Learning in isolation is challenging. Students starting university this September will need new ways to build a sense of community and belonging without much face-to-face teaching or group work. Ketso Connect is a tactile, non-digital innovation to enhance the student experience in remote and blended learning. There is a powerful case for universities to provide each student in a cohort with their own kit as part of a welcome pack.

Ketso Connect builds on award-winning pedagogical innovation from The University of Manchester (Tippett, Connelly and How, 2015, Tippett and How, 2020). We have redesigned this hands-on tool for use in online teaching. The following clear advantages emerged from trials with University of Manchester students (undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD) and academics from five universities:

  • Active engagement with learning

Using Ketso Connect means that students are able to have time away from the screen in short bursts of activity during an online session, working with a visually appealing, tactile tool. This is especially important for distance learning, as it is hard to maintain an attention span of more than 20 minutes when staring at a screen. One student commented: “This was one of the first online tutorials when I have not been distracted when I was doing it. I was fully engaged”.

  • Structures thinking

Each participant has their own Ketso station, which they use in a parallel process with others to develop their thinking. Ideas are shared verbally, along with photos of the results. Using the different coloured leaves to capture and order ideas in stages brings structure to the process, and builds learning and thinking skills: “I liked the structure, it was clear. Because there was structure, even the quiet time had purpose”.

The kit can easily be adapted for use in remote learning, socially distanced face-to-face teaching and standard workshops. This new tool puts the power to structure thinking and to collaborate into the hands of the students.

  • Scalable for large online classes

Ketso Connect can promote meaningful engagement and peer-learning even in very large groups. Our trials with students and academics have shown that the simple visual communication of Ketso can be harnessed remotely when everyone has a kit. Using the physical kit as a prompt and with simple instructions given by PowerPoint, participants were able to self-manage their engagement in digital breakout rooms. The Ketso activity gives students a way to stay in the thread of the conversation even when they have internet issues. The tutor manages the overall process; setting the themes, questions and overall timing.

We have designed Ketso Connect to be used in small spaces, and at a price that means each student can be provided with their own kit. It can be used in induction workshops, academic advisory and study skills sessions, seminars, short discussion breaks during lectures, workshops and in group work. An academic who specialises in educational technology commented after a trial: “this really worked as a class management tool for a virtual classroom, to make sure that everyone is engaged”.

  • Builds a learning community

Everybody has their own kit and develops ideas together, so everyone is engaged in the same process at once. The physical kit encourages an active process, and each student knows the others have developed something to share. All of the students involved in the trials agreed that using the kit in remote workshops made them feel more engaged and connected to the group. This will be especially useful for the new cohorts of 2020, where students may feel isolated, given social distancing and the likelihood of much of their learning to be delivered online for at least the first semester.

“This was one of the first online tutorials when I have not been distracted when I was doing it.
I was fully engaged”

  • Supports Widening Participation and equality

Using Ketso builds students’ confidence in voicing their ideas. Its turn-taking process ensures that everyone has a say, including those who are more likely to stay quiet in conventional sessions. As one student commented after the trial: “Ketso really helps, especially the structured way of thinking helps people to organise ideas in their head and then feel confident speaking about them”.

The hands-on and visual nature of our original Ketso range has a proven track record of inclusion: for quiet students, those for whom English is not their first language, and for those who experience different ways of learning. The fact that every student is using this tool to support their learning means that inclusiveness is embedded, for the benefit of all. Supporting students who learn differently is likely to lead to better retention.

  • Encourages conceptual development

Ketso Connect acts as a non-digital extension of the laptop or tablet. There were several comments on the value of a physical adjunct to online learning: “It is nice to have something real and tactile to use in a more and more virtual world”.

Leaves can be moved and clustered, with emerging themes labelled. Conceptually this is visually engaging and memorable. “Compared to writing it down with just a pen and piece of paper, that is not as visual. When you have different leaves, you can put something down to show which ones are prioritised… With the Ketso kit it is more visually appealing and makes more sense, clarity-wise”.

Students can also use this versatile tool in their individual study, for project planning, developing essay structures and scheduling their study.

We have been delighted with the response to Ketso Connect in these trials. If you want to know more about how Ketso Connect can enhance the student experience starting in September, or to enquire about adding departmental and university logos for bulk purchases, get in touch.