Socrative as teaching and learning software – seminar paper

Sharing some thoughts on a piece of freebie software I found really useful in teaching and learning. This is part of a seminar paper written for a teacher trainee conference in May 2014.

Title of Paper

Socrative: using smart student software as a learning and assessment tool for business students

Abstract

This paper outlines the use of smart software Socrative as part of innovative practice in the teaching of Business BTEC at level 3. It contextualises the use of ILT in the teaching of the business disciplines and in the FE setting of the LLS. Furthermore it explains how the use of the resource has enhanced engagement and improved classroom management with two groups of students. This paper also demonstrates how Socrative has proved to be a useful and reliable tool for assessing teaching and learning whilst simultaneously introducing students to software relevant for use in a range of business settings. A critique of the method is offered within the conclusion.

Introduction

Before demonstrating the use of Socrative and how it has impacted on teaching and learning some background context will be given as well as consideration of its appropriateness in teaching business. A brief background of the author will be presented initially and this paper will conclude with a critical evaluation.

Coming from a background in industry I have an appreciation of technological skills required in a range of business settings. These range from data collection and sharing to analysis of financial and other data, from assessment tools in training settings and polling media in conference and consultation situations as well as the more traditionally used software such as the Office Suite. I have had a long history in business and have seen the changes which technology has brought, how it has helped to streamline procedures, cut back on man hours and facilitate information sharing, data storage and retrieval. More recently I have become aware of how technology can be used interactively to allow staff and customers to engage with an organisation and share their thoughts and views and to give feedback and appraisal of services or products.

I currently teach business BTEC level 3 in years one and two within the Further Education (FE) sector of the wider Lifelong Learning Sector (LLS) and predominantly teach two classes. The first is a year one class of 16-17 year olds which is a very enthusiastic group with no behavioural problems and a general keenness to participate and to learn. This group is very ‘tight knit’, students are very supportive of one another. The second year group is made up of mainly 18 year olds and has one student for whom English is not the first language. The group has a number of cliques which can cause conflicts and behavioural issues. The group is more fragmented and although class participation is good, group working activities can prove challenging in that students are reluctant to work with others outside of their friendship circle.

Rationale

I feel that currently the use of IT is lacking in the teaching of the business disciplines within FE. Besides the traditional Office Suite of software there is little to no use made of other types of software, a wealth of which exists to enhance learning and engagement and this seems to be at odds with the way businesses operate. I fully empathise with Freeman (2013) when he asks “Business is about innovation so why do we teach it in the same old way?” (Freeman 2013 online).

I also relate to Thompson (2009) who argues that didactic styles of transmitting information are dated and goes on to suggest that technology presents opportunities to teach in more innovative and creative ways. He suggests that when considering teaching creatively teachers should not only think of the traditional resources such as art and craft materials but also include technology as a resource as it provides opportunities for innovation in teaching a wide range of subjects (Thompson 2009).

Hoffman and Blake (2003) describe how students engage with learning in two ways, formal and informal, explaining that formal is what they have to know and informal is what they want to know. They point out that most informal learning uses IT and they believe that this means of learning has to be capitalised on and blended into formal learning.  They suggest that IT should be used to deliver formal learning as well as informal learning using similar platforms and modes of delivery (Hoffman and Blake 2003).

When considering innovation in teaching with both groups I was mindful of what innovation is and felt that Eraut’s (1975) description, although offered in 1975 still holds true in the contemporary teaching arena. He described innovation as “a planned change in response to perceived problems rather than the introduction of some new method or technique” (Eraut 1975:13).

One of the issues with innovation is argued by Rosebrough and Leverett (2011) to be teachers’ lack of awareness of the world changing around them and this could explain why innovation in teaching in terms of embracing IT as a valuable resource has been slow.  They argue that “Many teachers have the tendency to put their heads down, noses on grindstone and plow straight ahead through what it is they think they are supposed to be teaching. Suddenly they look up to see that not only had the subject matter changed almost overnight, but that students themselves have changed” (Rosebrough and Leverett 2011; Kindle Edition). One of those key changes, considering Hoffman and Blake’s (2003) thoughts is the way students learn using IT.

Eraut (1975) also explains constraints on innovation as being an absence of dissatisfaction with the current situation; an ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’ philosophy with no institutional value placed on innovation and therefore rewards are intrinsic to the practitioner with innovation under-resourced. (Eraut 1975).

Again it is of note that Eraut was writing in 1975 and these same constraints still exist today and some teaching practices are very much still based on didactic approaches of chalk and board with little alternative (Peris-Ortiz et al 2014).

When considering teaching business innovatively it is often seen as a set of dry topics with little scope for using creativity and even less for innovation and yet a 2008 Cabinet Office document, Realising Britain’s Potential recognised that equipping young people for work in the modern environment required “creative and innovative responses in education and training” (Cabinet Office 2008:3-4) suggesting that the way students are educated should prepare them for positions in business.

This is very much supported within teaching business related topics as Sternberg (2008) points out, children should be taught to be social citizens able to use technology in ways useful to business (Sternberg 2008). This is furthermore supported by Minch and Tabor (2003) who feel that one of the key areas of demand within the job market is for workers who have skills to equip them to work within the e-commerce field. Whilst this also requires traditional skills of communication and organisation, it is essential to equip business students with skills and knowledge to be able to apply IT to a range of business functions (Minch and Tabor 2003). It is of note that Minch and Tabor were commenting in 2003 and 11 years on their sentiments are ever more poignant as e-commerce continues to expand rapidly not only among new start-ups but with long standing traditional businesses of every type from retail to banking engaging in e-commerce (Smith 2010).

Whilst it is considered that most students regardless of what they study will work within businesses eventually, it is perhaps  prudent to assume that students of business itself are more likely to pursue management and leadership roles within a business setting and are perhaps more likely to be engaged as innovators and pioneers within business.

When choosing an innovative resource  I decided to consider technology I had used not only to enhance the teaching and learning of business topics but also to example how smart technology might be used in a business setting. I chose Socrative because it satisfied this rationale, it allows demonstration of application to all of the business topics but also it is software which can be used in a business setting for a number of purposes which will be discussed later.

Before discussing Socrative and how I have applied it, it is worth giving some thought to Ezziane (2007) who felt that the embedding of a range of IT skills while students are still in their basic formal education is paramount to equipping the businesses of tomorrow with suitably skilled people (Ezziane 2007) and furthermore Chong  (1997) adds that there are two goals for integrating technology into teaching,  that is to prepare students for work and to enhance their learning, Socrative achieves both of these when teaching BTEC Business within the FE setting.

Alexander and McKenzie (1998) state that in addition to the two goals proposed by Chong (1997) there are two more; to enhance institutional reputation and to improve productivity  for students and teachers, suggesting not only benefits for the students’ learning and employability but also efficiency savings in terms of teachers’ time and institutional costs. These are considered very briefly in the summary at the end of this paper.

Socrative Applied

Business classes were observed to be taught using mainly didactic methods with some scenario based team work with the main ITL resources being the Office Suite.  An attempt to forge a blend between what Hoffman and Blake (2003) earlier described as formal and informal learning had already been made by introducing the use of Prezi as a more dynamic presentation tool and the interactive use of whiteboards and software such as PoppletPadlet and Twiddla for joint whiteboard activities such as compiling mood boards for marketing and for mind mapping when considering retail functions and then Socrative was introduced as smart interactive polling software.

Considering Hoffman and Blake’s (2003) thoughts again it was felt that students access the majority of their information via their mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets and lap tops and Socrative can be used with these devices in an attempt to bring the formal learning to the student via an informal media. It allows for students to learn and respond with the click of a button and from a device that is accessible to them, from which they can work on an individual basis or collaboratively with other students who may not even be in the same room as them or who may well be sitting next to them. This was felt to mirror how young people communicate with one another and how they access that informal learning willingly in their own time.

In the business setting a wide range of methods are used to gather, interpret and report information there are boundless opportunities for the use of software which engages individuals and allows for opinions to be shared and for knowledge to be assessed and tested (Brassington and Pettitt 2010; Mullins 2010; Palmer 2010). Some of these are depicted in Figure 1 below. (Apologies for this not transferring well into blog format)

soc

Increasingly, as markets become more competitive, being able to gather, analyse and respond to opinions of customers and staff quickly and efficiently is of paramount importance and software such as Socrative can be used for that purpose. By using it as a teaching tool it not only enhances teaching and learning but allows for students to see the type of software in action and to consider business applications which they may take into the workplace and in that sense it has a twofold benefit as a teaching resource as previously described as essential in teaching by Minch and Tabor (2003).

Socrative uses mobile software which is increasing in popularity as smart phones become the hub of organising lives. They are used for scheduling, a source of entertainment , a means of shopping and booking anything from flights to theatre tickets to name but a few of their uses besides traditional communication. As such to use smart phones as a learning device fits with the way young people conduct their lives, allowing them to access information on the go if they wish, in short sharp delivery which is convenient to them. It allows for safe engagement on a one to one basis between student and teacher outside of teaching sessions in extension activities which can be completed ‘on the go’. Teaching and learning can be taking place when the student is absent from the classroom and whilst it should not be a substitute for attendance it allows for students to engage in activities if they are absent from a session for a legitimate reason but well enough to participate.

How it Works (screen shot illustrations are contained in the attached presentation handout)

Socrative allows a teacher to open a free, secure, online account and to have a unique ID which students can use to log into the virtual classroom via a website to which they do not need to subscribe or open an account, thereby protecting their anonymity and personal data.

The teacher can set quizzes using material to be taught or which has already been taught if they chose to recap or asses prior learning. Once the teacher sets a quiz running students can respond via their smartphones or internet enabled device. Their real time progress can be viewed by the teacher on screen. Activities can consist of one question or multiple questions and can be used as one off responses to a teacher’s question in class or could be used as extension or homework activities.

Students can participate individually or have random groups assigned by computer which allows for students to work with peers they may not normally work with.

Students can be posed a question and contribute responses by entering them in the same way a text message would be written and those answers can be displayed on an interactive whiteboard. Students can then further be invited to vote on which of the responses they feel was the most accurate answer to the original question asked and this can be useful for prompting discussions and debates and allows for higher level questioning.

Results are displayed in an Excel spreadsheet which is emailed to the teacher and to any other email address they wish to email it to. They are easy to analyse and are able to be translated into graphs and charts commensurate with the Excel software functionality, engaging the students in this analysis further embeds the use of such information in a business setting.

Within business teaching it has been used for those reasons outlined in Figure 1 above, to embed learning and to assess prior knowledge and also to recap and check objectives have been met at the end of sessions and at the beginning of subsequent sessions.

It has been repeated at the end of a taught session and at the beginning of the subsequent session and this repetition allows for embedding of information particularly useful in business when teaching models and frameworks, laws and formulae as described above.

Besides teaching the business topics other effects include the development of teams and contribution to improved classroom management with students ready to commence a Socrative quiz as soon as they arrive in class, this allows for immediate settling to work and shifting into a learning frame of mind.

Students have used it to post questions to peers giving them an opportunity to answer rather than the teacher and they have also used it to conduct market research when carrying out marketing assignments. This has enabled them to control the software as they might in a work place situation.

Students have been able to identify where Socrative may be useful in the workplace and have suggested such as:

  • surveys and consultations projects
  • polling at meetings and conferences
  • questioning or testing of interview candidates or at selection centres
  • for staff to anonymously submit suggestions for improvements
  • to ascertain a need for training in a particular area or for a refresher of training
  • to assess knowledge of company policy or vision and value or company objectives
  • training

This fulfils the dual purpose mentioned earlier of not only teaching using technology but also preparing for working life using technology (Chong 1997).

Perceived Benefits of Socrative

Socrative has proven very useful in that it engages students in learning about a range of business topics and it reinforces and embeds learning. It allows for assessment of learning and assessment of teaching and as such is a useful reflective tool and fits with Petty (2004) and Cowley’s (2013) thoughts that innovative ways are required to differentiate and engage all students.

It has assisted in bringing students together to work in groups they would not normally work in so it takes them outside of the norm and encourages more collaborative working outside of their usual comfort zone which adds to building relationships within the group but also assists in a richer sharing of ideas and opinions.

It allows for different learning styles to be catered for if a student is a visual learner it can incorporate photos and video and as it requires some physical engagement could satisfy kinaesthetic learners as well as read write learners and auditory learners (Rhys 2012).

It helps to identify any areas where teaching may have been ineffective or for any individual who may be struggling with a concept and allows for the teacher to recap or to target a student on a one to one basis.

It allows for a range of questioning to be used pitching at different levels from closed questions followed by a more probing question as well as open questions and allows for questions to be simple true or false knowledge responses or to be more analytical and evaluative particularly when combined with discussion and voting as discussed previously (Gershon 2013).

Socrative reduces paper intensive activities such as quizzes and gapped handouts and also saves teacher’s time after the initial quizzes have been set they can be reused for other classes and are stored permanently in the online quiz bank for retrieval and future use. There is no time spent marking and analysing data is quick and efficient in line with the benefits of using innovative technology already discussed (Alexander and McKenzie 1998).

Evaluation

“When new approaches to teaching are adopted, evaluation is particularly important and although it has often been an ‘afterthought’ in the past, evaluation is increasingly viewed as part of any new project” (Jones et al 2000:64-65). Bearing this in mind it is important to not only evaluate the introduction of Socrative from a positive perspective but to consider where its downfalls might be.

  • Teachers may be techno phobic and resistant to use new technologies with which they are unfamiliar (Whitaker and Coste 2002).
  • Wainright and Arnold (2004) point out that IT departments take responsibility for software purchasing and operation when it should be up to faculty teachers to advise what is relevant in their areas of specialism and IT departments should just make sure it works (Wainright and Arnold 2004). It could prove difficult to alter this culture.
  • Students may not have the technology to be able to study in this way or may be embarrassed by not having the latest model of phone or tablet although this could be countered by providing tablets or laptops for use in class.
  • Technology might not function appropriately and if a large section of the lesson or learning was given to using Socrative or a lesson’s outcomes depended on its use this could be problematic

Peers at the conference concurred with these issues adding that buy in from SMT’s to widespread use of innovative software was something which might be  problematic.

Summary & Conclusion

There is still some reluctance to embrace innovation in teaching. Using IT in different and new ways has its share of that reluctance for whatever reason, even if that is a lack of confidence or competence in teaching professionals. It should not be forgotten that traditional teaching methods are still valid in today’s world but should be blended with the types of technology which are to be used in the business world of tomorrow. Students being taught about the dynamic corporate world should be taught using dynamic methods and prepared for the hi-tech business environments that they will inevitably work in. To fully embrace innovative teaching with technology will require significant culture shifts and investment and buy in from FE colleges at an SMT level. (Note: There are similar and improved versions available online since this report was written and some of these have been shared elsewhere in this blog. This goes to show the fast pace of change and the importance of selecting software which best meets needs and taking advantage of free updates)

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