Value of keypad learning is put to the test

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Gimmick or effective teaching tool? Douglas Blane weighs up the pros and cons of interactive voting systems

The jury is still out on interactive voting systems. They are valuable for contestants on television game shows who want to ask the audience. They are great fun for children who would rather press a button than use a pencil. But do they enhance learning in the classroom?

The answer, according to two teachers currently carrying out action research on IVS, is a tentative and qualified "Yes".

"It's a useful tool," says Ollie Bray, principal teacher of geography at Dunbar Grammar, East Lothian. "You get instant feedback from all the pupils, which lets you see if some haven't understood and responded appropriately. It would be nice though if you could do a little more than asking questions that only have YesNo or abcd answers."

Rebecca Anderson, who teaches Primary 7 at Davidson's Mains Primary in Edinburgh, feels the opportunities IVS offer for formative assessment are limited.

"It is summative assessment with closed questions. It's also time-consuming to prepare, although you do save time if you use it for tests as the kids'

answers are marked right away."

One positive finding from both teachers is that IVS improves motivation.

"Not only that, but we found a positive effect on attainment," says Mr Bray, who compared the performance of two S2 classes at the end of a sequence of six geography lessons.

"The class using Qwizdom performed significantly better. One reason, I believe, was that knowing they could be assessed at any moment meant they paid more attention during lessons."

Teething troubles with a new system have not diminished her pupils'

enthusiasm, says Ms Anderson, whose research has focused on the teaching of maths.

"We have been using it in every maths lesson since the start of this session," she says. "The children love the instant feedback and the data I get is very detailed and tells me where my teaching needs to go. It will also make it easier for me to split the class into groups according to whether they need help with place-value, times tables, decimals and so on."

Mr Bray is currently building interactive voting into all his lessons, but is not convinced that at current prices IVS is a worthwhile investment for a school.

"You would need to buy a set for each room, and for just a little more money you could buy laptops."

Ms Anderson has yet to explore all the possibilities of IVS, she says, and still has an open mind about its potential.

"In a normal lesson, if you ask questions or get someone to come up to the board, it's just one child at a time, and you don't know if the rest of the class is following. With IVS I get a response from the whole class and I can immediately call up a graph that shows all the kids' answers. I can see if they're following and can move on to the next concept or if some are confused and I need to recap."

University research has shown IVS to be useful in assessing a class's existing knowledge and misconceptions in science, and Ms Anderson's work has touched on this aspect in maths.

"At the beginning of the year it threw up those children who were having difficulty with place-value, and it showed common mistakes. It's still early days and it does take time to learn everything you can do with new technology. I expect to become more convinced of the value of IVS as the year goes on."

At Davidson's Mains Primary, the majority of her P7 pupils have made up their minds.

"It's more educational," says Liam. "It makes you want to listen."

"When you use them you think 'This is so cool'," says Rebecca. "But if you use paper it's like 'Maths again - boring.' " As questions appear on the whiteboard at the touch of a button on Ms Anderson's handset, the pupils type their answers and immediately get a tick or cross on their screen; then the teacher pulls up a bar-chart of the responses.

"That wrong answer was me," Rachel confesses at one point. "I'm rubbish at maths. But I really enjoy it when we use these."

But even among the pupils praise for IVS is not unstinting.

"After you enter the answer you can't change your mind," says Ryan. "So you can't really learn from your mistakes. With a pencil you can rub it out. I would rather use a pencil."

SETT Do Interactive Voting Systems Enhance the Learning Process? by Rebecca Anderson of Davidson's Mains Primary and Ollie Bray of Dunbar Grammar, Thursday, 1.45pm

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