Ketso Connect is an innovation born in response to the challenges faced by students in the pandemic. We had positive feedback during initial trials and we’re pleased we can now report how it has fared in online learning with students at The University of Manchester. Here Dr Joanne Tippett, founder of Ketso and Lecturer in Planning and Environmental Management discusses feedback from students she taught online this semester, with the aid of Ketso Connect.

This semester we provided each student in the first and third year of Planning and Environmental Management programmes with their own Ketso Connects (104 in total), hoping for the following outcomes:

  • Increase in engagement and focus during online sessions
  • Help in structuring their thinking and learning
  • Increased confidence in speaking and inclusivity
  • Support for self-directed study

After a semester of trying out different ways to use the kit in online learning, I was keen to find out about their experience. Students from each cohort were asked a series of questions using Mentimeter, with all responses made anonymously. Fifty students gave feedback, of which eight were third years. Feedback overall was positive – with interesting insights and some unexpected benefits emerging from the initial analysis presented here.

Engagement and focus

The desired outcome of increased engagement and focus during live sessions was marked, with thirty-four agreeing, and only six not agreeing, that the kit was helpful in this regard. This increase in focus and engagement was noted both during plenary taught sessions and in ‘breakout rooms’ for small group discussions:

  • It was really useful during workshops. Also putting down my ideas on the leaves helped me to develop my thoughts further and made me stay focused during the lectures.
  • It’s a great way for a group to hold focus in breakout rooms.

Structuring thinking and learning

Thirty-seven of the fifty respondents agreed with the statement that Ketso helped them ‘structure their thinking and learning’. This is of particular pedagogic interest, as it is the first time there has been a large-scale individual use of Ketso in teaching, as opposed to its use in face-to-face group workshops.

Students’ comments demonstrate the affordances brought by the visual and tactile nature of the kit:

  • As a visual learner it has been really beneficial to learn in a more practical way.
  • Looking back at notes easier!
  • I enjoyed playing around with the leaves and seeing other people’s ideas 🙂
  • After I wrote down my ideas I could move them around and connect them with one another.
  • Ketso opens up a different way of thinking / attacking a problem.
  •  I felt sceptical about the ketso kit, but it is so so useful, and I ended up using it to help plan my essay in the planning course- I didn’t realise how useful visual learning was.

Two students in particular compared the tactile nature of the kit to doing the work online:

  • Like computer mind-mapping but the tactile experience is more versatile.
  • I like how the kit lets me put my ideas down on something physical, as I usually just type on my laptop. Allowing visual organisation and categorisation as I move them around on the felt also helps with the development of ideas and the creation of new ones.

Confidence and inclusivity

Twenty-one students agreed that using the kit helped increase their confidence in speaking in a group. This can be especially important in terms of inclusion, as often students who lack confidence due to speaking English as an additional language, or from experiencing dyslexia-type challenges, are less likely to speak in group discussions. This comment highlighted the increased sense of connection amongst students:

“It allows my fellow classmates and I to brainstorm ideas together, which strengthens the sense of teamwork. It also makes me feel more confident to speak up and share my ideas.”

A combination of factors ensures that everyone has a say. Everyone has time to reflect and structure their ideas, with a physical record of this process to refer to. Each learner chooses one or two ideas that they wish to share, using the icons. As everyone knows that each person in their breakout room has gone through the same process, there is a tangible sense that everyone has chosen an idea to share. Turn-taking is further encouraged by a structured process with one student in each breakout group taking the role of going around the group one person at a time, and making sure they have a say.

Self-directed study and learning to learn

This chart shows students’ responses to how they used their kits. Not surprisingly, the greatest number of uses were those that were coordinated by the tutor during seminars, workshops and lectures. There was, however, a range of uses outside of the live sessions (shown in purple), and the responses show that a good number of students used the kit in self-directed study.

In addition, twenty-eight students responded that they would carry on using Ketso Connect in their ongoing studies. Some of the reasons given were:

  • I find Ketso very good for visualising problems or questions, providing general views as well as more detailed views.
  • I can plan out ideas.
  • Good for visual learning.

For the students who didn’t think they would use Ketso Connect in their future studies, the reasons fell into two areas: either that they preferred different methods, or that they could see the value in the directed lessons, but weren’t sure how it would work outside of the guided process of the live sessions.

Ongoing use of the kits in self-directed study has the potential to help students become more active learners. As one student commented, “It was helpful for creating a literature review and connecting ideas for essays”.

“It allows my fellow classmates and I to brainstorm ideas together, which strengthens the sense of teamwork. It also makes me feel more confident to speak up and share my ideas.”

A way to encourage such active development of ideas was tried out in an essay planning workshop. Students were asked to gather ideas from key readings in preparation before the live session, using the colour codes: yellow for strengths, grey for weaknesses, brown for evidence and green for ‘so what’ analysis. They then structured and reordered these ideas in conversation with each other in a series of breakout sessions, developing input for their essay assignment.

Essay planning workshop, notes taken from reading to a structured flow of ideas

This extended, directed use of the kit encouraged students to link ideas from their reading to development of themes in workshops, which in turn could be ordered into the sections in their essays. Such rearrangement of ideas and thematic structuring helps students in their conceptual development, especially when they move the leaves and discuss the emergent themes with their peers.

Tactile learning is the future

To learn is to move, shifts in perception create new understandings. Kinaesthetic learning is learning through active physical engagement. There could be significant advantages to be gained by extending individual, ongoing use of this tactile kit into ‘normal’ teaching.

In a demonstration of Ketso Connect, a colleague from The University of Manchester commented: “If I had a pound for every time I had written feedback along the lines of – there are good points here, but they are in no particular order, I would be rich”. Feedback from students has clearly demonstrated that Ketso helped learners structure their thinking, with benefits for the writing process.

An unexpected benefit to emerge from this experience is the potential for the use of an individual, hands-on learning aid to help students make links between different aspects of their learning, often an elusive learning outcome in teaching.

It seems likely that once we return to ‘normal’ teaching, the elements of interactivity and frequent small-group discussion that students have experienced during online teaching will make them less interested in sitting through two hours of being ‘talked at’ in a lecture. Ketso Connect could provide a simple way to bring much greater interactivity into lecture halls, even with very large cohorts, with the added benefit that students can carry a physical representation of their evolving ideas with them between sessions and their self-directed study.

It has been a challenging year to say the least, but I feel privileged to have been able to work with such resourceful young people, and to learn alongside them as we have all adapted to the new normal this semester. I am hopeful that this innovation born of necessity may prove to bring a significant shift in our teaching practice. It is a lovely irony that something as simple as a felt-based kit placed into the hands of each learner as a study aid may be an enduring legacy of the pivot to online and digital teaching through the pandemic.

If you are interested in providing Ketso Connect kits for cohorts of your students next semester, please get in touch to find out more.