Any of you following the Ketso journey will know that we are adapting and developing our kits, to bring online meetings and workshops to life in a hands-on and visual way. Our initial focus has been on educational environments. The first trial of remote working with university students was a resounding success, with feedback that revealed advantages of using the physical Ketso kit in online group situations that we hadn’t anticipated.

At Ketso, we’ve been very busy looking into how we adapt our kits for group interaction in an online environment and with social distancing measures. Ketso is used in teaching and research in more than half of the UK’s universities. In addition, Ketso’s founder, Joanne, is a lecturer at The University of Manchester, and she has been working out how best to engage with her own students remotely. Given the extensive use of the kit for teaching across the world, we have a keen interest in adapting Ketso for university use in the new normal, so this is where we began our development process.

Developing a new Ketso kit

Our new kit, with a working title of Ketso Connect, needed to include enough elements (re-usable leaves for capturing ideas, felt, pens, washbag, wallet) to be suitable for one student alone in their own space. This is replicated for all the other students in the group, so everyone participating is equipped for creating and tracking all of their ideas. For universities to invest in this ‘multi-kit’ approach for students, we also needed to be mindful of costs, so this is like a stripped-down version of the My Ketso.

We see this new way of working as offering immediate benefits for universities – providing a real innovation in supporting blended learning come September and the new academic year. This would be a tangible sign to their students that they are making a change to support their learning, despite the challenging circumstances. Ideally, this will be taken up by universities as a toolkit for all participating students to organise their thoughts in virtual lectures, seminars and for home study.

As a tool for supporting learning and connection between learners and teachers, it is of course also relevant to schools and other educational environments.

Remote working for university students

Initially we have focused on remote teaching and how students can benefit from Ketso methods. Whilst there is still uncertainty about what provision can be made for face-to-face teaching in the new academic year, it is clear that remote learning will be part of the university experience for a while to come. We started with a small-scale trial using Ketso to test how Ketso Connect could work with participants each connecting to the session by video link.

Online learning is a very different prospect to physically attending a lecture; we have heard it described as watching bad TV! Ensuring student engagement is crucial for lectures shared on a screen to be effective. We’ve long known that using Ketso drives engagement, creative thinking and helps people organise their thoughts, but we are used to using the kit with everyone in the same physical space. We were interested in seeing how Ketso could enhance and improve the experience of remote teaching and student engagement. We also wanted to see if it really was better than simply taking notes with a pen and paper, when listening online.

The first student trial

In early June, we initiated a trial Ketso session online with a small number of willing undergraduate students in a tutorial group, with participants dialing in from across the UK and Hong Kong. The students were asked for their feedback, in response to a series of questions after the session. We made it clear that feedback would remain anonymous, so we could record students’ honest feedback about the session.

Ketso has been more effective at engagement and organising thoughts and ideas than pen and paper.

Six clear advantages of using Ketso were revealed, when compared to the usual ‘Zoom’ group seminars. Students’ names have been removed but their comments are here as quotes:

1. More engaging

“This was one of the first on-line tutorials when I have not been distracted when I was doing it. I was fully engaged. I didn’t realise we were nearly two hours into the session, it went by very smoothly and also because you broke it up into different parts it didn’t feel drawn out and like we were wasting too much time on one topic.”

“I think it is really going to help lecturers engage with their students more.”

“Because you have it in front of you and it is an activity, it takes away distraction. You know when you are listening to lecturers it is easy to just grab your phone because they can’t see but because I had it there in front of me, I was less likely to do that.”

2. Builds a learning community

“I feel like Ketso helps you a lot, in terms of individually being able to have a chance to share what you think. It also lets you collate all of your ideas together and make one bigger, whole discussion, at the same time as well as being able to get your point out.”

“If I don’t have the Ketso and had written all over my page, I might have to re-type it, but I feel like having a Ketso kit helps me see everything visually and understand that some things link with others. I feel with Ketso you are able to keep in time with everyone else as well.”

3. Gives structure

“I found it really helped. It was very well structured and it was easier to think about the topic, with having different stages. It was really good”.

“I also found it really useful in terms of going around in different stages, and how each question leads on in to the next.”

“Provides a structured focal point for individual and group brainstorming.”

4. Develops thinking skills

“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. Using the leaves, it is simpler and easier to read.”

“I am not really one for mind maps or spider diagrams, I am more of a list person but this sort of combines the two – the visual organisation of a spider diagram with the list format, you can arrange them however you like – and you can put a bit more on as you like. Therefore, it is like the best of both worlds. I would use it.”

“It surprised me how well it flowed, because we are remote, and how easy it was to use Ketso as normal. It was kind of strange doing it on your own and not having everyone else’s input but you had to think more and reflect what you were going to write down.”

“Individual pieces are easy to move to restructure thought and collaborate.”

5. Builds self-confidence

“Ketso really helps, especially the structured way of thinking helps people to organise ideas in their head and then feel confident speaking about them.”

“It makes you feel a lot more comfortable sharing ideas in the small group. Especially if you don’t know everybody on the zoom it can be a bit intimidating to share your ideas with everybody.”

6. Versatile, can be used for many tasks

“I feel it has many uses really; you can use it for planning an essay, writing a report, planning a timetable, many things really. Maybe even use it daily.”

And best of all was this feedback from a student who could not identify any problems when asked: “Sorry, I am just trying to think, I haven’t got a specific negative, I think it has been good for me and it has really worked well.”

In addition, as the facilitator, Joanne noted that during usual group Zoom sessions, turn-taking can be sporadic and some people’s voices get lost in the conversation. In contrast, the fact that she knew everyone had something physical to share gave a clearer sense of process to the session. Following the metaphor of going around a table and sharing ideas with a Ketso made it easier for her to ensure that everyone had a say.

We were obviously delighted with the responses from the students working remotely, and would like to thank them for participating. We did not know prior to the trial if it would work as well as it did, but we found that Ketso really does add an important interactive element to remote education that is sorely missing.

We have heard from several educational establishments keen to adapt their use of Ketso for remote learning, and who are interested in the potential of the individual kits that we are developing. We will also soon be looking into social distancing use as a follow up, to enable us to make the most of the precious face-to-face time we will have when meeting together but still remaining physically distanced.

Please do contact us if you have any questions about this new way of working with our brand new Ketso offering. We believe we can really make life easier for students and educators alike, dealing with the new pressures of education in 2020.