Dr Toby Carter is Principal Lecturer and Chair of the Canvas Analytics Workstream at Anglia Ruskin University, and we were thrilled to find out he was a fan of Talis Elevate. Matt East, Learning Technologies Lead spoke to him to find out more about how he was using it, and the results he was seeing.

Could you describe the module you are using Talis Elevate on? What’s the subject matter, and what do you want students to learn?

I’m Toby Carter, a Zoologist at Anglia Ruskin University. This past trimester I have been teaching a module on a Conservation Masters course: Communication Skills for Conservation. The focus of the module is more on communicating conservation issues rather than on learning about conservation. We also cover how to manage and present data and we assess student engagement (including online engagement) on the module. 

This is why I was so keen to use Talis Elevate. It gave me a chance to get analytics on what students are actually up to on the resources that are shared with them and gives a unique opportunity to build deep discussion into a variety of resources. I’ve now posted around 50 resources, which include lecture recordings, papers, infographics, and videos, and have seen some very interesting patterns of activity and engagement.

An example of student discussion on a video. (names anonymised throughout)

Could you tell us a bit about the cohort of students and the mode of delivery?

Talis Elevate had been used by the previous module leader. They used it with a single resource and had a considerable amount of discussion take place, so when I took over the module I wanted to increase the use of Talis Elevate and put more resources online for discussion. Any time I wanted students to look at anything, I used Talis Elevate so I could keep track of how it was being engaged with.

The module used to be entirely online, but as the cohort was getting larger, and it became compulsory in two different conservation masters courses, we were being asked by the students for more face to face sessions. As we’ve moved from online to face to face there’s an expectation that we do more lecturing, which we didn’t do as much of when it was online, when we would run 1 or 2 webinars a week, and now we do at least two hours of lecturing a week plus at least an hour of discussions.

This last discussion session has been principally taken up with talking about resources on Talis Elevate, or about upcoming assessments. Once the students have had a week to look at resources and discuss them online, we’ve brought these points into the classroom. These resources included Open Educational Resources, YouTube content, infographics and lecture recordings. 

An example of discussion around communication styles, on a video of a presentation.

What were you hoping to achieve with your use of Talis Elevate in this module?

The module is principally about communication, and what we’ve found is fascinating ways that people have tried to communicate complex ideas through video, graphics and text. I’ve brought in some videos from YouTube, like a presentation from a famous conservationist, which brought in a lot of discussion. I posted a couple of videos from a film festival of people raising issues around conservation too. Part of a subsequent discussion was about anthropomorphisation in conservation communication, which was based on a paper a student had found, which then generated a lot of very useful discussion.

The students are used to communicating in a scientific context, but in each assessment, they have to communicate to different audiences, such as a government or the general public. This is challenging for the students, as they’ve generally only had to communicate with other scientists. So that’s why I’m bringing in forms of communication with different ideas.

An example of a previous assessment, as an exercise to help students understand the marking structure.

You’ve used Talis Elevate for assessment literacy activity as well on this module. Tell us a bit about this

There are 2 assessments during the module, one half way through and one at the end. For each assessment, we do an ‘assessment literacy session’ where we look at a selection of previous anonymised assessments before they start work on their own. As part of this, I post the work into Talis Elevate to allow the students to start a discussion and familiarise themselves with the assessments before the workshop scenario.

During the workshop I ask the students, working in groups, to rank the assessments they have been given, and give two reasons why. We then pool these results for discussion and then go through it again using the marking rubric and learning outcomes, and get the groups of students to mark the assessment. This takes about an hour and it gets them to think about what is being asked of them and what they need to do to do well in the assessment, so they understand the good and bad. It’s helpful because students often do their assessment without even thinking about this. Talis Elevate added to this experience because comments had already been added, so I was able to pick up on some of these during the workshop and the students were not coming to the example assessments unprepared.

 

How have you done this previously?

In the past, students have been sent these resources in a PDF format and have been able to discuss them on a discussion board. One of the things that causes a problem there is that there’s a breakdown between these things. Talis Elevate allows for a more natural, contextualised discussion, it just works more effectively. 

Students review a parliamentary report.

You’ve talked to us previously about how students have taken ownership of the content as well. How?

An example of this is when one of the students found a paper that had just been published they thought would be interesting to discuss following the lecture and posted it to the discussion board. A couple of students came into the discussion post and made points about the paper, but they were having to do a single discussion post summarising the whole paper. I put the paper on Talis Elevate instead, and it immediately made the discussion around the paper more focussed and more students engaged with it. Students were able to select a paragraph and discuss individual points. It makes it more immediate and there was an awful lot more activity. I’ve done it a few times since, having been signposted to useful resources by students, and I’ve brought it into class discussions which has been very effective.

I don’t get involved with discussions directly on Talis Elevate until we get into class. I want them to have it as their own domain. For me, this feels like the right approach. On the whole, between them, they’re really good at picking up points that I would want to raise anyway. There’s great dialogue.

The Talis Elevate discussions have added a really interesting element to the module and made it substantially richer. 

An example of image annotation in Talis Elevate.

You’re one of the first users to make use of the new image annotation feature. Tell us a bit about how and why you’ve used this.

We had a whole session on the usefulness of infographics. With the new image annotation feature in Talis Elevate I was able to put up a set of infographics to compare and contrast ways of presenting information in an image format.

I gave 3 different examples of infographics on the topic of shark-finning, which was a topic I already covered in one of my data lectures, and asked students to review the information, and misinformation in the different presentations, as well as the presentation style. I asked them to discuss what they think works, and what doesn’t, and consider who the audience would be. 

In my work, I personally don’t use images or photos a lot outside the context of scientific papers, but it fits well within this module and I can see how it would be a very useful tool for a number of other disciplines.

An example of student discussion on a video.

Has there been anything particularly surprising that you’ve learnt from using Talis Elevate?

One of the fascinating things I’ve discovered is that although I’ve read something in depth before uploading it into Talis Elevate, or thought I had, I’ve had to go back and re-read content based on student’s comments or the discussion that has come out of it. I also find that often students already start talking about topics I already wanted to talk about with them. It’s added a new dimension for me which has been fascinating. Of course, it has to be borne in mind that I am teaching Masters students on this module and they are generally very interested in and engaged in the subject.

I’ve also been able to pick up on misconceptions or new ideas for discussion. There have been opportunities to spot places where we could do more on a certain topic, or where I’ve realised the students are way ahead of where I thought they were. You always learn a lot about what’s going on with your students with Talis Elevate which makes for a much richer experience. I’ve been getting positive feedback from students about this too. At least a third of the class is regularly engaged with the content as soon as it’s available.

The ‘module manager’ in Talis Aspire showing the most popular resources.

What have you observed through the analytics Talis Elevate offers?

It’s particularly interesting to see what resources students’ are gravitating towards, especially when they have a choice. A number of resources I thought would get lots of interest really haven’t and resources I felt would have little activity have been the most popular. There’s a relationship with the relevance of the content to the assessment throughout. However, One thing I’ve been doing is adding lecture recordings of the module lectures to Talis Elevate, as the students requested this, but they have hardly engaged with these at all. Perhaps as we get closer to assessment they will, or it could just be the recordings are there as a security blanket for the students.

However, there have been lots of things that are interesting, but not surprising either. Usage analytics pulses throughout the weeks, with the bulk of resource usage just before taught sessions or assessment submission, which is to be expected.

 

How else could you see yourself using this in the future?

If I were running a module using a flipped teaching method again, as I have in the past, I would love to use Talis Elevate to present the pre-session resources. Actually seeing what they’ve done before the class would really help with running that sort of module.

 

If you were going to try and explain this tool to someone else in your department, how would you describe it and the impact it’s had?

If you want students to do contextual discussions within a resource, this is exactly what you need. It gets students engaged in the resources and helps you understand what students are thinking, and adds relevance to their learning. They put in their spin on what’s there, so as a pre-teaching resource it’s very useful indeed. 

I haven’t had to think a lot about what needs to be discussed in class, I just read comments and pick up on things we can explore. You can use it once, or constantly. The fact you can see exactly what students are doing, alongside other tools we have available, is great. I’m a fan!

 

Thank you to Toby for his contribution to this article. To read a student perspective of Talis Elevate, see this post.