There is a lively, and intensifying, media debate at present concerning both the mechanics of teaching in Higher Education and the extent to which students are becoming overly pampered and protected. Vevox has become involved in this debate as a consequence of its capacity to enable students to ask questions anonymously in the lecture theatre.
All teachers have experience of students who silently brim with questions about the work in class, or about their study programme, but who don’t ask even when explicitly given the opportunity.
Let’s be honest, we have all faced this dilemma as students. I was something of a swot, but my “snowflake” moment came in double maths following an unpleasant November afternoon stumbling myopically across a frozen muddy field. It involved an austere Scotsman with a beard and the stultifying explanation of the essential tenets of Differential Calculus. I wasn’t listening and that was pretty much that. I tried one hesitant “What’s Delta, Sir?”. The irritated answer was “Weren’t you listening? It’s in the Book”. Then I gave up. What had been my best subject in a world of simple Arithmetic became incomprehensible. Ultimately, all good teachers want to know as precisely as possible the relative levels of understanding of their students, so they can improve the general level of comprehension. This is where Vevox comes in.
In addition to being a co-founder of Lumi, until comparatively recently (2012), I lectured at a University. I taught on both the MSc and MBA courses at the Cass Business School in the City University of London.
All my teaching was PowerPoint lecture based; typically to around 30 students, representing 11 nationalities and 9 first languages. The fees for a full-time MBA were nearly £40,000 and a number were paying for themselves, seeking a life change, and at some cost. Others were Business Development Directors, In-house Counsels, and in one instance, the relevant Head of Industry Regulation at the EU, each on paid-for secondment from their employers.
The disparity in pre-knowledge and understanding was stark and difficult to manage. When the pace of the lecture seemed right for the ultra- smart and rather confrontational Head of EMEA Business Development at a US Movie Studio, it clearly left the committed and charming former Hospital Administrator from West Herts floundering in the deep end. My request to the students to let me know if the pace was right and ask for extra tuition if required, were answered only by the confident. There was a bashfulness even on email; explained to me by my colleagues (who were each wrestling with the same issue) by the fact that I was not only teaching them but also marking them, and they did not want to show themselves up.
Vevox is a tool to help the teacher teach more than it is a comfort blanket for a nervous student. Its capacity for instantaneous and anonymous feedback permits the lecturer to assess accurately where the class is and how many are lagging. Ultimately this will provide an informed strategy on how to improve the general level of understanding to the benefit of all.