Every teacher’s class starts with only a handful regularly contributing. But when difficult subject matter makes many too bashful to join in, student response systems can shine.
An article in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Technologies in Learning studied use of bring your own device (BYOD) in the Human Sexuality undergraduate elective at Dalhousie University (pictured above). The authors aimed to learn whether student experience changed by using devices to contribute, and their relation to student engagement with the course material.
Using survey data collected across three semesters and 1,100 students, they found BYOD succeeded in promoting undergraduate engagement, including by making students more comfortable with the course material.
According to co-author Dr. Matthew Numer, Assistant Professor at Dalhousie University, students said they were able to speak without “outing” themselves in a large classroom. Fellow author, instructor Becky Spencer, agreed. “In a class about human sexuality, with 400 students, it’s both logistically challenging and sensitive to allow students to be able to take part and contribute their views,” Spencer said. “They frequently noted this as a benefit during the study.”
Students used the Top Hat app to answer instructor questions on their own personal devices, and to contribute to forum discussion in class.
One undergraduate interviewed in a post-course focus group said: “I think it makes people more comfortable to be able to answer freely without having to raise their hand.” Another added: “I thought this was the most engaging course I have ever been in… The environment of the class allowed for students to be open about their opinions.”
And when students can engage with the class and each other, their analysis of the subject improves. “An opportunity to engage at a deeper level enables critical thinking,” said Dr. Numer. “Together with all the measurements we did, it was very evident that students increased critical thinking skills through Top Hat and the course more broadly.”