For my dissertation of my Computer Science BSc degree at Brunel University I created a mobile messaging application for use in lectures.
During lectures students have a tendency to not engage with the lecturer. This is especially noticeable when lecturers ask open questions awaiting a response from any student in the room where the majority of students will not voluntarily respond in front of their peers as they fear embarrassment. One will notice that in larger lecturing rooms students nearer the front will feel less intimidated to respond than those sitting nearer the back because there are fewer people in view, and also as they don’t have to speak up as loudly for the lecturer to hear them saving on the number of students that will hear their response. Students will also have questions about topics they have not fully understood, but the student may not know whether their question is considered to be ‘good’ or not, and so to avoid possible judgement from their peers they won’t ask the question.
According to P. Sven Arvidson (2008), some students will never voluntarily speak in class, and need to be encouraged, while G. Ferenstein (2010) goes as far to say that classroom shyness is like a black hole, and that a tiny fraction of students contribute regularly. Learning in lectures often suffers because students feel unable to respond to questions from the lecturer, or ask questions on topics they have not fully understood, because they are worried about their self-image and that their classmates will possibly form negative opinions of them (Reda, M. M. 2010), particularly if they get the answer wrong or because they feel stupid being the only person asking for a point to be explained.
G. Ferenstein (2010) attempted to use Twitter to boost student engagement, and while there was some success, it is an imperfect solution. With a Twitter based solution each student will either have to register for an account or use an existing account, and they may have to create a new account anyway if they use their real name or are followed by friends and want to remain anonymous. On top if this, spoof accounts can easily be created to purposefully disrupt lectures.
Fyp Messenger is a Windows Phone 8 application (not published) which is designed to allow students to anonymously contact lecturers during a lecture. It works by using Google Authentication to let students login, because Brunel accounts use Google Mail, and then the application retrieves the student’s name, restricting the application only to valid students with their real names. From there students will select the module they are currently in the lecture for, type in their message, and submit it. The appropriate lecturer(s) for that module can then see all the messages on their application and can tick off messages once they have given a verbal response to the students, while students are only be able to see their own messages.
The dark design is intended to prevent the application from being distracting as much as possible. Screenshots of the application:
I anonymously surveyed a number of university students asking a series of questions of how they feel about lectures without knowing about the application, and then again the same questions based on if they had the application to use in lectures. The first question asked how often students ask and answer questions in lectures, with 52% of students saying they never ask questions, and a total of 90% saying they either never ask a question, or rarely ask a question, while students are little better at answering with 80% saying they never or rarely do.
The next series of questions asked to what extent students agree with statements about why they might not want to speak up in lectures. 68% of students agreed that they feared embarrassment in the eyes of the lecturer, 80% feared embarrassment in the eyes of their peers, and 56% considered it to be wasting time.
With the application, only one student said they would never ask questions in lectures, and again only one said they wouldn’t answer questions. Not a single student said they would rather ask a question out loud than with the application, and 12% of students now feared embarrassment in the eyes of the lecturer when asking a question with the application which is down 56% from earlier. 80% of students agreed that the application would also save time.