Knowing what your students are thinking and deciphering their misconceptions has always been the goal of formative assessment. Recent research published by the Colorado School of Mines shows how InkSurvey and “asking the right questions” is increasing student achievement in significant (and surprising) ways…
During the June 2012 ASEE annual conference, Dr. Tracy Gardner from the Colorado School of Mines presented, “Interactive Simulations Coupled with Real-Time Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning”, a paper published in collaboration with Prof. Frank Kowalski and Susan Kowalski, the driving force behind “InkSurvey”.
InkSurvey is one of several ways to poll your students and receive graphical or diagrammatic feedback in real-time in a synchronous learning environment such as a face-to-face (or live online) course. InkSurvey wins the prize for low cost (it’s free) and simplicity (it’s a web service, not a downloaded app).
As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, Real-Time Graphical Polling is powerful because you can ask open ended questions whose answers require a diagram. What you see is a snapshot of student thinking that would not otherwise be revealed with a multiple choice poll or a “showing of hands”. It also allows you to tap into the “power of anonymity”, giving students at all levels of ability and confidence the opportunity to fully participate without fear of being singled out for their “inability”. In essence, it gives them a safe way to be wrong.
Not surprisingly, it’s not just the “tool” that makes the magic, but rather how graphical response is used in the hands of a thoughtful instructor who scaffolds their students with probing questions. This is the beauty of Dr. Gardner’s paper, as it describes how real-time graphical polling with digital pens on tablet pcs are used in conjunction with science simulations, as part of a real-time conversation that takes place between instructor and students.
In the paper, “Interactive Simulations Coupled with Real-Time Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning”, Dr. Gardner describes how science simulations are being used to allow students to explore six physical phenomena essential to understanding Chemical Engineering. The topics, when taught in a traditional lecture, range in difficulty. She began the exploration of each topic with a baseline assessment (PRE), followed by an assessment “after free play” (AFP) using specific online simulations. Not surprisingly, student understanding increased – but not enough to demonstrate mastery (or in some cases, barely a passing grade). Averaging the 6 activities together, student understanding increased from an average of 45% to an average of 58%.
In the course of doing this she confirmed what others have reported: Novices playing with simulations don’t always learn what the need to learn. There are gains, but the gains are not sufficient.
Enter the magic of great teaching and the power of real-time graphical polling. Students again explored the simulations, but this time during class in a conversational context with the instructor. Students asked questions (with diagrams and words) through InkSurvey; Dr. Gardner responded to the class in real time with questions that scaffolded their further exploration of the sims. She did not simply “tell them the answer”. The results are stunning.
For all six explorations, during this period of “guided play”, student achievement jumped again – and in most cases, more than the initial jump. Surprisingly, student understanding of the historically “most difficult topic” (2nd order underdamped response to a step change) saw a final average assessment score approaching 90%.
(figure 1 - page 5; 6 topics, assessed PRE, "After Free Play", and "After Guided Play")
So the average scores across all six topics went from 45% (PRE) to 58% (after free play) to 78% (after guided play) – a remarkable finding that underscores the critically important role that guidance from the instructor serves, and how real-time graphical polling provides the feedback required to enable thoughtful scaffolding in real time.
Congratulations to the team at Colorado School of Mines – and thank you for sharing InkSurvey with the world!
Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Global Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation