February 23, 2008, by Teaching at Nottingham

Using student response systems to improve interaction in lectures

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Andrew Fisher, Philosophy: “Before, I was doing showing of hands in my modules, which is OK, but people are reticent sometimes to be seen, especially if the subject is quite controversial. So if I asked about fox hunting and there’s one person who thinks its OK they’re less likely to put their hands up.

“But interactive handsets, the student response units, they give the students a chance to be anonymous and show what they think, and one thing I used it for was to get to play off responses. So it directly ties into the interaction, I think that’s really important and gets them involved.”

Extract from lecture

Andrew: “OK, so to start with I want to get a sense of what you believe about the issue of what our obligations are in terms of giving money to charity. So today we’re looking at what philosophers have got to say and what they ought to say about how we approach the issue of poverty, world famine, and these sort of issues.

“So the first thing I want to do is ask you some questions. I’m going to put the slides up, with the graphs on, and you’ve got to press your buttons. Tell me. So the first question I’m going to ask then is, this statement actually, and you’ve got to decide which one, you agree, or whatever. “Only the morally heartless would refuse to help the starving”. Do you strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree or strongly disagree? So, press your buttons and let’s see what you think.

“OK that’s an interesting display. So 43% of you, just under half, would agree that only the morally heartless would refuse to help the starving. I wonder what you actually do, and how you react to all these pleas for charity and stuff. Only 5% neutral and 35% disagree. The people in the disagree and strongly disagree camp, you’re going to be directly challenged by today’s lecture because I’m going to outline an argument from Peter Singer that says we are all morally obliged to give money to charity. In fact the notion of charity should be jettisoned.”


Interviewer: “So do you think you get more contributions from the students in that setting, having used the interactive handsets, than without?”

Andrew: “Yep, I think so. I think it gives them something to visualise as well. They can see their vote in that bar graph and say “Ah right, now I’ve committed to that, and what am I going to say on that? And why did I?” And rather than just being passive and just listening, they have to really think about what they’re going to do and why they’re going to vote how they vote and things like that, and it’s fun as well.”

Interviewer: “Have you had any feedback from the students on your using these interactive handsets?”

Andrew: “Yes, it’s been positive. One of my first slides was ‘Is using student handsets a waste of time?’ and I got them to vote – strange parallels there. I think 90% said they were great, and on the response forms from the feedback they’ve had ‘This is great’, ‘This is really interactive’, ‘This is fun’, ‘It makes me want to come to the lectures’, these sort of things.

“A few people said, a cynic of course you always get these people ‘Oh, it’s not Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, and ‘It’s a gimmick’, but that’s 1 or 2% of people if that. It was minimal but because I was, I mean, I think the main thing I wasn’t just driving this through at the expense of teaching and all this stuff. I wanted to really get better at teaching and get more interaction and actually it has helped so, yes, definitely the students like it.”

Andrew Fisher
School of Humanities

Andrew is lecturing on a first/second year module on Applied Ethics (V7AAPE) to approximately 40 students in the Clive Granger building. Produced February 2008.
This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

Posted in Curriculum designInclusive teachingLecturesTeaching