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Digital tools that promote interaction and competition in class can have notable benefits to learning, as Yuyang Zhao explains, based on her use of quizzes
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Xi'an Jiaotong - Liverpool University 
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University students are often viewed as competent, independent, individual learners ready to take control of their learning. However, their results often tell a different story, showing that students need proper guidance and scaffolding in their learning.
Over years of university teaching, I’ve observed certain stumbling blocks in the classroom:
Whether it’s a lecture for 200 students or a tutorial focusing on answering 30 students’ burning questions, there often seems to be a lack of responsive interaction with the lecturer and with one another.
The natural assumption is that the students lack the proactivity needed for effective learning. However, there could be multiple reasons for this perceived lack of responsiveness from the students. Is it because students are used to passive learning? Is it because students need more stimulation? Is it because students want more peer-learning opportunities?
I have solved some of these problems by using the quiz and interactive lesson platform Quizizz to support my teaching. This has boosted student engagement, increased peer-learning opportunities and provided greater insights into students’ understanding of new material. Here’s how quizzes can transform engagement:
One reason students disengage is if they start to passively “accept” the knowledge taught and are not frequently challenged to demonstrate their understanding. To address this, I assign regular quizzes as homework.
Having created your quiz, you can send the link to your students and set a deadline that fits the learning and teaching progress. The quiz enables students to compete against one another, the results of which display their individual names. This competition element encourages meaningful interaction between students and fosters a sense of belonging in class.
Introducing an element of competition motivates students to listen attentively, to inform the lecturer when something is not clear to them, and to review the content learned before completing their quizzes. The quizzes provide useful learner data such as class mastery of topics, the most difficult questions and questions that took students the longest time to answer. This insight can guide tutors in where to focus their teaching and support efforts.
Now and then I present “pop-up” quizzes in class to spice up lessons and check students’ grasp of key points. It is worth putting students in groups so they sit together, discuss the questions, negotiate with one another and work together to solve problems. If you are teaching online, you could do this using break-out groups. You can also invite students to log in and compete with one another individually.
Visual cues (such as fun images, team names and a leaderboard) and audio elements (such as engaging music and tunes to designate a right or wrong answer) keep students engaged in the process and stimulate lively debate and reactions.
In English-language teaching, when reading or listening questions are involved, students complete the quiz individually as this allows them to think and process in a quiet environment and it mimics an authentic test scenario.
Post-pandemic, it seems likely we will continue to teach both in person and online. Quizizz can meet most of the requirements needed for either teaching mode. The only stumbling block is that the group competition function in the “live quiz” mode can be tricky to navigate if students are learning remotely. While the individual competition mode can be implemented by the lecturer sharing the screen, which enables all the students to see the progress, the live group competition requires constant communication among the students, which is difficult when working remotely. However, if there is a reliable internet connection and the number of students in each group is quite small, they can rely on voice or video calls to discuss the answers during the quiz.
Student engagement is often a thorny problem in higher education. With the right pedagogy and tools, students gain a means to test their knowledge and to reinforce their understanding with their peers, which facilitates long-term learning.
Yuyang Zhao is a lecturer in English for academic purposes at the School of Languages at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.
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