Last Thursday I won the award for ‘The teacher who makes the best use of electronic tools’ at the annual ‘Best Teacher Election’ of the Tilburg Law School. The election was organised by Fractie Vrijspraak which is one of the student groups at Tilburg Law School.
I don’t know which ones of these tools helped me win the title for best use of electronic tools, but I found them all of use and they greatly helped me, and I think the students as well. Perhaps they may be of use for any of you too.;
The below methods were all tested with my second Year Global Law students, who I taught (Global) Property Law in the Spring Semester in 2017. I am thankful for their patience and enthousiasm.
The idea to use a newsletter came from my dislike of BlackBoard (mostly the way it looked), and wanting to find a new way to engage students with the material. I had always wanted to try out MailChimp, the newsletter service, but never had a good reason for it. This year I used it for the Property Law Classes, as an alternative for the Announcements system on BlackBoard. Although for those that did not receive the Newsletter (spam filters or because they unsubscribed) the BlackBoard system was still used in parallel for all the necessary notifications and documents.
The newsletters were rich in content. Each week before class the students would receive an email stating the mandatory reading for that week, interesting bits of news from that week that were property law related, supplemented with their own content. The latter was gathered as the very first assignment was to send me an email with a link to a movie, article, blog, or news item that was property law related/adjacent. These were all collected and then placed with the particular topic discussed in a particular week. Thus the newsletters also featured student-provided content. Also included was a link to a weekly updated Spotify playlist of property law themed music, inspired by Bruce Ziff‘s presentation at ALPS a few years back. You can find those playlists here: The Property Playlist ; Week 8 – Space Property ; Week 10 – Human Rights ; Week 7 – Trust.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, I added more content to the newsletters, such as interesting podcasts, or podcasts which have an episode with a property theme. Later on in the course special newsletters were put out to remind students of upcoming deadlines. Here is an example of the emails sent out.
How successful were the newsletters?
From the image below you can see the opening-rate and the click-rate as shown from the MailChimp data.
Though most students open the emails, engagement with the content was present but not overwhelming. Links to mandatory study materials and the Property Law Playlist(s) were clicked the most, news items that were property law related or adjacent, were less popular, and there were even some weeks that nobody clicked these links. Because of the latter, I still want to hear what the students think of the newsletters.
All students were informed of the possibility to unsubscribe from the newsletter in the very first newsletter. It was made clear that they were not part of the mandatory reading materials and were not mandatory in general. Of the 90 students on the email list, one unsubscribed.
Secondly, I made use of quizzes throughout the course. After each seminar (which comprised of no more than 30 students per class) where we discussed cases that the students had to prepare, I closed off the seminar with around 10 questions in a Kahoot! quiz.
I really liked how Kahoot! could show me whether the students were really paying attention and grasping what we had discussed in class in a quick and fun manner. It livened up the classes as well, and got students to be more engaged. As the quizzes allowed me to instantly see what the responses were, and how many students got the answer right or wrong, it allowed me to see what concepts were understood by the students, and which ones perhaps required more attention.
Halfway through the course a bigger ‘mid-term’ quiz (without any consequences) was made, featuring some 30 questions. This quiz was at the end of a full-class lecture, meaning all 90 students could compete with one another. The winner got some treats that she could share with her fellow students. Next year, I’m thinking of getting a small cup engraved with ‘Property Law Quiz Winner 2018’, taking the idea from a colleague at Utrecht University.
I also introduced an assigment related to the quizzes. Students had to make 5 Kahoot! quiz questions themselves on a particular topic I assigned them (basically splitting the content of the previous weeks among them). They had to hand in the questions using Google Forms, where they (1) provide the question, (2) provide four possible answers, (3) tell me which one is the correct one, and (4) provide an explanation and source for the correct answer. The result was a large Google Sheets file with hundreds of questions. Some good, some not so much. The good ones I combined in the specific Google Forms Quizzes format (which allows the correct answer explanation to be displayed) and made these available in batches as the exam approached.
On numerous occasions I told the students that the quizzes DO NOT replace proper studying for the exam, but they allowed them practice with ‘knowledge questions’. There is no synthesis, nor analysis really required, or possible, using these types of questions, but it’s a good way to see if you have grasped some of the material.
RFID check-in system
The biggest invention/project was the implementation of the RFID check-in system using a Raspberry Pi, an RFID card-reader, 90+ cards, some stickers, Google Sheets, and Lego.
The Global Law Programme at Tilburg University has mandatory presence for all students. Last year, I spent the better part of 15 minutes doing roll call before starting each lecture. This was time-consuming, boring, and remenicent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This year, I wanted to find a new, quicker, and all around more efficient way of keeping note of who was in class and who wasn’t.
What didn’t make the cut:
- I toyed around with keeping the paper based system, and then having students sign the sheet. Pro: quick and no hassle. Con: student’s could sign for one another.
- Another idea was to use a sign in link which would be projected on the first sheet with a QR-code, that would redirect students to an online sign up sheet. Problem here too was that students present could simply copy the link to the students who were anywhere but in class, and have them sign in from outside of class.
The RFID card system seemed excellently suited for the job. Together with Stefan Kulk from Utrecht University, I came up with this idea of the Property Law Cards.
For the specific code that ran on the Raspberry Pi you can ask him, he might put it up on GitHub.
I ordered simple Mifare RFID cards from China (it could also have used the student cards that the University issues to students, but I only found out about that later, and it would create an extra step, and perhaps some privacy issues). Each card was read for its UID (Unique Identification) number, these were put in a Google Sheets list, and the first name of a student registered for class was put in the column next to it. Stefan scripted the code, using the Google Sheets API and I made a very simple website showing the total number of check-ins as they happened.
Each student picked up their card in the first class where I also explained the concept.
- The Card is kept near the card-reader (the Raspberry Pi). The Pi checks the UID on the card against the UID on the Google Sheet via the Sheets API.
- Only the teacher has access to the Google Sheet.
- Where the Pi finds the UID on the list it adds a ‘1’ to the corresponding week for that particular UID.
- The Pi then picks up the first name that belongs to the particular UID and sends that back to the Pi which displays it on the screen as the message ‘Hi [first name]!’
- A little bit of code running on a server that is using input from the Pi then sends the total number of people that checked in, as well as the percentage of people checked in to the website which displays the welcome message on a PowerPoint sheet.
Did it work? Largely yes! Because the students had to pass me to check-in and therefore I could verify that they only used one card and didn’t try to check-in for a student not present (it also greatly helped me to link student names to faces in the first couple of classes).
Most of the students liked the idea. The downside was that I had to use my phone as a personal hotspot because I couldn’t connect the PI to the Eduroam network at the University, and the signal wasn’t the best in the lecture hall I was lecturing in, which meant it sometimes took a bit longer. The students also seemed to enjoy it largely, although some protested the idea of mandatory attendance in general (which was not related to the card) and others questioned the speed (I agree, could be improved).
Update ideas for next year:
- Skip the whole internet connection, and make it local on the pi. Then it can work much faster.
- Ditch the lego and build a wooden case.
- Smaller screen, no real need for this.
Google Forms in general were used to get feedback from students throughout the course. This was used not only to hand in assignments (see above), but also to see what they thought of, for example, the Property Law Card idea and its implementation.
Tilburg University has Google Apps for students, which meant I could limit access to the forms to only those with a tilburguniversity.edu account.
Google Docs was also used to collect questions for a revision lecture, whereby students could ask questions regarding concepts and things from the literature or materials they have to revise for the exam. As the particular Google Doc used for this purpose showed a list of questions already posed, I would not get 7 emails asking for the same thing for example.