There is a basic problem with human communication: We can never know how our message will be interpreted, and sometimes the message doesn’t come across at all. This is especially true when it comes to education. When I start my career as a teacher, how can I make sure my students grasp what I am trying to teach? The answer is interaction with the students.
Me and a classmate have - as part of writing our masters thesis - investigated how Mentimeter can be used to promote conceptual understanding in mathematics by making the learning process more interactive. We have done this by developing six math templates in iterative cycles of design and redesign. Also we had six teachers test one of the templates in their classroom to get an idea of their experience using the template. In this blog post, we will describe how Mentimeter can be used to make learning more interactive using the theory of formative assessment.
There are (at least) two important reasons for why interaction is crucial for learning. The first reason why interaction is so important is because it enables an instructor to present information that is neither too difficult nor too easy for the group's current level of understanding and competence. The only way for me as an educator to know if a group understands what I’m trying to teach is by interacting with them. Only then am I able to adjust the content I’m presenting so it fits my students needs and current level of competence.
The other reason why interaction is key is because this is how we actually learn stuff. We learn by doing. By discussing, by having to choose, when formulating ideas and questions and so on. This is the reason why taking notes and highlighting text is much more efficient than just reading to remember and process information. It forces us to act, to choose and construct things for ourselves. So by making students interact, we also force them to reproduce and articulate knowledge which is an integral part of learning.
So how can we do this in practice and what didactical theories exist to make learning more interactive? Increasing interaction lies at the heart of perhaps the most influential learning theory of the 21st century: Formative Assessment. Formative assessment is at its core about how to increase student responses, and making sure these responses are used by the learner, the teacher and peers to move forward in the learning process. Five key strategies have been formulated to make the theory more applicable and easy to use in a classroom and we found in our study that Mentimeter indeed can be a great tool for enabling each of these strategies for formative assessment. Below we will present how Mentimeter can be used to enable each of the five key strategies, and how the teachers who were part of the study experienced the math templates.
To clarify the goal of a learning activity and why it is important can lead to higher motivation among students. Research has found that learning goals oftentimes are dealt with in a superficial manner. In order for it to be a resource for students, a more thorough approach is needed. One way of introducing learning goals to students with a more interactive approach is to invite the students to participate in the process of formulating learning goals.
What we found in our study was that learning goals can vary a lot in character depending on the subject, and that learning goals in mathematics are quite special in comparison. We found that teachers and students found written learning goals far too abstract to be useful. To tackle this challenge we redesigned the templates so that instead of learning goals, every template starts with a specific ”criteria for success” which is an action based goal of what the students are anticipated to succeed in doing by the end of the lesson. The teachers in our study found it useful to wrap up a lesson by reconnecting to the “criteria for success” from the beginning by asking an open ended or multiple choice question. This approach can make the learning more visible to students.
To investigate students' current level of understanding is a fundamental strategy for teaching. Without activities that elicit evidence of learning the teacher won’t know if the students understand what is being taught. The most common way to do this is by posing questions to the entire class where the most ambitious students raise their hands answering fact-like questions. Even with a teacher that is skilled at letting all students be heard, the problem still exists that a teacher can only interact with one person at a time.
Here technology in general and Mentimeter in particular can offer an innovative solution to the problem that really hasn’t been around for very long. The teachers in our study experienced that the functionality in Mentimeter could be used to ”take the temperature” of the collective level of knowledge in the classroom which enabled the teachers to slow down if the majority of the class hadn’t grasped an important concept. Also, the teachers experienced that the questions posed in the math template sparked interesting mathematical discussions among the students when discussing which of the multiple choice alternatives might be correct. Our interpretation was that part of Mentimeters' success in eliciting student responses could be attributed to the fact that the responses are anonymous which means that students don’t have to fear being embarrassed about having the “wrong” idea. This idea has also been presented in previous research.
Without feedback it is impossible for a student to know if he or she is progressing toward the desired learning outcome. Research has shown that feedback should be forward-looking, concrete, task oriented and have the right timing in order to be effective. Feedback does of course also look quite different in different subjects. What we found in our study was that Mentimeter can be used to give instantaneous feedback in the form of right or wrong, which in mathematics is especially important. This information can reveal misconceptions or tell the learner that she is on the right path. The teachers in our study expressed that Mentimeter can provide feedback in a completely different and quicker way than old textbooks, which they believed to be a great strength.
This strategy can help unburden the teacher in learning situations where the students might as well be teaching each other. Also, one of the most effective ways of remembering something is having to teach someone else. By activating the students as learning resources for their peers they can also become more involved in their own learning.
One of the most significant findings of our study was that the questions in the math template sparked discussions that were very appreciated both by the students and by the participating teachers. In the supporting content for the modules we recommend a ”think pair share” approach which means that the student first should submit their answer, then discuss in pairs and lastly have a discussion in the whole class led by the teacher. This was shown to be a good way to make everyone engaged, even those who usually didn’t share their thoughts and ideas.
Even if a teacher does everything right and has the perfect pedagogy, it is still the student that needs to take responsibility for his or her learning. This strategy is all about getting the student to reflect on what knowledge he or she has, and what knowledge is lacking. Another way of describing this process is that students should develop ”metacognition” about the learning process.
The teachers in our study experienced that the template had made the learning more visible for the students which made it possible for the students to choose content that better suited their current level of knowledge. Also, the discussions that were sparked during the multiple choice questions were experienced by the teachers as a great way to clarify misconceptions and make the students better at judging their strengths and weaknesses.
So in conclusion, the teachers in our study were able to use Mentimeter as something that enabled formative assessment. We believe this to be a really promising finding since formative assessment as a theory has been criticised for lacking concrete ways of implementation. Also, many teachers have expressed challenges with translating the theory to an easy-to-use classroom intervention. However, we found in our study that some of the teachers who thought of the template as something that could be responsible for the students’ learning by itself did not see it as something that enabled formative assessment. Therefore, one of our most important conclusions is that Mentimeter can enable formative assessment, but only if it is used in conjunction with the teacher's existing expertise.