At the end of last year, the Learning Development Associates staged an event: don’t walk away have your say. We spent a couple of hours collecting input into our projects by stopping students and asking them for their opinions as they walked along the main campus corridor. Participation was voluntary and rewards, in the form of a seasonal chocolate or pie, were optional.
My aim was to get a snapshot of thoughts on my project’s theme: the use of technology in physical learning environments. My hope was that any information gathered would feed into the case study evaluations I am planning for the new year.
My methodology involved stopping passing students and asking if they had twenty seconds to draw a few lines linking technology and opinions on my visual questionnaire (Fig 1). (I was hoping that I had invented the term ‘visionaire’, but Wikipedia tells me that I’ve been beaten to it).
The left-hand side of the questionnaire had technologies that can be found in learning spaces, including some empty circles which students could add technologies to; the right-hand side had possible impacts of this technology on learning, also with empty circles to allow for student additions. I had two versions: one for positive impacts of technology (Fig 1) and another for negative or non-impacts. Once the sheets became particularly busy, I put new ones up.
During the two hours or so of the event, I spoke to just over 20 students, representing quite a range of City courses. They included undergraduates, postgraduates and even a couple of PhD students.
The results (see Table 1), although by no means scientific, indicate some interesting points. Although new technology, such as personal response system (clickers) received the most positive lines (13), and these were followed by iPads (ten) , Moodle (ten) , PowerPoint (eight) and Prezi (seven), traditional equipment such as whiteboards also received significant attention (seven lines).
Both the data collected, and the widespread enthusiasm of the participants suggested that there is broad enthusiasm for the use of technology in physical learning environments. A number of comments were made regarding technology in its (Fig 1) various forms positively affecting students’ learning experiences.
There was considerably less interest in the negative impacts of the use of technology in physical learning environments (see Table 2). This perhaps backs up the conclusion that in general students regard the use of technology in physical learning environments as positive. In addition, it could be argued that three of the comment options – The lecturer doesn’t use it/them; The lecturer very rarely uses it/them and I don’t know what it is/they are – are neutral rather than negative assertions. This would further increase the ratio between specifically positive and negative assertions in favour of the former.
The event was useful in terms of gathering student opinion on the subject. It is easy to make assumptions when starting an evaluation project and overlook or undervalue factors that could be significant and, irrespective of significance, should be included. Students clearly have a range of both learning experiences of technology in the classroom and opinions of how technology is used to enhance these experiences. Several students mentioned that the single most important factor influencing good teaching and successful learning is the teacher.
It is important not to over-inflate the significance of this snapshot of data gathering. But as an initial instance of data gathering with key stakeholders, it was an insightful first step.