An app to facilitate classroom discussions
SpeakUp is an app developed at EPFL in collaboration with UNIL that lets students ask questions anonymously in class. The aim is to stimulate discussions and participation, especially in large lecture halls.
Speaking up in class can be daunting. This is especially true in lecture halls holding 300 students, as is often the case at universities. Recognizing the problem, EPFL and UNIL developed SpeakUp, an app that moves the discussion to virtual space. Students attending class can ask questions or contribute to discussions by connecting through their computer or smartphone. And they do so anonymously.
The app, which has been tested by several professors, shows how temporary social media can increase the level of interaction. “Class participation is an important aspect of teaching, and SpeakUp addresses the students’ fear of being judged by others,” said Adrian Holzer, one of the app's creators. Some off-topic comments are unavoidable given the anonymous nature of the app. Yet highly pertinent questions and comments find their way to the top of the list by virtue of the app’s voting system, which was inspired by the website Reddit. Instructors may choose to reply to the most relevant questions, clarify a given point or even change their lesson plan in response to the comments – which can be quite straightforward. Real-time feedback can be unsettling, but Denis Gillet, who uses SpeakUp in his Global Issues class, finds it very useful. “Interaction helps the students learn, yet it’s also essential for the instructor, who knows immediately what works and what doesn’t.”
SpeakUp is just one of a number of recent innovations that EPFL has come up with in an effort to constantly improve the quality of its teaching and refine its pedagogical resources. Another innovation is clickers, which some classes already use. Students quickly and intuitively respond to a question by clicking on a small box or an app.
Just as with SpeakUp, the aim is to get as many students to react as possible. This, rather than passive listening, boosts retention. EPFL has around 1,300 clickers and 700 smartphone licenses. Instructors are encouraged to call on EPFL’s Teaching Support Centre for advice on existing teaching tools and help in developing new ones.
SpeakUp can be tested here: speakup.info
For more on clickers: clickers.epfl.ch