We spoke to Aimee Merrydew, Curriculum Developer at the Keele Institute of Innovation and Teaching Excellence, about her use of Talis Elevate.
How did you first come across Talis Elevate?
I first came across Talis Elevate when working with the Pandemic Pedagogy team as part of History UK last year to put together practice resources for other academics when transitioning to online teaching quickly. I came across it through another Talis Elevate user Jamie Wood. We had conversations about how it could be used to build communities whilst working online and it intrigued me. I’ve loved exploring it ever since.
Why did you feel this would be valuable to build into your course?
Initially, what drew me to Talis Elevate was that it enabled me to continue group work whilst teaching online.
My experience of online teaching was slim before the pandemic, so when I was faced with suddenly moving online I thought: how can I encourage students to work in small groups in seminars, with the texts and discussion questions, and have those discussions together on a week-by-week basis? I knew I needed something that would enable those conversations online.
When I came across Talis Elevate it was really exciting because I realised it would allow me to upload the texts for discussion with question prompts, which students would then be able to work on inside and outside of the seminar time.
Students were placed into breakout rooms in small groups and worked on the texts together in Talis Elevate. It was great because they could all annotate the same text at the same time as a group.
How did you incorporate Talis Elevate into your module?
I was keen to encourage students to make use of Talis Elevate within the sessions but also outside of the sessions. During our sessions, we would add annotations, go through them together, and discuss them further online. I’d then encourage them to review these after the class, return to them at a later date, and add new ideas upon reflection.
I’ve also used Talis Elevate in asynchronous sessions with educators doing the Masters in Higher Education Practice at Keele – it was interesting to use it in a different way. I made use of the ability to upload videos and different types of documents (blog posts and journal articles). Students were encouraged to annotate and respond to each other’s comments, which all happened at different points in time.
I’ve found that students who are shyer in physical sessions have been more engaged on Talis Elevate: it’s grown their confidence.
You’ve taught similar modules before without Talis Elevate, what impact did using it have on the students that was different to last year?
I’ve found that conversations are flowing much more easily than before. In the live seminar sessions, students have mentioned comments that have been made by their peers and built their responses around that. They’re really paying attention to what the rest of the class are adding, and developing these ideas in a natural way, which is something I’ve really enjoyed about using Talis Elevate this year.
Students have taken the time to email me about the seminars being ‘inclusive environments’ for them, which helped to build a sense of community. They feel comfortable to engage in discussions because platforms like Talis Elevate enable them to type their thoughts out and respond in a way that they don’t always feel comfortable to do in an in-person environment. To get that feedback is brilliant.
I had a student tell me they were feeling socially anxious, so I suggested they made use of the anonymous commenting feature on Talis Elevate. I saw their confidence grow as the weeks went on. It was incredible to see their level of engagement and how thoughtful their comments were. Eventually, they felt confident enough to join our live sessions again. I think Talis Elevate played an important role in that confidence-building process.
Talis Elevate goes beyond just assignments. In the working world, you need to be able to engage in discussion with people, have ideas challenged, learn from what others are saying, and assert your own ideas. Being able to develop critical discussion is a life-long learning skill. Talis Elevate really helps students to develop these skills.
Have you noticed a difference in the level of understanding of students on the course?
Yes, I can tell by the comments when students are struggling to understand or have further questions. By creating a space where it’s OK to be honest about not understanding something and to discuss it collaboratively has really helped overcome those barriers. I’m explicit about the benefits of co-creating knowledge, particularly in terms of ensuring that students understand we all bring different perspectives and ideas about the subject matter and the value of that dialogue.
As an academic, what benefits help you most with your teaching?
I’ve found the analytics really useful, as I can see who is logging on and who is engaging. If I’ve noticed that someone isn’t so engaged, I can send a supportive email to check in on them. As a result, I’ve noticed these students becoming more engaged again.
I love your new feature where people get notifications when they’ve been mentioned. I like to go back into resources after discussions and add comments and respond to students, so that feature provides a way to keep the conversations going.
When we are back face to face, how do you see yourself using this?
I’d like to use Talis Elevate to help students prepare ahead of seminars, for example: to read and annotate a book chapter, article, or any other piece of content. I think it would also be beneficial after classes as well, as you could continue any discussions that happened during the class.
I’m also interested in uploading module handbooks into Talis Elevate too, giving students the chance to ask questions to the module convenor and even help each other out with doubts.
Any advice for others in English and similar courses on using Talis Elevate?
Have a clear purpose for Talis Elevate and communicate this purpose to the group, so they understand why they’re working collaboratively and how it can enhance their analytical skills for their assessments and beyond.
Make the most of the fact that Talis Elevate is really diverse. It’s useful to continue to use the same platform so it’s familiar and there’s less onboarding, but you can easily change up activities and use a range of resources on Talis Elevate to keep learning exciting.