Over the past two years Andreas Panayiotidis and George Masikunas have pioneered the deployment of Electronic Voting Systems (EVS) in first-year Business Information Systems and Marketing lectures at Kingston University. EVS allows students to respond to questions posed by the tutor during a lecture, via "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" type keypads. Statistics on the group's responses can then be displayed to the class via a data projection screen.
How does EVS work?
In order to run an electronic voting system, your classroom needs a data projection system; remote controls that allow students to respond to questions (for example "clickapads") and a digital receiver (for registering responses). Lectures employing EVS are typically split into "bite-sized" learning sequences. The lecturer poses a question at the beginning or end of each learning sequence. At Kingston University, Andreas experimented with asking a question before the corresponding material was taught; hence, students had to use their existing knowledge as a basis for answering the question. George did the opposite: first teaching the material and then asking the question.
Once a question has been posed by the tutor, small teams of students (4 - 7) are asked to work together to solve the problem; each group then submits their response by pressing the appropriate button on the "clickapad". Responses are compiled and the voting distribution plus the correct answer are displayed to the class via the data projection screen. At this point, the lecturer will typically comment on the solution and prompt further group discussion.
EVS-enhanced lectures can improve student learning in a number of ways. First, students get an immediate answer to the question posed; second, they benefit from the short discussion with the rest of the group, both prior to submitting their response and after viewing the solution; and third, they have the opportunity to see how the rest of the groups have voted, and how many groups were correct.
The general progress of the class is shown below:
The detailed EVS learning cycle is depicted in the next diagram:
The initiative was piloted in response to a number of perceived problems with the traditional face-to-face lecture format, particularly with large classes:
- a general lack of student engagement during lectures, both with the material presented, and with their peers
- large classes typically do not allow students an opportunity to present their opinion and to get immediate feedback
- there is little opportunity for lecturers to test the understanding of material before moving on to new material.
A particular challenge for student engagement in our institution is the diversity of cultural background in our student population. In some cultures, neither teamwork, nor competitiveness is promoted. Also, some of our students come from strict family backgrounds - "right" opinions are valued and "wrong" statements are discouraged; this can be an obstacle to active engagement in lectures. Finally, we have found first-year undergraduates can be rather lethargic during early morning lectures!
Is this a new or an old pedagogy? We argue that, although the technology is new, the general principle is not; it dates back to Socrates and his "dialectic" method of teaching, where students contributed constantly to the collaborative building of knowledge through question and answer. More recently, many teachers have used coloured, lettered or numbered cards for obtaining responses to questions posed during lessons.
The Buzz Factor: student satisfaction
Did the EVS-enhanced lectures create a "buzz factor"? We surveyed our students via questionnaires and focus group interviews, and a number of key themes emerged:
- students enjoyed learning this way (fun factor)
- working in small teams to solve problems promoted engagement with the subject matter
- students liked the instant feedback.
"It helped to discuss the question before it was answered that way we were able to argue and then have our questions answered. It made us think for ourselves which helps us to remember more."
Evidence from video-taped sessions also showed a high degree of student activity and involvement.
Interactivity and engagement factors: teacher satisfaction
Teachers were also positive towards the use of EVS for a number of reasons:
- they enjoyed the live participation and student engagement
- they derived job satisfaction from their students' increased motivation to learn within large groups
- they received instant feedback on student understanding of the newly taught material. This data could be analysed subsequent to the lecture
- they believe that interaction and teamwork are important aspects of the students' learning experience
- they found that using EVS helped to bring together nationalities and cultures.
Issues with EVS technology
Our research involved two different groups over a period of two years, using two different sets of equipment: The 2003/4 group used infra-red technology (PRS) and the 2004/5 group used wireless technology (PPVOTE). The cost of the PPVOTE system (32 "clickapads"; a base; a case; software and support) was around £4000 in 2004. The cost of the PRS system (110 "clickapads"; two infrared bases; software) was around £1500 in 2004. The equipment is expensive, and although there was no reason for stealing the remote controls, there were cases where they were not returned at the end of class. Finally, as well as the cost of the equipment, the time required to prepare questions and to incorporate them into the system also needs to be considered. Although PPVOTE is significantly more expensive than PRS, we found that the PPVOTE system had a number of advantages:
- students using PRS need to aim the remote control at a specific area in the classroom until the information is logged; those using PPVOTE just need to press a button once to log their response
- setting up the PRS system was more cumbersome and time consuming than for the PPVOTE system - this was a deterrent for lecturers who wished to use PRS
- PPVOTE is lighter and easier to carry around than PRS
- PPVOTE is fully integrated with PowerPoint and automatically incorporates compiled responses/voting distribution into the presentation. PRS, on the other hand, requires the lecturer to switch between PowerPoint and the PRS software, and to manually add data on responses to the presentation.
The deployment of EVS turned the lecture event into a "win-win" situation, for both students and lecturers. Our focus groups suggested that EVS might have wider applications, for example, it might be employed in canvassing opinions, speculation, socialisation, exploring innovative ideas, gaining a consensus, and tracking decisions from different groups of students on the same module or programme. We have found that group work during lectures assisted with EVS can be very successful and can add value to the students' learning experience. The students who worked with EVS have performed better overall than others have who did not. It is also evident that there was a sustained increase in these students' attendance at lectures. Is the above enough to justify the cost and effort involved in deploying EVS? It is obvious from our research results that students do improve their learning. The students who took part in the focus group sessions were positive about the experience, and have produced better final results.
Andreas Panayiotidis, Kingston University, firstname.lastname@example.org
George Masikunas, Kingston University, email@example.com