Lancaster University

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National Prize for New Teaching Method

11/20/2001 11:59:14

A new way to teach difficult economic theory is a hit with students and has won lecturer Caroline Elliott a national prize.

Caroline has introduced a personal response system which allows students to answer multiple choice questions by pressing buttons on personal handsets. The handset is no bigger than a TV remote control and allows the lecturer to gauge whether students have understood key points throughout the lecture.

The students' answers are picked up by receivers which are then fed into a computer and the answers are displayed on a board, just like the voting systems used by popular programmes like who wants to be a millionaire?.

'I got the idea from the Education Guardian which had an article about using these devices in teaching,' Caroline explained.

'I put in for a University teaching grant and bought the kit, and have been using it since January on 2nd year undergraduate courses.'

The new teaching method won Caroline the Economics LTSN Award for outstanding teaching, introduced this year by the Economics branch of the Learning and Teaching Support Network, financed by the Higher Education Funding Council.

Caroline's speciality is theoretical economics, which is a core subject. Students find the information difficult and there is a lot to take in. By using the handsets, students keep alert all the way through the lecture as they are asked questions every few minutes.

Typically, students' responses are anonymous and students can also indicate if they are answering with confidence or not, so the lecturer can see if they are guessing. There is the capability for the lecturer to check individuals' answers at the end of the sessions but Caroline learnt from anonymous questionnaires completed by the students that this made students feel insecure. Caroline used the questionnaires to check students' reaction to the new way of learning and the results were very positive.

The technique has also been used with foreign students on an economics refresher course before starting an MSc. This is often their first experience of learning in English and students can be shy and reluctant to speak out if they do not understand something. Using the hand sets is a useful way of checking their understanding.

Caroline, who won the Pilkington teaching prize in 1998, has presented the personal response system to a Management School Teaching Forum and on a University Teaching day. She also demonstrated its uses by giving delegates at the international Conference of Business Schools a quiz about the ingredients of cocktails. Other departments at the University such as Computing are interested in using the system in their teaching. Caroline was awarded the prize at a conference in Australia, where there was a lot of interest in the new way of teaching.