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Talis Elevate

What makes Talis Elevate a good online teaching tool: interview with Senior Teaching Fellow Jon Chandler

Natalie Naik
Academic perspective History (Subject)

Jon Chandler is a Senior Teaching Fellow at University College London (UCL) in the History Department. He has adopted Talis Elevate for the entire History Department and we spoke to him about what impact he hopes it’ll have.


Tell us about what this unusual start of term looks like for you and your students.

As well as my teaching role, I’m the ‘Connected Learning Lead’ for the History Department, so I lead on online teaching or e-learning matters. Over the summer, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to get online teaching in a good place to support this shift. Our focus has been on first-year students because for them it’s completely new. Our second and third-year students have already had a bit of university, and hopefully, know what to expect, but for the first year, this is going to be a new experience. 

We are trying to support them with the transition to university, which is hard enough at the best of times, but in the current situation, this is especially challenging. For this reason, we thought Talis Elevate was a good tool to help us.  


What about Talis Elevate makes it a useful tool for your teaching?

What stood out about Talis Elevate was how well it worked for presenting primary sources, which is important in a history course. We want to prioritise having a research-based curriculum. Students are engaging with primary sources, engaging with historical research, and we introduce that to the students in their first year, they’re dealing with primary sources straight away. A lot of these primary sources are images or they’re text-based documents, but they’re resources which we often have as photographs, pdfs or scans.

With these documents, we wanted to create the idea of students sitting around in the classroom working on a document together, reading a primary source together, whether that’s an 18th-century cartoon or whether that’s an ancient Greek tablet or whether it’s a 20th-century newspaper article. We wanted to create a sense of students sitting around discussing it and when working in an online environment, Talis Elevate seemed like the best option for us to do that. 

We want students to use it both in an asynchronous way, for example, we could set the source as a homework task that they could do in their own time, but it’s also something you could use as a synchronous task within a live teaching session and have students working together on a source. That’s the plan of how we intend to use it. 


How are staff planning to use Talis Elevate?

I think a lot of colleagues are using a combination of both of those examples. Some people are using asynchronously, some synchronously and some people are using a blend of the two. I’m keen for people to adapt it to the way that works for them at this stage. I think most people will be using it primarily for primary sources, like documents or for historical texts or images. I think some of us are also using it for secondary sources. I’m giving it a go with secondary sources with some articles or chapters from books. Partly because I thought I thought I’d integrate Talis Elevate throughout my courses. 

But, I don’t want to go overboard with one tool, so for the secondary source reading, I asked students to use Talis Elevate as a way to highlight issues. So if there’s anything within that chapter that they don’t understand, if there’s a passage which is confusing them to use the function to comment and highlight and ask questions about it. Then, either students or I can answer those questions. Or if there’s anything which they think is interesting as well, they could highlight it to discuss in the next seminar. 

With primary sources, I’m using it for the collaborative annotation functions. I’ve asked students to highlight a particular quote or particular part of the text to put a comment that explains what this quote means, for example, and goes into a bit of analysis. I’ve asked my students to generally reply to those as well, and I’ve made that a core requirement for teaching as a way to encourage students to participate. We are starting slowly, but for my class next week, they have to find one quote or one passage from the text which outlines a particular part of the author’s argument and highlight within Talis Elevate. In the class will then revisit it and discuss why they chose these particular passages. It’s a way of linking what students are doing in their study time, and what they’re doing in the live class. 


Students have only been using it a week or so, but have any academic colleagues given any feedback yet?

Yes, I won’t have any student feedback yet, but colleagues who have started using it report that it has gone very positively. Some colleagues have already used it in a synchronous class to analyse primary source images and have said that it was a very good addition to a classroom, again, because that’s something we do a lot in a ‘real’ face-to-face class. That’s not as easy to do over Zoom, so this is just another way of doing that. So I’ve had some feedback from colleagues that that works really well.


Was your reasoning behind adopting Talis Elevate motivated by the shift to teaching online?

I think it’s definitely a product of the shift online, but it is something I think I would have considered anyway if I’d come across it. In whatever world we move into when we’re back to some kind of normal teaching, this is something I want to continue using. It’s a fantastic addition to our arsenal.


Will it solve any challenges you were facing with online teaching and learning?

Yes, the issue we had when we sort of started looking at the shift to online was how we could try and make that learning process more active. Normally in class, we spend a lot of time talking through these documents. We wanted to recreate that sense of collaboration. A very low tech way of doing it was with a Google document, which is basically what I started with. But there are certain problems with using Google, and it is quite a laborious process. 

I think forums are really good for students to ask questions and discuss issues, however, it’s difficult to talk about specific sections of a resource because there’s a disconnect. You have to leave the forum, find the item and come back.

Where Talis Elevate comes in is as a way for students to be able to discuss the reading more directly on the item. You can make a note right on a text and you can get it in real-time. So it means you have a conversation over it more easily. I think it’s smoother in terms of the discussion capabilities.

We were also worried that the transition to online teaching means we’re going to miss out on classroom identity, or class community. Most of us are doing online synchronous classes, and so far staff and students seem to be enjoying them. A lot of us are using forums as a way of trying to encourage students to collaborate, and Talis Elevate gives us another option. 

I was looking for a tool which would do the job across all these areas, and we found Talis Elevate.


Thanks to Jon for his contribution to this post.

If you’d like to find out more about how Talis Elevate is being used by academics, click here.

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