Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

Topic: Enagagement

An Experiment with Social Media

📥  Apps, Co-Design, Enagagement, Feedback, Peer Learning, Social Learning Network

Introduction

Study-Space is a Social Media/eFeedback type of app that I built which has been designed and coded in collaboration with students.  The idea was conceived about 18 months ago as a way to overcome some of the issues encountered with mainstream Social Media.

This blog represents the one year milestone since the app was first piloted, and is an opportunity for me to pause to review the impact and collate some of the comments from students and academics.  A total of some 600 undergraduates across the university have used the app, with some excellent feedback and evaluation results from students.

There has been significant interest both internally and externally. As a result, we are currently looking at extending the app for use by researchers, and for use at other institutions.

The first pilot commenced in March 2016 in the department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Since that time it has been used on a number of programme units across the university. Evaluation data is very positive, and there is strong agreement from students that the app serves as a complement to the materials on Moodle. Recently, the app has been used with Staff-Student Liaison committees, and we have just commenced trials with virtual spaces for groups of Postgraduate Research students. It is also being considered for use on high-profile courses such as the Executive MBA in the School of Management.

The app provides for virtual, semi-formal spaces where students and teaching staff can interact inside and outside the classroom. Available for iOS/Android/Web it is only available from the in-house app store (you won't find it on the global app-stores), and is an app that offers a safe space that provides two layers of protection for students:

  • Privacy - data is internal to the university. This is crucial for students because it does not impact on their mainstream digital identity
  • Anonymity - students are able to post questions without judgement by their peers.
The app provides a safe virtual space for teaching and learning

The app provides a safe virtual space for teaching and learning

A Student Viewpoint

Toby Barrat is a final year undergraduate who has coded parts of the app, and also used the app for study on a programme unit:

Developing Study-Space has really helped to open my eyes to the potential that lies in the app, and the wider benefits of improving student engagement in higher education. Study-Space acts as a semi-formal conversation facilitator between students and academics which can help make the learning process more efficient for all involved.

From a student perspective, the forums developing on the app reflect opportunities to gain answers to the questions you have, but also to the questions you wish you had. The anonymity removes the fear of asking questions which could be perceived as being simple, but also gives the chance to give honest feedback about your level of understanding.

On the academic side, conversations on the app can be used to tailor revision and problem sessions in the areas that are needed. In my opinion, the most exciting element of Study-Space is its ability to engage students in peer to peer learning, and I personally have benefited from a question asked and answered exclusively by students in the app; the exchange reminded me of something which ended up being in the exam, and I no doubt gained marks because of it. Study-Space acts as an extra tool to be used alongside the systems we have in place at the University, such as Moodle and Samis, and adds functionality in areas which are lacking in the current arrangement. It would have been great if I had had the opportunity to use Study-Space during my 5 years at the University.

Academics' Viewpoint

John Chew, Department of Chemical Engineering:

I have always been a firm believer of active learning and teaching. I started using the Study-Space App in two of the units that I teach this Semester. The students and I feel that the App allowed and encouraged staff-student and student-student interactions inside and outside of lectures in a simple but effective way. I have now decided to use it in all the units that I teach.

Dr Steve Cayzer, Department of Mechanical Engineering

I used Study-Space to promote student engagement on my MSc programme. I was impressed by how easy it was to post up questions and polls, gathering quick and anonymous feedback. I designed an agile workshop around the app, challenging students to discuss and propose high value change requests. I invited Keith to discuss the results with the students; the result was a highly interactive, deeply immersive learning experience for the students, also yielding valuable insights for Study-Space development.

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Department of Chemical Engineering:

I believe that Study-Space is a brilliant platform to engage with  students and to allow them to interact to each others. I use it to ask them for feedback , to test their knowledge with a quiz, to clarify some aspects of my lectures, to post useful links and references or simply as a question/answers tool. I can see that the students like Study-Space by their level of engagement with it and by their positive comments during informal chats. By using Study-Space I do not need any longer to reply to lots of individual emails. Often students have the same kind of questions, which on Study-Space can be replied once and in such a way that everyone can read it! The app is of clear benefit to the students during both teaching time and revision.

I am currently using this app for three modules during the current academic year and I believe I'll keep using it in the next academic year.

Dr Felia Allum, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies:

Study Space has added a new, extra and exciting dimension to my teaching as I seek to make my teaching more interactive, but in reality it has complimented it perfectly. It has given students and lecturers alike, a new and virtual way of engaging among peers and teaching; a constant, interactive and engaging form of communication in class but also during the week in preparation before class.

Recently, I have developed active learning in one of my 4th yr units. The whole unit is dedicated to students studying Italian mafias and designing their own student led role-play. This experimental teaching and learning approach moves away from traditional forms of teaching to enabling students to engage and learn in different, more stimulating ways. It was unclear to me how technology could help me in this. However, Study-Space has been the most appropriate app that has accompanied me in the development of this new way/format of teaching. Study-Space has been the perfect forum for this process, inside and outside of the class-room.

Dr Albert Bolhuis, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

As convenor for PA20024, the Study-Space app has provided a convenient way to engage with students outside of lectures, and enables staff to monitor how well students have understood the material that was taught. The app is easy to use and the workload is minimal. Importantly, students are not only asking, but also answering questions that have been posted, and the app thus facilitates a lively peer support community for the unit.

Dr Julie Letchford, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

As an academic delivering lectures, practicals and workshops on this unit, I’m always keen to obtain student feedback. The voting element built into this App provides a really useful way of easily achieving this immediately after the session.

Summary

The app started as an experiment based on previous attempts using main-stream Social Media for teaching and learning. By providing two layers of privacy for users, the app that we built seems to have overcome the barriers, and has struck a chord with both students and academics. It represents a platform that augments and complements our VLE by providing safe and secure social channels to enable peer learning both inside and outside the classroom.

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Student Co-Design using Agile

📥  Agile, Apps, Co-Design, Enagagement, social media, Software Development

Following an invitation from Dr Steve Cazyer, Director of Studies, I was involved with a session for the MSc Innovation and Technology Management. This involved some 30 international students studying the programme unit 'Managing Product Development'.

For me, it was an opportunity to find out the features that I should incorporate into the next version of Study-Space which is an enterprise app that is currently being developed and trialed at the university (including Steve's unit) and which shows some promise as a collaborative learning environment or Social Learning Network (SLN). For the students, it was an opportunity to engage and learn about Agile Software development using an authentic real-world example.

Part of the session involved an activity where the students as 'clients' were required to produce a list of enhancements for the app, which they prioritise and pass to the developer (that's me).

agile-students3
The results for each group reveal some really interesting ideas, such as the facility to upload study material to the app, and discussion boards. I never really expected these! Anyway, pulling these ideas together, Steve facilitated a vote for the top priorities from the entire group, which indicates that the facility to add pictures is the most requested enhancement:

agile-prioritiesI will be taking these ideas forward with the Study-Space development team which comprises of a small group of students that are currently developing the specification and coding the next version. So far,  the 'ground-up' approach seems to be working exceptionally well. The ethos is very much around the idea of 'An App developed by Students for Students'.

Many thanks to Steve Cayzer and the vibrant bunch of students enrolled on ME50236 who were full of creative energy and a joy to work with!

agile-students1

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Using Technology for Engagement and Feedback

📥  Apps, Community, Enagagement, Feedback, Mobile, social media, student, Technology

On 5th November I ran a session for student Academic Reps about the technology for engaging with students and finding a way to obtain comments that can be used to feedback to the Staff Student Liason Committees (SSLC). Although my presentation did focus on some technologies, the take-home message was that it isn't really about the tech: It is about being proactive and forming a community where people are comfortable to feedback their concerns.

 

However, although comminity it key, it is important to select an appropriate technology. Especially with regards to privacy. This is probably not an area where main-stream Social Media is appropriate. Putting myself in the shoes of a student, some questions come to mind:

  • Would I be comfortable with posting my personal thoughts and comments on media that is publicly viewable?
  • Can I trust the privacy statements of the vendors? (Is it really private?)
  • Even if I can satisfy myself that posts are private now, will the privacy policy change in the future? (And do I have any control over this?). See WhatsApp warned over Facebook data share deal

Personally, I wouldn't trust Facebook or Twitter, or any of the mainstream social media channels.

Another privacy issue is related to the reputation of the university, and the public exposure of students' comments. It really isn't appropriate to publish these on-line on a public site, or on mainstream social media. Especially because the comments could be incorrect, malicious or misconstrued.

I would say it is far better to host the technology on private systems that are internal to the university. This, combined with a provision to post anonymously, provides a 'walled garden' where all the issues around privacy are eliminated, and which provides a safe environment for users.

However, the availability and suitability of such an internal system may be a challenge.

Study-Space

Study-Space is an app that I first started to build in September 2015, and which is currently undergoing small-scale trials at the university. Primarily designed for social or collaborative learning, the system is internal to the university and private to each student cohort where it is used. It also allows students to post anonymously, and a few months ago I realised that it is also a good match for collecting student feedback data for SSLCs.

So, at the end of October, the app was tried with two SSLC channels - one for MPharm first year students,and the other for Pharmacology first year students. So far, one channel has received a single post, but the other had many. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the academic year.

Unfortunately, I can't show the results from the live SSLC channels because it is private! However, I did use Study-Space during the session with Academic Reps. The result was that 18 of the 24 Reps installed the ios/Android app, or used the web-app. The results from the interactive session are shown below.

The Next Step

An undergraduate coder has recently commenced work on 'the SSLC App'.  Although loosely based on the Study-Space app, the next step is to look at requirements and find out what is needed in terms of the type of data that should be collected, and the data visualisations required.

 

ss-acad-reps-1

The Study-Space app was used interactively during the session

 

ss-acad-reps-2

The app can also be used as an Audience Response System. In this example, the question asked was 'Could you use this app for your SSLC?'

 

ss-acad-reps-3

The Voting Competition reveals that Study-Space and Panopto were the top-voted answers to the prompt 'Please post any ideas you have for exploiting technology for engagement and feedback. '

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