Textwall is a web-based audience-response tool that claims to let you ‘see the thoughts in people’s heads’ (Learning Apps, 2012). It is particularly useful as an engagement tool in large group situations like a lecture theatre. However, even though it has affordances that lends itself to stimulating deep learning, it will not automatically result in what Laurillard (2002) would call ‘mathemagenic activities’ – activities that create or cause the act of learning. Like many learning technologies, it is how the teacher uses Textwall that will determine whether it is simply a novel engagement tool or an activity that learners look forward to participating in. Teachers need to know how to use learning technologies functionally, and also pedagogically so that the technologies add value in a sustained way (Selwyn, 2012). Without this consideration, the teacher may continue to use new tools in a ‘teacher-centric’ fashion rather than harnessing the full potential of the tool or changing their approach to be more learner-centred (Lee & McLoughlin, 2007).
The design project is a teacher-training lesson plan for learning technologists, or anyone introducing Textwall to other teachers. The focus of the lesson is on raising the awareness of the teacher or lecturer about the type of questions they ask their learners, and the effectiveness of this relative to a Contributing Student Pedagogy (CSP) (Falkner & Falkner, 2012, Collis & Moonen, 2005). Bloom’s taxonomy (Atherton, 2013) is used as the scaffold for designing the kind of questions that will generate the type of answers or content that will turn Textwall into a self-serving learning activity and resource. In effect, the use of Textwall would become a ‘generative activity’, one that involves the learner as an active contributor to the resources for learning (Collis & Moonen, 2005). The Textwall design project does not purport to help teachers to re-design their lectures, but is a first steer in that direction. It will provide the first supplement to the Textwall manual that is aimed at pedagogy and improving the way Textwall is used in lectures.
Bloom’s taxonomy (Atherton, 2013) provides a familiar scaffold for thinking about the type of questions that the teacher can ask in a lecture. Bloom created a series of increasingly ‘higher order’ focus areas as a scaffold for designing learning activities – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Applied to Textwall, questions that focus on ‘knowledge’ and ‘comprehension’ are seen as stimulating lower order thinking (LOT), and questions that focus on ‘application’, ‘analysis’, ‘synthesis’ and ‘evaluation’ are seen as stimulating higher order thinking (HOT).
The integration of Textwall requires teachers to adopt a new pedagogy within the lecture theatre environment to allow a learning community to thrive. The teacher has to spend more time directing the ‘contribution-oriented activities’ (Collis & Moonen, 2005) and less time on prepared resources. In this approach, where the learners create the resources, it matters what the student is being asked to contribute to Textwall. Collis and Moonen (2005, p15) detail Sfard’s (1998) use of the terms ‘acquisition’ and ‘participation’ as models of pedagogy. Asking students to pull facts together will only reinforce the ‘acquisition’ model of learning. Using Textwall, teachers who only ask ‘knowledge’ or even ‘comprehension’ levels of questions will engage learners in an acquisition approach. ‘Participatory’ models require students to contribute their own thoughts and ideas. These become a resource on Textwall for others’ learning. The teacher has to trigger this level of participation by asking more open-ended questions. Questions that are HOT on Bloom’s taxonomy are more likely to generate a variety of answers and even questions from the learners that can then become a springboard for further critical thinking. The greater the variety of ideas that come from the contributing learners, the more likely learners are to value the exercise and to participate in anticipation of the learning value they will experience. Therefore, asking the right questions is an important factor in making the contributing-student pedagogy work in two ways: it can lead to an iterative discourse that can lead to deep learning (Laurillard, 2002) and it can make the learner aware of learning from their peers in a valuable way (Falkner & Falkner, 2012).
How the activity is planned to be used
The lesson plan is based loosely on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model, where the teachers will have some Concrete Experience, time for Reflective Observation, hopefully undergo Abstract Conceptualisation and plan for Active Experimentation (Atherton, 2013). During the planned lesson, the teachers will experience for themselves what a contributing-student approach feels like. The teachers send messages into Textwall in answer to the trainer’s questions. Their answers will then become a resource for their learning about how to apply Bloom’s taxonomy. Providing the teachers with time to use the ‘resource’ that has been created by themselves will illustrate the point about ‘generative’ activities, co-created resources and the contributing-student approach (Collis & Moonen, 2005). It will also model the pace and type of activity that ought to be incorporated into a lecture that uses Textwall. As the lesson progresses and the activities centre around stimulating higher order thinking skills, the teachers will have the chance to experience for themselves how seeing other people’s answers impacts on their own learning. The trainer will point out the epistemological value (Laurillard, 2002) of social learning - how seeing someone else’s contribution can lead to an awareness of your own thought or learning process. Regular reflection activities and the opportunity to see a variety of other people’s responses will hopefully lead to deep learning (abstract conceptualisation) by the teachers. We conclude by asking the teachers to plan what they will do with their new-found knowledge.
Possibilities and limitations of the design project
The lesson is just a stepping stone for the teachers to developing a repertoire of skills required to effectively adopt a contributing-student pedagogy. Its effectiveness, if used in isolation, will be limited by the conscientiousness of the teachers to put the ideas into practice. Ideally, this lesson would be part of a teacher’s continuous professional development project so that experimentation and further reflection can contribute to their experiential learning. Additional lessons in other contributing pedagogies would provide a range of approaches to increase the versatility and usefulness of Textwall to the teacher. More research is required to discover any further lessons we can learn from using this medium of interaction in lectures.
Atherton, J. S. (2013). Learning and Teaching: Bloom's taxonomy. Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/bloomtax.htm
Atherton, J. S. (2013). Learning and Teaching: Experiential Learning. Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/experience.htm
Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2005). An On-Going Journey: Technology as a Learning Workbench. Retrieved from http://doc.utwente.nl/50888/1/rede_Collis_Moonen.pdf
Falkner, K., & Falkner, N. (2012). Supporting and structuring "contributing student pedagogy" in Computer Science curricula. Computer Science Education. 22(4):413-443. doi: 10.1080/08993408.2012.727713
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching, a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies (2nd ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer
Learning Apps. (2012). Textwall. Retrieved from http://www.learningapps.co.uk/solutions/Textwall
Lee, M. J. W. & McLoughlin, C. (2007). Social software and participatory learning: Pedagogical affordances in the Web 2.0 era. Retrieved from: http://dlc-ubc.ca/dlc2_wp/educ500/files/2011/07/mcloughlin.pdf
Selwyn, N. (2012). Ten suggestions for improving academic research in
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