Mentimeter is a free tool that allows rapid, live communication between students and staff. A teacher can pose a question, problem, idea and invite the students to respond through their phones or laptops. Their responses are anonymous and can be displayed to the whole class.

Below is an example of a mentimeter I use when teaching critical thinking.

An icebreaker used when discussing critical thinking. I encourage students to think broadly about how we are critical everyday, and that it's not so much the act is hard, but communicating our critical process that is difficult.

An icebreaker used when discussing critical thinking. I encourage students to think broadly about how we are critical everyday, and that it's not so much the act is hard, but communicating our critical process that is difficult.

This is a very useful teaching tool, but I believe Menti could help teachers get rapid and actionable feedback during a lecture. Before I discuss this type of feedback, I'll compare it to two other types we typically ask students for.

We ask students for feedback at the end of a module. This is the first type. They must fill in a form that covers the terms worth of teaching: the quality of the teaching, the availability of resources, the coursework and assessment. This is useful for long term changes to a module's structure: perhaps the readings need updating, or students would like a different weighting of assessment. It's meant to improve the course for the next year, with no benefit for the current students.

Recently, I’ve observed some staff members obtaining a second type of feedback that is more regular and for the current students. They give students a paper questionnaire at the end of each lecture, or use virtual learning environments.

It usually focuses on the teaching and content in an individual lecture and how it was taught. Staff use it to modify their approaches week-to-week in response to student demands. This helps staff make mid-level changes: the amount of content in one section might be too demanding or too easy, the online resources might not be available or have links broken etc. 

I’ve done this for my own teaching with Menti.

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This second feedback is that it gets us close to type three: real time feedback from students about how the lecture is going right now. 

In the above Menti, notice how often my speed of delivery comes up. This is a perennial problem for me, I tend to speed up as time goes on. This feedback is interesting and important, but getting it at the end of the lecture is too late. I don’t just need feedback on my speed after the lecture has finished, but maybe halfway through.

We do not traditionally ask for third type of feedback using online tools. Many teaching staff ask for it verbally. They pause to check whether the class is keeping up, or whether some idea or concept needs clarifying. The simple 'Any questions so far?' is a good example.

I recently asked a class if I was talking too quickly. None of the native English speakers thought I was too rapid, but nearly all the international students said I was. While this verbal strategy works, it requires prompting from me rather than the student. None were brave enough to interrupt my flow and ask me to stop thundering through the content. I don’t blame them, I wouldn't have stopped a lecture to ask someone to slow down.

Menti can solve this. Students can fire of a quick Menti-message to the lecturer using their phones. It is anonymous, meaning those who’d rather not speak publicly can do so. More than this, Menti has the option of keeping the results private, meaning the staff member does not need to make the results public to the class. They can read them and discreetly make the desired change as and when feedback comes in.

I haven’t tried the instant feedback method yet, but I can already see some problems with it. First, it's counter-productive to encourage students to spend more times on their phones. We are fighting a losing battle with phone and laptop distraction as it is.

Second, we don't actually need feedback on every minute thing a student finds irksome. If students can continually submit feedback, we might instead glimpse their inner monologue, getting fleeting thoughts rather than constructive feedback.

Finally, Menti is open to abuse. It has a profanity filter, but there is a chance that staff open ourselves up to some truly nasty comments about our teaching.

We don’t need actual real-time data of what are students are thinking, but we do need to give students more opportunities to feedback during class. The National Student Survey has picked up on assessment and feedback time and time again. The new Student Voice section shows that students don’t think academics are responding to their complaints.

Menti can resolve this problem if used wisely. If it were used once, perhaps during the break in a two-hour teaching session, staff could try and implement some of the changes for the second half. This would show that staff do sincerely value student feedback.

This wouldn't encourage students use their phones during teaching time and heads off the sleuth of comments that might be pernickety rather than constructive.  

I’ll report back on how this method goes in a few weeks.