18 Jan 2016

New learning tool enables pupils to address “tricky topics”

A new tool and activities to enhance learning, particularly amongst low ability pupils, has been developed by OU academics and will be unveiled to Milton Keynes schools on 21 January.

The Tricky Topic Tool was developed as part of the EU-funded JuxtaLearn project to identify and assess barriers to student learning. The project uses a range of innovative, creative technologies to support student-led learning. These technologies include tabletops, ipads and interactive large screen displays. Interactive large screens allow students to use their mobiles to connect to and interact with content displayed on large screens in schools. Tabletops are like very large iPads allowing multiple students to work together. The project encourages students to take charge of novel learning activities such as creative video performance. This control helps them understand concepts they find difficult to grasp and contrasts with current approaches to teaching tricky topics through repetition.

The term ‘Tricky Topic’ was co-developed with teachers. The tool helps teachers break down Tricky Topics into a set of stumbling blocks and uncovers the reasons why these are problems for the students. Examples of Tricky Topics are identifying mass in Chemistry and understanding equations in Mathematics.

“We use the term 'Tricky Topic' to refer to these barriers that students face” said Dr Anne Adams, senior lecturer in the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology.

“Sometimes they appear to have understood, but when exam time comes their answers show that they were actually memorising facts without reaching a real understanding. We have found that the tool works really well for low ability students as they seek more meaningful ways to relate to the learning content.”

The approach will be demonstrated to a wide audience including local education members, school children, parents and EU reviewers at Radcliffe School, Wolverton on 21st January.

Other organisations have also expressed interest in the tool. The University Of Oxford Department of Education are interested in developing the tool as part of teacher training. and researchers within the Open University Policing Research Consortium are using it for games-based training in conducting interviews with children.


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