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Using Digital Tools for Live Q+A within Teaching Sessions

Introduction

Providing students with opportunities to ask questions is a key part of learning. For instance, students may wish to clarify something that has been said, follow up on part of the material that they’ve not understood, or ask about a practical issue regarding a forthcoming assessment.

However, the provision of live Q+A opportunities within lectures is often difficult, especially in the face of increasing student numbers and super-sized cohorts. Indeed, many of us will be familiar with the awkward silence that can occur after inviting students to raise a question within a large lecture! Even though some students will have questions and despite the fact that such questions will often be useful for everyone’s learning, most students are simply too shy or self-conscious to ask verbal questions in a large group setting in front of their peers.

To help this issue, this case study discusses two digital tools that allow students to raise questions during lectures in a less intimidating, written format, ready for the lecturer to then offer a oral reply. Section 1 reflects on my experience of using the tools, before Section 2 reports the results of a small survey about which tool students like best and why.

The first tool involves the chat function within a remote meeting software such as MS Teams or Zoom. By running this simultaneously alongside an in-person session, students can physically attend a lecture but still submit a question in a written format online. The second tool uses software that has been specifically developed for Q+A sessions. For instance, polling software companies, such as Vevox, now offer a function where students can easily submit written questions through their personal devices. These specialist apps also offer other useful features such as the ability for students to ask questions anonymously and for students to ‘upvote’ other students’ questions that they like.

This case study does not cover some alternative digital tools for Q+A that are more commonly used out of the classroom within a learning community setting. For instance, online discussion boards within virtual learning environments allow students to post questions at any point in time ready for staff and/or other students to give a written reply. For more about discussion boards, please see Allen et al (2020) and Becker (2020), including a practical tips sheet by Ralph Becker available here[1]. For a wider review about the use of technology in the classroom, see Pezzino (2017).

Section 1: My Experience of Using the Tools

Tool 1: Chat function in Dual-Delivery

Many of us will be familiar with using chat functions within live online teaching sessions via remote meeting software such as MS Teams or Zoom. However, by running such a session simultaneously alongside an in-person session (within a ‘dual-delivery’ or ‘hybrid’ setting), students can still raise questions via the chat function even when physically attending a lecture.

When using this approach, it was easy to see straightaway that students preferred the chat function to asking questions verbally. More questions were raised, and the students seemed pleased. However, there are several disadvantages to this approach. First, the use of dual-delivery is relatively cumbersome for the lecturer. Second, dual-delivery can raise some potential issues in reduced in-person attendance and students wishing to only tune-in online. Third, the chat function presents questions alongside the student’s name and so it is not anonymous. Hence, some students may still be deterred from asking a question. Finally, the chat function displays the questions in a fixed chronological order. When many questions are posted, this can make it hard for the lecturer to navigate them efficiently.

Tool 2: Specialist Q+A Software

The second tool uses a feature within polling software that has been specifically developed for live Q+A sessions. This is now widely available through a variety of different companies, such as Meeting Pulse, Mentimeter, Pigeonholelive, and Vevox.[2] Some product reviews which discuss the specific features of each company, and their relative merits are available online.[3]

These apps run easily through students’ devices and are very quick for lecturers to set up. Many of them also have some useful features that can be toggled on/off. For instance, students can be allowed to ask questions anonymously. Also, students can be given the ability to ‘upvote’ other students’ questions that they like so that lecturers can know which questions are the most popular. Finally, some features also make it easier for lecturers to navigate the questions, such as the ability to list the questions by popularity rather than chronologically, and the ability to delete questions once they have been answered.

On reflection, after using the Vevox software, I found it very useful and extremely easy to use. The whole experience felt a lot smoother than using the chat function in dual-delivery. On the student side, like Tool 1, it was again straightforward to see how much they preferred using the Q+A software as opposed to oral questions. The next section evaluates their views in more detail.

Section 2: Student Survey Results

To assess students’ views on the tools, I conducted a small survey on a final year module where students had encountered both tools. From a cohort of approximately 300 students, 62 students responded.

When asked which tool they preferred, only 3% stated that they preferred the chat function in dual-delivery. Instead, 79% preferred the specialist Q+A software and 18% stated that they were indifferent between the two. Overall, when asked how useful the Q+A software was, 94% stated it was either “Really Useful” or “Useful”.

When asked about the specific benefits of the specialist software, 77% of students agreed that the main benefits concerned the abilities to submit anonymous questions and to upvote other students’ questions. On the flip side, 77% of students stated that the main disadvantage of the specialist software was that some students’ questions remained unanswered at the bottom if they were not upvoted. However, some students commented that the ability to upvote and rank the questions by popularity provides a fairer system, rather than lecturers just answering the questions that happened to be submitted first.

Compared to raising questions orally, both tools seem very effective. However, they both have a disadvantage in restricting the ability for the lecturer and student to have an exchange or repeated dialogue. I did not find this a common problem, but when it occurred, I sometimes asked if the student would be willing to respond orally or to make another written submission. This worked on occasion, but it was sometimes awkward. However, students themselves placed little weight on this disadvantage – when asked, only 44% of students agreed that this was any disadvantage at all.

Conclusion

This case study has offered reflections and survey results on the use of two digital tools to encourage students to participate in live Q+A slots within teaching sessions. Rather than asking students to raise questions orally in front of a potentially large group, the two tools allow students to submit their questions in a less intimidating, written format.

Compared to using the chat function in a dual-delivery session with MS Teams or Zoom, students much preferred the use of specialist Q+A software offered by companies such as Meeting Pulse, Mentimeter, Pigeonholelive, or Vevox. Students particularly liked the ability to submit questions anonymously and to ‘upvote’ other students’ questions. From the lecturers’ side, the specialist Q+A software is also preferable — I found it less cumbersome to use and it was far easier to navigate the students’ questions efficiently.

References

Allen, T., Cartwright, E. and Virmani, S. (2020) “Engaging Students in an Online Economics Community”, The Economics Network, available at https://doi.org/10.53593/n3295a, accessed 22/08/22 

Becker, R. (2020) “My Experience with Discussion Boards”, Available at https://sites.manchester.ac.uk/humteachlearn/2020/09/09/discussion-boards-002/, accessed 22/08/22

Pezzino, M. (2017) “The Use of Media and Technology in the Classroom” The Handbook for Economics Lecturers, The Economics Network. Available at https://doi.org/10.53593/n2953a, accessed 22/08/22

Notes

[1] Ralf Becker's Discussion Board Cheat Sheet can be downloaded here (PDF format).

[2] See https://www.meetingpulse.net/, https://www.mentimeter.com/, https://pigeonholelive.com/ and https://www.vevox.com/, accessed 22/08/22.

[3] For instance, https://ahaslides.com/blog/best-qa-apps-all-free/, accessed 22/08/22.

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