Why is this important?
Active learning has been a key tenet of curriculum design and learning space design for several years. Approaches to teaching have evolved in response to evidence that techniques such as lecturing, in contexts where students are passive recipients of information, are highly ineffective.
Building in formative assessment opportunities greatly enhances the effectiveness of learning activities.
The use of quizzes delivered via mobile devices during lectures, is a common example.
Active engagement with learning resources
We tend to think of active learning as something that involves interaction with a teacher or with peers but engagement with learning resources also offers opportunity for learners to evaluate their own understanding.
Interactive questions embedded in online textbooks is an emerging area that has considerable potential for learning enhancement.
Even in the absence of sophisticated digital tools, teachers can include discussion points for example by linking the prompts to a discussion thread in material on the learning platform.
Research by Professor David Nicol at the University of Glasgow1 suggests we have previously focused too much on feedback comments, and the dialogue around them, as the main mechanism by which students evaluate the quality of their own work. He believes that comparison with learning resources can be equally valuable in building student capacity to plan, evaluate, develop and regulate their own learning.
"Importantly, this research helps move our thinking away from teacher comments as the main comparator to a scenario where the teacher’s role is to identify and select a range of suitable comparators and to plan for their use by students. Possible comparators are numerous and might include videos, information in journal articles or textbooks, peer works, rubrics and observations of others’ performance."
Professor David Nicol, University of Glasgow
Time to revise
An area that receives little attention in learning design is how students prepare themselves for summative assessment. What revision strategies do they employ and what resources do they use?
"Revision is an under emphasised area. It is a transition point where you make sense of what you studied and recode it in a way that enables you to answer questions. We need better revision materials and we need to allow students time to revise."
Simon Cross, Open University
The Open University, UK recognises this and carries out an annual survey on student experience of assessment, feedback and revision (SEFAR). It concludes that revision and examination represents a distinct phase of learning but it remains challenging to determine effective analytics for this phase that can help inform better learning design.
The most conclusive finding was that the use of sample papers for practice appears to improve exam question literacy. Conversely, lack of engagement with these resources could be a trigger that a student requires some targeted support2.
Some of the ways technology can help
The use of quizzes delivered via mobile devices during lectures, is a well-known example of formative testing. It can be used to check whether most students have grasped key concepts and allow the lecturer to adapt the session if further explanation is required.
Interactive questions embedded in online textbooks is a more recent development. Research shows this type of practice question can significantly enhance learning compared to straightforward reading of text
Video resources can be very engaging but difficult to navigate. Digital tools that help students bookmark and add notes to particular sections, foster active learning and aid revision.
Putting the principle into practice
The Doer Effect
Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests a causal relationship between students doing practice questions while reading and enhanced learning outcomes. This phenomenon, known as the ‘doer effect’ has been replicated in very large-scale studies in other US universities3. The studies show that formative practice enhances the learning effect by a factor of six compared to simple reading of the text.
The research findings are very clear. The main factor inhibiting embedding such practice questions in every online textbook is the work needed to generate the questions. A textbook for a semester long module may require hundreds or thousands of questions requiring both subject matter and question item authoring expertise.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a promising solution to this problem. A research study based on well over three quarters of a million student-question interactions showed no significant difference in the difficulty of, or student engagement with, questions written by subject matter experts and those generated using AI4.
Universities using Feedback Fruits software have access to a tool known as interactive presentation. The tutor can upload video content, such as a pre-recorded lecture, and lock specific moments in the timeline with practice questions.
Students have to answer these questions before they can continue to watch the rest of the video.
The teacher has access to an analytics dashboard to see which questions students struggle with.
Synote is an award-winning, open source application developed at the University of Southampton that makes video resources easier to access, search, manage and exploit.
Imagine trying to use a textbook that has no contents page, index or page numbers. Lengthy video recordings, such as recorded lectures, can be equally difficult for students to navigate.
Synote allows students to bookmark particular sections of a recording and associate their notes with the correct section. Students can also take live notes during lectures, using Twitter, on any mobile device then upload them into Synote so they can be synchronised with a recording of the lecture5.
- 1 Full article: The power of internal feedback: exploiting natural comparison processes (tandfonline.com) - https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02602938.2020.1823314
- 2 EduLearn2016_Cross et al_Does the Quality and Quantity of Exam Revision Impact on Student Satisfaction and Performance in the Exam Itself.pdf (open.ac.uk) - http://oro.open.ac.uk/46937/3/EduLearn2016_Cross%20et%20al_Does%20the%20...
- 3 The Doer Effect: Replicating Findings that Doing Causes Learning, ThinkMind(TM) Digital Library - https://www.thinkmind.org/index.php?view=article&articleid=elml_2021_1_1...
- 4 Transforming Textbooks into Learning by Doing Environments: An Evaluation of Textbook-Based Automatic Question Generation (pdf) - http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2895/paper06.pdf
- 5 Synote: Collaborative Mobile Learning for All | Elsevier Enhanced Reader - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050914000295