Methodological guidelines for practical testing of SRS

Use of online SRS in distance learning

SRS in a "nutshell".

The online Student Response System (SRS) is deigned for "speed". That is: easy, fast and flexible usage during training sessions in such a way that interaction and collaboration in class is enhanced. It has been a key issue to design a system that

  • may be used in a range of teaching and learning styles by use of students own PC/MAC, mobile devices or any combination of those
  • may be used together with any kind of software used by the teacher
  • merge into the storytelling of the teacher or the instructor
  • may be used "on the fly" if for instance a student provide an interesting and relevant question during a class session
  • provides teachers and students with instant feedback on learning effect in small as well as large student groups
  • may be used in distance teaching and onsite learning

Start up: when is the system started?
The teacher starts the system (may use his/her PC or MAC) and presents the session code at the start of the class period. The students then log on (it is a web-page) with the given code and receive confirmation that the iPod, iPhone, PC/MAC, laptop, Smartphone etc. are linked to the session when the message “please wait” appears.

The code is presented at the start of the class period in order to reduce time-loss later when the focus zeroes in on the quiz questions. The procedure takes approximately one minute and gives both teacher and students the important confirmation that everything is functioning as it should before teaching starts.

After this procedure the teacher starts teaching as usual.

When and how are the first quiz questions presented?
After approximately 20-30 minutes it is time to present the first quiz to the class. It is no mere coincidence that the first quiz question is posed at precisely this juncture. It is difficult, if not impossible, for students to pay attention right through a class period of 45 minutes. That is why the first quiz question is posed at a time when we know that students are beginning to lose their concentration. In an effort to rouse the students we therefore deliberately choose to present the first quiz question after approximately 20-30 minutes.

The teacher presents the quiz question by reading both the question and its alternative aloud to the students. If the question seems difficult, time is taken to explain what the question entails. The reason why both the question and its alternative are read aloud is to ensure that as many students as possible understand the question. Some students, for example, may have reading and writing difficulties and will have difficulty in grasping the question if they are to read it silently. Besides, it is more time-efficient that the teacher reads than letting the students read by themselves. When the teacher reads, the students read together with him/her and are then ready to begin working on the question immediately after its being presented by the teacher.

Choice of methods
There are many ways to use a response system, we have essentially separated between two methods, classic and peer instruction.

Use of SRS: Classical (one loop) versus Peer instruction (two loops)

Figure 1: Use of SRS: Classical (one loop) versus Peer instruction (two loops). The question is posed on the blackboard. After the first or second loop the teacher explains why the correct alternative is correct, and why the incorrect alternatives are incorrect. 

The classic methods works as follow:

  1. During the training session the students are asked a quiz question related to the topic being taught about.
  2. Students are given a few minutes to discuss the question and its alternatives in small groups (about 3-4 groups per group). 
  3. They vote individually using an iPod
  4. After the vote is closed, response distribution is shown to the students. The teacher goes through the various alternatives, highlights the correct one and explains why it is correct and why the other alternatives then are less correct or incorrect.

The peer instruction method has the following steps:

  1. During the training session the students are asked a quiz question related to the topic being taught about.
  2. Students are given one minute to work with the quiz question individually
  3. They vote individually using an iPod
  4. Students are then given a couple of minutes to discuss the quiz question in small groups a few minutes (about 3-4 groups per group). 
  5. Before they vote again
  6. After the second vote is closed, two response distributions are shown to the students. The teacher goes through the various alternatives, highlights the correct one and explains why it is correct and why the other alternatives then are less correct or incorrect.

The differences between classic and peer instruction:

Classic

  1. Quiz question
  2. Group discussion
  3. Individual voting
  4. Closure: thoroughly explanation after the voting session             

Peer instruction

  1. Quiz question
  2. Individual work
  3. Individual voting
  4. Group discussion
  5. Individual voting
  6. Closure: thoroughly  explanation after the voting session

The key difference between these methods is the number of votes per quiz. By the use of peer instruction, students are able to work with quiz questions on their own, take a stand and vote, before they go into the group discussions. In the classic method they begin to discuss as soon as they have been presented for the question.

Small group discussions
Regardless of method, the teacher can encourage the students to discuss the quiz question and its alternative in small groups for a couple of minutes. Time is not spent in placing the students in groups; they discuss with the person/s beside them. The group discussion gives the students a chance to be more involved in the actual teaching, as well as enabling them to learn from one another by hearing other students’ opinions and arguments. Experience shows that students profit subject-wise from discussions. Students are given the chance to learn from each other and to be more active in class.

Polling with a timer and a clock
Before the voting begins the teacher must decide whether the voting is to be with a timer and the chime of a clock, and whether the results are to appear automatically. All of these measures are recommended. The timer is set to 30 seconds, but can be adjusted when necessary. The iPods use up to five seconds in uploading the alternatives. 

Our experience has been that both the timer and the chime of the clock are essential in order to create order in the classroom during the polling. They remind the students that they have to vote. When the chime of the clock is heard the students know that they have got 30 seconds to give their vote. After the group discussions the students may be very involved and animated. The chiming of the clock and the time-pressure exerted by the timer help the students to become quiet and get them to focus on the board and the coming results.   

A last check routine before the polling: “Please wait”
Right before the teacher starts the polling, he/she asks the students if “Please wait” has appeared on their iPod or mobile device. (The iPod quickly assumes slumber mode.) In order to receive the alternative answers and to participate in the voting students must have this page open.

Teachers’ explanations afterwards: where learning is involved
When the polling closes the results appear automatically. The teacher then goes through the results, highlights the correct alternative and explains thoroughly why the various alternatives are correct or not. 

As regards learning by the students, this is the most important stage concerning the use of SRS.  If the teacher simply chooses to point out the correct answer and then continues on, the students’ experience of learning is minimal. If the teacher on the other hand chooses to elaborate on the different alternative answers and explains why these alternatives are right or wrong, the students’ experience of learning increases considerably. In many ways this stage is about giving all students a possibility to learn, not just those who have answered correctly. 

Another twist: encourage class discussion:
Instead of the teacher immediately commenting on the response distribution, it may be beneficial to encourage students to comment on their answers aloud to the class. This gives the students an opportunity to discuss the topic with other students and can lead to a larger and constructive discussion among students.

This session must not replace teacher's explanation, but be a supplement. The teacher should have the last word and explain why the various alternatives are correct or incorrect. 

Then what happens?
After this, teaching proceeds as usual. The whole procedure – from the time when the question is posed, the students discussion, the voting itself and the teacher’s explanation afterwards – usually takes no more than five minutes.

It is important to emphasize the fact that our starting point regarding the use of SRS has been ordinary teaching. During a teaching period that lasts 45 minutes we never present more than a maximum of two quiz questions. The use of SRS has not, for us, been about filling a class period with quiz questions. Rather it is about using the technology to give students a much desired break in which they get the opportunity to think for themselves, use their knowledge, and discuss and take part in a vote which again gives them concrete feedback on their own learning. Our goal has never been to turn the way teachers teach upside-down, but to try to make ordinary teaching more interactive.

Technical requirements for the wireless network when using the SRS
If you're going to use an exisiting wireless network with the SRS, the following checklist should be completed in collaboration with your network administrators to ensure that the wireless network can handle the data traffic generated by the SRS.

  • Number of concurrent connections: the maximum number of concurrent connections on the wireless access points must be consistent with the number of SRS users (i.e. the number of wireless voting devices). For example: in in auditorium with 150 seats, the number of allowed concurrent connections should be around 170-200, allowing some overhead.
  • Bandwidth requirements: SRS data traffic has a maximum bandwidth of about 40 kbit/s per voting device. With e.g. 100 concurrent connections, the bandwidth requirement is 100 x 40 kbit/s = 4000 kbit/s = 4 Mbit/s.
  • Network security policies: your institution's network administrators may have to relax their wireless network security policies slightly. Mobile voting devices such as mobile phones etc. frequently enter sleep mode, and are thus constantly connecting/disconnecting to the network. Some network security policies interpret such behavior as a network intrusion attempt, and therefore block the units from accessing the network.
  • Setting up a reserved network: preferably, a reserved wireless network should be set up to serve SRS data traffic. This does NOT involve installing additional physical access points - it's merely a case of configuring a new SSID with a more relaxed security policy and sufficient number of connections. A MAC filter should be set on this network so that only registered units are allowed to access it (the students would have to register the MAC addresses of their mobile units to gain access)
  • The DHCP server: the wireless network's DHCP server (which assigns IP addresses to the mobile units) has to be able to handle the number of voting devices involved. Note: this is an additoinal requirement to the number of concurrent connections. Even though the access points allows e.g. 200 units to connect, the DHCP server may not be able to handle such a large number of requests

                   

  

In order to obtain the first introduction and impression of the SRS prototype, please go through these bullet points: 

If you want to test SRS in your class, please register for further usage of SRS                                                                                                    . 

SRS 2.0, PELE 1.5, Eval 1.0 and iLike 1.0 are available for use.