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How anonymous student response systems (SRS) can empower students and support institutions

Technology tools that allow students to give anonymous feedback in the classroom and take part in Q&A sessions without being identified are proving helpful for less confident students and as a means to gather meaningful data on sensitive topics.

The positive impact of anonymity

Take student nurses as an example. Trevor Kettle, healthcare educator and faculty lead for patient and public involvement at Southampton University, along with Anya de Longh, patient educator, wanted to discuss patient and public involvement (PPI) with post-graduate students and qualified health and social care professionals.

But PPI is a sensitive subject, so both Trevor and Anya wanted to create a safe environment for discussion by using the anonymity settings of a student response system (SRS).

An app was used to stage interactive theatre lectures, using a combination of student actors and anonymous live polling to facilitate a “choices and consequences” session. This engaged students in active learning.

Trevor explains:

“Traditionally in education we have used the tried and tested ‘raise your hand if you have a question’ format to allow students to communicate with the speaker.

“While this can be successful in some contexts, we can fall under the illusion that this method gives full opportunity to all students to ask questions and express their views. This is not so.”

Anya explains:

The SRS empowered the students to ask questions comfortably, which meant they were acknowledging the assets I brought as a patient, and allowed me to acknowledge their assets by hearing their experiences.

It changed the dynamic from ‘lecturer knows best’, preaching to students, to a more equal relationship of mutual interest and appreciation.

This felt important as it shifts the behaviour model to person-centred care and patient partnerships, at all levels

96% of students said seeing the Meetoo anonymous feedback and Q&A tool increased the likelihood of them asking a question in class

Student research collected at the University of Southampton showed that 96% of students said seeing the Meetoo anonymous feedback and Q&A tool increased the likelihood of them asking a question in class.

Peer-to-peer feedback and a tool for self-assessment

As part of UCL’s integrated engineering programme, the provision of anonymous feedback was central to student success.

During ‘scenario week’ first- and second-year students put their learning into practice through interdisciplinary, problem-based learning, working on design projects in small groups.

Teaching fellow, Dr Nelia Jurado Pontes, wanted greater student feedback about group work to help her monitor progress and flag areas of concern that could affect their final project. Students could use their own mobile device or computer to access a web app. There, they could complete the anonymous short survey and provide feedback, highlighting any areas of concern.

Nelia said:

We have seen that the use of the app has enhanced the students’ experience and has allowed us to keep track of the student’s contributions to the team project during our scenario week.

This was very useful for lecturers as it helped us detect issues that could negatively affect the team’s dynamics and mitigate these problems to avoid negative impact on the final output.

Improving understanding and identifying knowledge gaps

The cases above demonstrate how anonymous feedback can be used advantageously as part of a lecture or project, but it can also be leveraged successfully with subtler implementation.

For example, a straw poll or quick show of hands could be skewed because students raise or lower hands depending on the reaction of others in the room. Anonymous polling offers a more accurate representation, allowing lecturers to understand where there are knowledge gaps.  

Reducing fear and increasing student retention

Many students lack confidence in their knowledge or feel too shy or fearful to express their opinion or raise a question.

The UCL medical school student survey found that 92% of students felt too intimidated to ask a question in a lecture with 100+ students.

By offering an anonymous SRS, institutions can empower their students by allowing them to participate without inhibition, giving them full scope to achieve their potential.

The Meetoo SRS app will be in use at Jisc’s Digifest 2019 event, 12-13 March, where delegates can also take part in Q&A discussions.

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