Turning Technologies User Conference (Manchester)

I attended the 2014 Turning Technologies User Conference on the 22nd of September at the University of Manchester’s beautiful Core Technology Facility.

My goal was to find out how other people are using TurningPoint with the hope to share with academics at the University of Derby who may want to use the software in their practices. Not only did I gain this knowledge, but in the end, it sounded like the conference was on Peer Instruction as, beginning with the keynote speech by the apparently renowned Professor Eric Mazur, almost all presenters seemed to be using TurningPoint for that pedagogy.

Peer Instruction

In case this is also new to other people, Peer Instruction (PI) is an innovative teaching method that incorporates interactive pedagogy into the classroom. It was developed by Dr. Eric Mazur, a Physics Professor at the Havard University who wrote the book: Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual in which he explains how to teach large lecture classes interactively. He had realised that his students were passing exams without having understood the fundamental concepts he was trying to teach them.

The general steps followed in the Peer Instruction methodology are as follows: Firstly, the instructor gives a brief presentation/lecture to explain the concepts that he would like the learners to learn or that they are struggling with. This is followed by a question posed by the instructor which is called a ConcepTest, carefully designed to draw out, address and resolve learners’ misunderstandings or misconceptions they may have on the topic that has been presented to them. Learners are given time to think about their answer on their own before they respond.

Next, learners’ responses are collected using classroom response devices like TurningPoint. At this stage the results are not revealed to the learners but the instructor can see them and determine how well the concept has been grasped on this front. Learners are asked to find a neighbour(s) with a different response to their own and convince them why they think their answer is correct. After the peer discussions, learners respond to the same question again committing to what they now think is the correct answer. Results are revealed only after polling is closed. The final step is an explanation of what the correct answer is and the reasoning behind it. It can be a class-wide closing discussion.


The Keynote address, emphasised the view of education NOT as mere transfer of information or getting students to do what lecturers want them to do, but getting students to actively participate in class which was deemed imperative. Transfer of knowledge was considered the easy bit which students can do on their own outside the classroom and assimilation of that knowledge was considered the hard bit and yet it is left to the student to deal with. The advice was to assign reading to the students and then teach by questioning in class. Given the role of the TurningPoint response system in PI, it is hence considered to be not just a polling tool, but an engagement tool. The presentation can be found here.

How TurningPoint voting system is being used

– To get module feedback > At Huddersfield University it is used for pre-survey before students fill in the formal paper based surveys. The process helps clarify any misconceptions students may have which potentially leads to them providing inaccurate negative feedback e.g. interpretation of timely feedback.

– For Peer Instruction

– Formative Assessment

– Pre-diagnostic testing > to find out what students already know

– Feedback on session and learning

– Basis of discussion > e.g. True/False questions which may not have a right or wrong answer.

– As Icebreakers

– To find out about class e.g. Archaeology lecturer at the University of Manchester checks how students feel or what they did after fieldwork

– For self-paced summative assessments as part of Team Based Learning > this is used at the University of Bradford within the School of Pharmacy. **Results are uploaded from TurningPoint to Blackboard VLE within 24 hours giving students timely feedback. A separate blog will be posted on how Team Based Learning is done at the University of Bradford within the School of Pharmacy.

Benefits of using TurningPoint in learning/teaching sessions

– Especially useful with large groups of students where interaction is difficult

– Creates classroom discussions -> questions and/or answers are used as a starting point of a discussion

– Students participate actively by using the clickers or their mobile devices to answer the questions

– Gives freedom during class > using Responseware, students can use their mobile devices to submit their polls

– Gives a break in session

– Gives immediate individual feedback

– Provides students’ self reflection

– Anonymous feedback hence honest responses especially on personal or sensitive questions

– Gauge opinion on taught material

– Real time student written anonymous feedback to lecturer on a learning topic or session using ResponseWare and mobile devices > e.g. a Macroeconomics student at the University of Manchester asked the lecturer to go over a particular topic again as he had not properly grasped it. As such students actively help shape courses in the future.

Other Points to Note

ResponseWare is software that enables participants to respond to interactive questions with any web-enabled device including smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. The responses are immediately transferred to TurningPoint polling software. You can read more information by following this link.

The provision of ResponseWare at the University of Manchester resulted in higher uptake and frequency of usage of the TurningPoint tool and this in turn has multiplied innovation and teaching impact. This was due to its ease of use. Testimonies were from use within the Humanities department. Initially they had bought 300 ResponseWare licences, but this has now increased to 1000. Sheffield University currently have 900 licences but they invested a lot in TurningPoint response cards or clickers. Some clickers have actually been securely installed in lecture theatres for each seat.  

At the University of Bradford, students are given the clickers at the beginning of the semester and they are required to bring it to class. The lecturer keeps a record of the device IDs for each student. Students sign an agreement which includes the fact that if they lose it, then they have to pay £50 for the replacement. If they come to class without it, then they get 0 in summative tests. This becomes an incentive for the students to bring the clickers. At the University of Huddersfield, they also plan to give the clickers to all Year 1 students on Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Forensic Science.

Professor Simon Lancaster from the University of East Anglia pointed out that good multiple choice questions need to be designed for a PI to work properly. The questions need to be challenging to get the students engaged in the learning process. He presented on flipping roles whereby students source both questions and answers. By doing that the students will be applying knowledge. He recommended use of Peerwise, a free online platform which students can use to compose multiple choice questions.


TurningPoint is a very useful learning tool especially in Peer Instruction. Students get engaged as they inevitably participate actively in a learning/teaching session instead of just sitting and listening to the lecturer talking. PI provides continuous formative assessment and feedback which greatly impacts on students’ deep learning. Students get better understanding of concepts from peer discussions which call for application of concepts rather than just memorizing facts that are easily forgotten. Adoption of ResponseWare can increase uptake of the TurningPoint tool as lecturers don’t need to worry about collecting all the clickers back at the end of a session. Once lecturers start using TurningPoint, they will discover various other ways they can use the tool in their own teaching practices.

4 thoughts on “Turning Technologies User Conference (Manchester)

    • I’m sure the tool is equally useful in schools too with the same benefits it has in HE. Students will still learn to write because the tool can just be used in addition to other ways of assessing. I’m sure students will enjoy using it for formative exercises in class for example.

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