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Breaking down barriers to active learning

‘Part 1: Using a learning activities framework to develop an institutional Apps for Teaching and Learning toolkit’ by Dr W. Rod Cullen, Steven Williams, and Dr Janet Lord.

Welcome to the first of our three-part contribution, in which we share our experiences of developing a centrally licenced institutional “toolkit” of interactive Apps for Teaching and Learning. In this first blog post we will explain the background to the work we have been doing and how we approached the tricky problem of selecting a relatively small set of tools, for our institution, from the many that are available. Hopefully, this will whet your appetite to come along to Part 2, an interactive online webinar (24th March (13:00-14:00)), where we will share our approach to rolling out the toolkit to teaching colleagues and our evaluation of the impact this is having in our institution on the delivery of active learning. Part 3 of our contribution will be a follow-up blog post where we will share our findings and follow-up on any issues raised during the webinar.


In the years before the COVID19 pandemic, at our institution we had started to think about a tricky problem. Feedback from our students showed that they wanted to be more actively involved in their live teaching experiences rather than being passive recipients of information. A range of interactive apps for teaching and learning, including among others Kahoot, Mentimeter and Padlet were positive features of this feedback. While most of our teaching staff aspired to include more active learning in their provision using “freely” available versions of these kinds of tools was identified as a significant barrier to their use. Student and Teaching Staff perspectives are summarised in the Figure below. There were some instances where individual Departments, programmes and units were paying for specific tools but overall, this tended to add to the confusion for most teaching colleagues about what tools they could be using.

A tricky problem in summary

Given that there are hundreds of interactive apps for teaching and learning and it is not possible to provide and support centralised licenses for all of them, how might we select a toolkit of centrally licenced Apps for Teaching and Learning that would support most of our teaching colleagues to deliver the kinds of activities to which they aspire as inclusively and accessibly as possible?

Creating a learning activities framework

After some thought, we reasoned that if we could categorise the types of learning activities that our colleagues were undertaking with their students (rather than considering which specific tool/app they were using) we could create a learning activities framework. Having such a framework would subsequently allow us to identify and select the most appropriate app/technology for teaching colleagues to use in delivering specific types of activity.

We asked our eight Faculty-based Technology Enhanced Learning Advisors (TELAs) in collaboration with some of the teaching colleagues they supported to produce simple scenarios that described the technology enhanced activities they used in their classroom-based teaching, which app/tool they were using and the main challenges/issues they experienced. These scenarios were reviewed, and the activity types were categorised independently of the specific tools that were being used. Our initial activity types where shared and discussed with teaching colleagues through a range of institutional forums, in particular our Education Technologies Community of Practice and refined through several iterations into the Learning Activities Framework presented in Table 1.

Table 1 – Man Met Learning Spaces Framework

TypeSub-typeDescription of activities/toolsExample Apps (not an exhaustive list)
Personal LearningNote taking/ managementTools that enable personal note taking, organization and management.  May enable access to notes on multiple devices via online (cloud) storage.MS Word, OneNote, Evernote, Notion Nearpod, Apple Notes, Google Keep.
Personal LearningResource collation/ managementTools that enable bookmarking, tagging, organization and management of online resources e.g. websites, research papers.  May enable collated resources to be shared with peers.Web Browser Bookmarks, Google Keep, Pocket, Pintrest, OneNote, EverNote.
Presentation deliveryTraditional deliveryTools used to make primarily transmission presentations. For example: Tutors making presentations to a class of students; Students making presentations to tutors e.g. as part of group presentations; Students making presentations to other students in groups.PowerPoint, Prezzie, Google Slides, Mentimeter, Apple Keynote, Adobe Spark, Zoho Show, Sway.
Presentation deliveryAsynchronous and independent deliveryTools that enable students to follow presentations independently on their own devices either in F2F or Online teaching situations.  Some tools enable the creation of “homework” style study packages or self-paced tutorials combing both the presentation of content and in the provision of activities (e.g. quizzes, group work tasks) for students to complete.Nearpod, Lumio, Kahoot (Homework), Glisser, Formative.
Tutor QuestioningSimple Objective testing e.g. multiple-choice questions (MCQ) and QuizzesTools that enable tutors to deliver simple MCQ and basic objective question types to students in real time, either on an individual or group basis, and present results back to the group as a whole. Such tools usually have the option of anonymous responses.  Includes systems requiring specialized devices (e.g. clickers) or use of mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets and smart phones).Ombea, Vevox, Poll Everywhere, Socrative, Quizlet, Mentimeter.
Tutor QuestioningComplex objective testingTools that enable tutors to deliver more complex objective tests and provide a wide range of question formats that can be delivered to students in real time, either on an individual or group basis, and present results back to the group as a whole. Mentimeter, Quizlet, Moodle Quiz, Socrative.
Tutor QuestioningGamified objective testingTools that enable tutors to deliver gamified objective test questions to students in real time, either on an individual or group basis, and present results back to the group as a whole.  The tools enable a competitive team quiz environment to be created and include options such as fastest response weighting to scoring.Kahoot, Quizdom, Quizizz, QuizUp.
Tutor QuestioningFree text response questionsTools that enable tutors to deliver open question types with free text entry responses (single word to short paragraphs). Analysis and presentation of free text responses vary from tool to tool but may include word clouds, lists, editable whiteboard (responses can be edited and moved around by the tutor and or the students post hoc).Vevox, Mentimeter, Kahoot, Socrative.
Tutor QuestioningSurveying/Opinion seeking questionsTools that enable tutors to illicit feedback and or opinions from students.  At Man Met these activities are focused on the process of “mid-unit reviews”.  The activities may utilize a combination of MCQs and free text responses primarily for data collection purposes. Can also be used to survey opinions of “complex issues” in a class to stimulate discussion.Vevox, Mentimeter, Padlet, Socrative, Survey Monkey, Moodle Feedback, JISC Online Survey.
Collaborative TasksCreation, Ideas generation, brainstorming collationTools which enable individuals or groups to collaboratively share ideas and make contributions to collaborative and creative tasks set by the tutor.For example: Students working in groups to create an infographic to explain a key issue or principle; Students working in groups to identify and record and list key factors related to a topic or task; Students working in groups to create a Mindmap of related aspects of a specific topic or task. MS Whiteboard, Padlet, Miro, Mural.
Collaborative TasksCollaborative annotation and drawingTools that enable drawings to be created and inserted documents, images and, .pdf files to be annotated/drawn upon.  For example, Tutors and/or students sharing .pdf copies of design drawings for annotation and critique by tutors and/or peers.MS Whiteboard, Miro, Mural.
Collaborative TasksPlanningTools which enable structured planning of group task, activates and projects.  Typically, these tools: enable the creation of work packages, timelines and milestones; allocation of roles and responsibilities to group members; and enable progress of work packages to be and signed off.OneNote, MS White Board, Trello,, Wrike, Smartsheet.
Collaborative TasksWorking on shared documentsTools that enable students to create and work collaboratively in real time on the same document e.g. a PPT slide show or a Word document.SharePoint, OneDrive, Google Docs.
Collaborative TasksPeer Review/ assessmentTools that facilitate peer-assessment activities.Turnitin, Moodle, Peerwise.
Student QuestioningFree text generationTools that enable students to pose questions to tutors in real-time during teaching sessions or in follow-up to watching recorded sessions/lecture captures.Twitter, Vevox, WhatsApp.

Selection and roll out of an Institutional Apps for Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Having created the Learning Activities Framework, we were subsequently able to evaluate in consultation with teaching colleagues a selection of “popular” Apps and map out a toolkit to meet the requirements of most the active learning scenarios we had produced. Table 2 shows the 5 Apps, Vevox, Mentimeter, Kahoot, Nearpod and Padlet, that were selected for inclusion in our institutional Apps for teaching and Learning Tool kit and the activity types that we considered they supported.

Operationalising the Apps for Teaching and Learning toolkit

Please join us for an interactive case study webinar on Friday 24th March (13:00-14:00) where we will share our approach and experiences of operationalising this tool kit. In our webinar we will explore:

  • App selection (Learning Spaces Framework)
  • Procurement and the role of our vendor management team
  • Roll out to teaching colleagues and the role of IT support service
  • Our approach to accessibility
  • Training and staff development and the development of Tech for Teaching and Learning Community of Practice
  • Evaluation of the project and the impact upon active learning practices

We hope you will join us at the webinar, however, if you can’t make it, please watch out for the webinar recording and a follow-up blog post where we will summarise the content of the webinar and share our reflections on any issues raised.

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