From a SEED grows mighty teaching ideas

18 October 2018

When your introductory statistics course has up to 600 students per lecture, how do you keep them engaged? You use technology in an innovative way, say Professional Teaching Fellows Anna Fergusson and Dr Rhys Jones.

The pair has just been awarded a $5,000 grant to integrate their self-developed interactive apps into the university’s teaching and learning system, Canvas, which will make them more accessible.

The grant comes from the Schuler Educational Enhancement and Development (SEED) grant from the Centre for Learning and Research in Higher Education (CLeaR).

The funding is granted annually under a theme; this year, projects were to involve creative and innovative interfaces with Canvas, the university’s cloud-based, integrated learning management system introduced in 2016.

Anna and Rhys teach on the Department of Statistics’ stage one courses, which are large – there are more than 2,000 students per semester, and single lectures may contain up to 600 students.

The teaching team is already successfully using apps like Qwizdom that allow students to respond to questions via their own devices, and custom-designed Google web applications.

One of the latter, which helps students visualise uncertainty, saw them use Playdough to represent data curves and data points, pictures of which were then live-streamed to the lecture room’s data projector through their phones.

Other large-scale interactive activities have involved students using their phones to collect data live, and then using web-based coding or software applications on their phones to analyse this data, all within the same lecture.

But it’s not about technology for the sake of technology, says Anna – this work sits within the developing body of knowledge on how best to engage students in a large-enrolment classes.

“Tech doesn’t teach students,” she says, “teachers do.”

However, the Google-based apps that the teaching team uses are currently stand-alone developments used one class at a time, and although Anna and Rhys know what needs to be done, some work lies ahead to get the Google apps to talk to Canvas.

The grant will go towards employing students with software design and statistics skills to add to Anna’s existing code-based solutions, as well as recruiting small groups of students to do test runs from both teacher and student perspectives.

Anna expects that the redesign process will also generate new ideas on using Google web apps and Canvas to boost teaching and learning across a range of fields.

“We’re after some sort of core framework that would allow the integration to be used flexibly for many purposes by different lecturers,” she says. 

Anna Fergusson
Anna Fergusson
Dr Rhys Jones
Dr Rhys Jones