Using technology to enable active engagement with content in a large lecture.
I have recently presented the paper “Enabling backchannel communication between a lecturer and a large group” at the SEFI 2014 conference in Birmingham. That paper is based on work that I have done with two colleagues – the instructor of a large lecture, and the teaching assistant at the time.
Now if oceanographers hear something about “large lectures”, they typically envision a couple dozen students. In this case, it was a couple of hundred students in a lecture theatre that sits about 700.
When sitting in on the class last year, I noticed that there were a lot of questions that students were discussing around me that never made it to the instructor’s attention. This is not very surprising given the large number of students and that there were only two instructors in the room. But when talking about it afterwards, we decided that we wanted to find a way to channel student questions to make sure they reached the instructor. The “backchannel” was born.
We met up to discuss our options. It became clear very quickly that even though there are a lot of nice methods out there to invite feedback of the sort we wanted (for example through “muddiest point” feedback), this was not feasible with the number of students we were dealing with. So instead we decided to go for an online solution.
Twitter has been propagated for use in instruction for a while, and there are many other tools out there that enable backchannel communication. But we realized that we had very specific requirements which none of the existing tools were meeting simultaneously:
- anonymous communication, to keep the threshold as low as possible
- no special hardware or software requirements
- easy to use
- communication student to instructor, but not student-student
- possibility of moderation