Tag Archives: practice

New projects for me at Heriot-Watt

Understanding large numbers in context, an exercise with socrative

I came across an exercise that aimed to demonstrate that numbers are easier to understand when broken  down and put into context, it’s one of a number of really useful resources for the general public, journalists and teachers from the Royal Statistical Society. The idea is that large numbers associated with important government budgets–you know, a few billion here, a few billion there, pretty soon you’re dealing with large numbers–but such large numbers are difficult to get our heads around, whereas the same number expressed in a more familiar context, e.g. a person’s annual or weekly budget, should be easy to understand.  I wondered whether that exercise would work as an in-class exercise using socrative,–it’s the sort of thing that might be a relevant ice breaker for a critical thinking course that I teach.

A brief aside: Socrative is a free online student response system which “lets teachers engage and assess their students with educational activities on tablets, laptops and smartphones”. The teacher writes some multiple choice or short-response questions for students to answer, normally in-class. I’ve used it in some classes and students seem to appreciate the opportunity to think and reflect on what they’ve been learning; I find it useful in establishing a dialogue which reflects the response from the class as a whole, not just one or two students.

I put the questions from the Royal Stats. Soc. into socrative as multiple choice questions, with no feedback on whether the answer was right or wrong except for the final question, just some linking text to explain what I was asking about. I left it running in “student-paced” mode and asked friends on facebook to try it out over the next few days. Here’s a run through what they saw:

Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:54:19Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:55:13Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:55:52Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:56:40Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:58:46Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:59:21

 

Socrative lets you download the results as a spreadsheet showing the responses from each person to each question. A useful way to visualise the responses is as a sankey diagram:
sankeymatic_1200x1000 (1)

[I created that diagram with sankeymatic. It was quite painless, though I could have been more intelligent in how I got from the raw responses to the input format required.]

So did it work? What I was hoping to see was the initial answers being all over the place, but converging on the correct answer, that is not so many chosing £10B per annum for Q1 as £30 per person per week for the last question. That’s not really what I’m seeing. But I have some strange friends, a few people commented that they knew the answer for the big per annum number but either could or couldn’t do the arithmetic to get to the weekly figure. Also it’s possible that the question wording was misleading people into thinking about how much would it cost to treat a person for week in an NHS hospital. Finally I have some odd friends who are more interested in educational technology than in answering questions about statistics, who might just have been looking to see how socrative worked. So I’m still interested in trying out this question in class. Certainly socrative worked well for this, and one thing I learnt (somewhat by accident) is that you can leave a quiz running in socrative open for responses for several months.

 

First session

Today was the first session of the first course that I am teaching.

The course is design for online learning, there are 22 students (more than anticipated, but not hugely more). The first session was a one hour long introduction, and introduction both to the contents of the course and to each other. I gave an overview of what the course covers, what are the learning objectives and why they might be interesting, what the balance is between theory and hands-on, lecture and discussion, time-tabled and open study, coursework and exam. A lot of the course derives from discussion based on the students own experiences (at least that what Roger, who has run this course for 10yrs or so, tells me works) so as a break from me talking I asked each person in the class what they had by way of experience that is relevant to online learning.

The mechanics of the session worked, the timing was spot on. All the students had some experience of online learning, a VLE at school or Uni, computer based training at work, forums when learning programming, revision resources (BBC Bytesize); some had experience in tutoring, or training in other contexts. That’s good.

Less good is that me standing up talking about course objectives is pretty boring. I think in trying explain how something they don’t yet know might be useful I lost some of them. But maybe there’s no interesting way of making sure the students have that information, and I do think that you have to realise that you are confused before you can put your ideas in order.

Less necessary perhaps was any boredom while I went around the class one at time asking for their experience. This may have worked better with a smaller class, but even then the interest is mostly of interest to me: it gave me an idea of who has interesting background knowledge, who is a confident speaker, meant I could make a start at putting names to people. Perhaps it would have been better done in parallel not series by asking them to write down their experience. Some examples would help make sure that they knew what sort of information I was interested in. On the plus side it was good to see them writing notes while other people were saying their bit, I guess the notes were about what might be relevant, which I think means that they spent a few minutes reflecting on what they already know.

One final observation struck me: hardly anyone had a laptop or tablet with them, and I didn’t see any of them using a phone. That’s odd in a class about online learning. I pretty sure that you can learn online even during a lecture.