Dr Alessandro Narduzzo, a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, has recently been using Papershow to support a range of learning and teaching-related activities. Some of his reflections appear below.
I have recently used Papershow with students in a couple of tutorial group meetings (groups of 4) and in a problem class of a Year 1 unit of the Physics degree (a group of about 50). In both contexts, the new tool was introduced very informally, essentially by using it in front of the students for a couple of minutes.
The aims were to observe the students’ immediate response to the new tool first, and to establish whether the use of Papershow could lead to both an increase in active participation (engagement with the problem at hand) and an increase in cooperative exchange and discussion amongst students (peer interaction).
In the tutorials, I began solving a physics problem using Papershow, and then passed the optical pen and the paper pad on to a student asking for his/her contribution; at some point, I asked the student to pass the tool on to a colleague, and so on. I noticed the following:
- Excitement of students as to how Papershow actually works and an associated enjoyment at experimenting with the tool and trying to understand the physical basis of its operation;
- Excitement at seeing one’s writing on screen;
- Students feel writing on paper less daunting than writing on board, and volunteer contributions with much less hesitation or resistance;
- Students express keenness to use the tool/have a go at it;
- Playful element of the activity makes the fear of making mistakes felt less.
Within the large problem class the situation was slightly different: we set out to answer four questions together, each consisting of five small steps. I started off by solving the first problem, and asked the students to volunteer to solve the next three problems by contributing one step each and then pass the “baton” on to their neighbour. The second problem was effectively solved by the students, but when it came to move on to problem three, there was some hesitation: no one really wanted to get it going.
At that point, I took Papershow back and solved the new problem myself, asking the students to volunteer for the next problem: a volunteer came up, and the final problem was also solved by one more series of students. While I could detect similarities to how things went in the small tutorial, in the problem class there seemed to be a greater concern for the possibility of making a mistake in front of the larger cohort. Nonetheless, a large number of students contributed to solving the various parts of two out of four problems.
Not having to stand up in front of an audience, and not needing to speak extensively are aspects of the use of Papershow that appeal to students: many enjoy seeing their own workings displayed to the audience while being able to preserve “some degree of anonymity” by staying physically within the group. This expands the number of students willing to actively engage in the learning process. Students enjoy the freedom of writing, having the option of very quickly erasing any mistakes.
Papershow helped keeping students engaged and active during the problem class, with the solutions and answers coming out of students rather than from the lecturer, the latter acting more as guidance and “moderator” of a discovery than as the discloser. It also made the problem class interactive, the solutions stemming out of a collective effort, with immediate consideration and group discussion of difficulties and more obscure points.
I intend to specifically design activities and questions for problem classes that are optimally tailored for Papershow: several small steps that allow a large number of students to contribute, while always allowing for the option of opting out by simply passing on pen and pad.