Formative Assessment and a Product Review: LEARNi – The Teaching Panel

On a regular basis I look for new apps, programs and tools to aid in my classroom teaching – be it actually a new technology or just new to me. Last fall, for example, I used clickers in almost every Introduction to Neuroscience lecture I gave. It was great – in a classroom of 17 students I was able to test comprehension following each new concept, the students liked the high frequency of low-risk opportunities to test themselves and I like to see where I needed to re-visit material before moving on to the next topic. This type of assessment is called formative, and is defined by Black and Wiliam (1998) as “all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”

7/21/16 EDIT – LEARNi has been rebranded and is now LiveRhino. The product includes improvements which I will review once I’ve started using it during fall semester!

LEARNi

So late last fall semester during one of my “new app” searches, I came across a product called LEARNi. I didn’t put much thought into contacting the administrators to create a teacher account to see what the whole thing was all about – and I am so glad I did, because I got to introduce my students to a really fantastic product and experience. At that point in time, LEARNi was exclusively used in elementary, junior high and high school classrooms; no college classroom had ever seen the likes of this classroom management technology. However, after a couple of skype training sessions with Noam, the VP of business development, I was ready to start piloting the program at SU in my Functional Neuroanatomy class.

In short (very, very short), LEARNi allows me to upload a presentation and then layer assessment into the presentation. Meaning, I may decide that on slide 4 of my presentation, I will want to ask my class a question about the content or if they feel they understand what I said. During the presentation, I can then share my question with the class and get their responses back in real-time, anonymously. I am able to see the results, and so are the students. This is nice because it shows them that more than one person may have struggled with a concept. I can add a number of assessment types into a presentation before I present, or while I am actually giving the presentation.

Here are some screen shots showing the addition of a poll to a presentation:

Here I used a very low-level type of question for the material being covered, but I think it demonstrates what you can do.

The other polling options, as you can see from the side panel are:

  • Snapshot – allowing you to simply ask the class if they feel “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” about the material thus far. This is nice for students who may not speak up about not fully understanding the material. When I get some thumbs down I will usually back-up and talk about a topic more slowly or more simplified.
  • Participation – this button “calls on” a student at random. All of your students should be logged on to the app, so then when you push this button, one of them will be selected at random to answer a question or to do whatever it was you needed a volunteer for!
  • Assess – allows you to build a more involved assessment with multiple questions. I typically save this for the end of a lesson and it includes multiple choice and true/false questions. I will also make these questions a little more tricky than the questions I scattered within the presentation.
  • Ideas – this is a fun way to get some open-ended responses from your students (in short phrases). Students submit responses that are then displayed in a word cloud! The most common responses are shown as large words in the word cloud, and less common responses are smaller.
  • url – this is a relatively new feature, it allows you to add a link to the presentation. This may not be too terribly exciting for many of us who use powerpoint on a regular presentation, but it’s nice to be able to use to enhance the presentation on this platform.

Like I said, I really enjoyed using this technology and introducing it to the class, however, you may be asking, “well, what did the students think??” They loved it.

As I learned with the clickers, and which stayed true in this course, students want lots of low-risk opportunities to test their knowledge and understanding of material. This allows them to test themselves without penalty and without drawing attention to themselves. This platform also allows for more than just multiple choice questions, which you are limited to with the clickers. Also, at the end of a classroom session, all the results from all the assessments are saved for you to reference later!

Now, there are some things about the platform that took getting used to and there is still room for improvement. I also haven’t told you about EVERYTHING you can do with this app – like tracking which students are actually viewing the presentation and which ones have exited the app… but I really just wanted to introduce it to you and talk about formative assessment.

Other ways to assess

Obviously, clickers and fancy platforms are not the only ways to assess your students during the class period, these are just the two that I’ve tried out and have a lot of positive feedback with. Another technology I want to try is Socrative, which also allows you to create quizzes for your student, but does not tie into any type of presentation. Without trying it, it seems like it would just be easier to stick with clickers if you are using a powerpoint presentation, but I will keep you posted. I’d also like to try more small group assessment activities.

What have you used to assess your students? Any other technologies, programs, or methods that have really stood out for you? Tell me about it!

Thanks for checking in, have a great week!

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