You’re dealing with a huge group of people who don’t know each other and are fresh into the lecture environment, so it is our job as academics to provide the right learning environment for them to grow in confidence and feel able to share their opinions.” 
Used in anonymous mode, mobile responding enables lecturers to pose questions to an entire lecture theatre and gather honest feedback from every student, something that Dr. Mansell says could not be achieved with a request for raised hands. “Initially, putting your head about the parapet is extremely daunting, particularly if it relates to a lack of understanding on the student’s part. Sharing views and answers via mobile responding helps to build confidence from the very start.”
Dr. Mansell uses mobile response technology to achieve the right balance between traditional lecturing and active learning, breaking his lectures up with discussion sessions with the students. “Reflection is such an important part of the learning process,” says Dr. Mansell. “I use mobile responding to pose the right questions; ones that encourage discussion and reflection on the course material. As much as its important for me to glean an understanding of how much students have taken on board, it’s more important that students have the chance to stop and draw on the theory we’ve been discussing and critically analyse key points.”
Understanding  applied mathematical equations forms a component of the physical geography as a discipline, however, Dr. Mansell recognizes that some students don’t have a strong maths background, and so uses mobile responding to poll the answers. “I rarely show an equation without allowing students to poll an answer. I provide the variables, ask them to calculate and choose from a range of different answers.  If I didn’t do this, I’d lose engagement from many students, which defies the object of the lecture,” he adds.
Feedback from students has been very positive. “Students like to know whether their colleagues understand a certain topic or whether their peers agree with a certain point I’ve made. Being able to see the entire group’s responses instantaneously on their devices often sparks new debate, surprised discussion and most importantly, sees individuals grow in confidence.”
Students also see our active learning sessions as a real incentive to attend lectures. “While we use lecture capture technology for those that cannot attend on a day, we do not record active discussions facilitated by mobile response technology. I feel this is important for retaining the anonymity that drives student engagement and is an added benefit to those that turn up to learn” says Dr. Mansell.
Dr. Mansell adds: “At Exeter, we firmly believe that the learning environment should support the construction of knowledge rather than simply acquiring knowledge. It’s no longer acceptable to come along to a lecture and simply listen, students need those moments of reflection to build upon their knowledge”. 
During ‘flipped classrooms’, Dr. Mansell uses mobile responding firstly to ascertain whether the group has engaged in the pre-seminar materials. “Whilst there is an expectation that every student will have read over and thought about the content before the day, the reality is often different. Asking for a show of hands, results in some students not raising their hand either because they haven’t done the work or they simply don’t want to show others they have. There is no easy way of abstaining with these traditional polling interaction. However, using mobile responding, I get a much more honest view of my class,” he states. If 95% of students have engaged pre-seminar, it changes the expectations of the questions he’ll need to set throughout the discussion However, if only 50% have engaged, he turns the session on its head, developing the understanding of everyone by the prepared 50% discussing the material with the other students in a peer learning environment.

Dr. Mansell has some top advice for other higher education institutions starting out with mobile responding:?
  • Do not overdo it – it’s better to have fewer slides and spend longer on the response rather than turn your session in to a survey. Spend time reflecting on student outcomes and don’t be afraid to re-poll questions during the session. 
  • Do not be afraid to deviate – by all means pre-populate slides, but you’ve got to go with the flow of the lecture. ResponseWare is flexible and easy to use so do edit your questioning to fit discussion. 
  • Emphasise the responsibility of the session – the success of the session is no longer all on the lecturer, it is on the engagement of the class. Students have a responsibility to engage in the material and be prepared to discuss the outcomes.

Wider uses for TurningPoint Mobile at the University of Exeter:

Personalized revision sessions: During revision sessions, students use mobile responding to select their preferred options from lists of exam questions. This enables the lecturer to go with the majority vote and tailor each revision class to the needs of those particular students. 

Staff meetings across multiple sites: When staff across multiple sites meet ‘virtually’, mobile responding is used to facilitate discussion and debate. Utilizing a wi-fi connection, every member of staff can get involved in polls and discussion, regardless of their location on campus.
Click here to watch Dr. Damien Mansell discuss TurningPoint Mobile.