Georgia Petts, now Vice President Education, at the University of Lincoln Students’ Union, used Talis Elevate as a history student in Dr Jamie Wood’s Making Militants course. We spoke to Georgia to find out more about how Talis Elevate had an impact on her learning.
In your module, Talis Elevate was introduced as a tool to encourage discussion directly on the course materials amongst the students, can you tell us about your experience of this?
I found studying history to be quite traditional – you pick up a book, you read it, and you write about it – but throughout my degree, there was a common theme of students not doing the reading or doing the reading but not really understanding it. So when Talis Elevate was first introduced we got the typical groans and people thinking ‘oh it’s just more work to do’. The first time you use it you’re not sure if you’re using it right or worry about other students judging you for your opinions that you post.
When we did a breakdown of the first Talis session, Jamie had anonymised the comments, so they were more general and theme-based, and it helped that we could see that others had commented similar things. Seeing the comments helped with talking to Jamie and the rest of the class, it was like having a feedback loop but through the resource, instead of being isolated learning, there was always a touchpoint. You read the resources and talked to students, you came to class and talked to Jamie and then you went through and evaluated in a big group.
Although it only came in my 3rd year it was the most engaged I’d ever been with course material.
Why do you think Talis Elevate helped you engage more?
We were being told not only to read, digest and evaluate it but asked to analyse the content and engage with the reading itself. Unlike with other course material, it was not just a case of reading and making comments at the end, you had to do this throughout which helped me stay switched on. You can’t skim read because you’re required to have that interaction.
It allows you to stop and think about the content, and the implication it has on the module, and how you might use it later, so it was important to consider how the comments you’d made would be useful when doing the assignment later on.
How do you think this activity supported your learning on the module?
It was a unique experience to have other students reading and engaging with the material at the same time and having that collaborative element throughout. It reduced that feeling of panic that I think is common, that you are interpreting something incorrectly. When other students made the same comments as I did, it backed up that my opinions were valid and I was on the right track.
When it came to writing assessments, it really helped to have the notes in a digital format in one place. There was a full discussion of comments attached to each piece of content which really helped when planning out an argument. You rarely get the opportunity to talk about individual sources with others on the course, so this facilitated that and helped me explore different angles I hadn’t previously thought about.
What do you think would make engagement easier for students and reduce some of the barriers?
Anonymous comments are really helpful for students that don’t feel as confident in sharing their opinions. I remember in the first seminar it took everyone a while to warm up, but by the end, we were making jokes and engaging in a wider informal chat. But after the second or third session, once we’d learnt to use the technology and felt comfortable with it, comments and questions were well thought out, and there was more formal conversation. After our first session, we stopped using the anonymous option for commenting and started taking ownership of our points, once we did this there was more scope for discussion and we broke down the self-conscious barrier that had stopped us publishing so in the first place.
One of the things that Elevate offers is private note-taking. What is your own approach to studies, how do you usually collect and organise notes?
I typically used to like everything printed out, and I would make notes directly on the printed source or in a notebook then later copy it up into a word document. That’s where I would struggle with digital sources. If your lecturer uploads a section of a book, then you can’t really comment on it and it’s not feasible to print it all out.
I found it was difficult to get a standard version of materials because everyone [the lecturers] would do whatever was easier for them, or it was dependant on the type of resource. I used to then have to make handwritten notes and compile them in a central notebook.
Everything changed in 3rd year in the ‘Making Militants’ module. It was the biggest change I had made to my note-taking or preparing for an assessment because everything was done on a computer, from using Talis Elevate or just collating everything in word documents.
Leading up to my dissertation, I changed the way I started taking notes because it was too difficult to keep printed versions, so I started using documents and making notes online. It was about having everything easily accessible and readable. Before Talis Elevate it was something I used to struggle with (as I had so much content to get through) was having everything in the right place and together in a way that I needed to put together my argument.
Thank you to Georgia Petts for her contribution to this post. You can hear more from Georgia along with other Talis Elevate users at Talis Insight Europe 2020. Find out more here.