How can we get everyone’s opinion on a particular task? How can we give a voice to the students that are too shy to contribute in class? There is definitely no perfect answer to this situation, but Verso Active Learning has developed a tool that can provide an opportunity for all students to contribute and remain anonymous.
The premise of Verso is quite different to others. It was founded on the thinking of notable leaders in the education world, John Hattie and Alan November, and places more emphasis on good pedagogy. The effectiveness of the app cannot be realised without it being embedded in well thought out pedagogy created by the teacher. The lead up and follow up must be well designed before encouraging the students to use the program. So, this increases the credibility of the application and is a good advocate against it being regarded as just another distraction.
So, how does it work? First of all, Verso is an app and has a website version, so it can be downloaded for free and used on any device through the Google Play Store, Chrome’s Web store, the Microsoft Store, or from the Apple App store.
A teacher must create an account before the students get started, which can be done easily through their website at https://app.versoapp.com/.
You are given the option to sign up with a Google account, however any valid email address will be accepted. After the usual sign up process, you will need to create a class on the Classes page that you would like to organise your students and material within.
This will create a specific code that will become important once you ask your students join.
Within the class, the teacher should create their first “Activity”, sometimes called a “flip”. As can be seen from the options available, you are not restricted form what you can provide. The stimulus could be to watch a video made by yourself or from YouTube, an image, a document, or simply to go to a specific website. The “Copy Existing” option also allows you to borrow an activity designed by another educator from your institution using Verso. In a large school, this is an invaluable option for collaboration and data collection.
As stated earlier, this application is driven on the use of good pedagogy. So, the instructions given to the students for this stimulus must be clear, concise, and elicit deeper thinking. I recommend that you provide guidance on what to do afterwards as well, e.g. “Now comment on two other students’ posts”.
Now that the foundation has been created, you can ask your students to create an account. Ensure they select Student instead of Teacher when signing in, and be sure to give your students the class code that was mentioned earlier. This will allow them to go straight to the Class page you created. There, they will see your first flip and the instructions you attached to it.
Why is it powerful?
The mission of Verso is to facilitate personalised learning, activate every student’s voice and enable feedback from peers or teachers. Verso does this very well.
Students are all anonymous within the class and labelled as “Respondent”, however the teacher will be able to switch between “Student View” and “Teacher View” to monitor specific student involvement. This provides a non-threatening environment in which the students can have their say, thus hopefully encouraging more input which would otherwise have been difficult to elicit in a traditional classroom environment.
Secondly, students cannot see the feedback to their own post until they have responded to at least two or three of their peers’ posts. This is decided by the teacher during the creation of the flip. This guarantees more input and has the potential to direct the discussion in unanticipated paths, which is exciting for educators. This also elicits sharper and hopefully deeper thinking to discussions.
Tools for the teachers
The Dashboard displays all of the flips that you are associated with. It could be compared to a landing page or homepage.
However, the Library offers a lot more options for the teacher to manipulate, particularly if it is used by multiple teachers in your institution. As the tool bar at the top of the page indicates, you can view your flips in the categories you created it within, which is particularly useful for educators that teach across disciplines or year levels.
Furthermore, if you click on the “Activity Library” heading, it will drop down two options. If, there are multiple teachers using the program within your school, you can share resources and observe how those instruments were scaffolded in their classes. You are also given the option to “Clone” the flip into your own area. This is incredibly useful and in the spirit of collaboration.
The My Stats option allows you to monitor the engagement level to your flips, and delving deeper enables you to see the social media-like “helpful” count, and the students who are yet to comment on the flip.
So how can this be useful in the language learning context? As my old tennis coach would say, “whether it is an old-fashioned wooden tennis racquet or a modern, state-of-the-art one, it all comes back to the person knowing how to use it”. There are a multitude of ways in which you could use Verso. The most important aspect is understanding the purpose of such a program, and learning how to get the most out of each student. This forces the teacher to consider the wording of their instruction, the value of the feedback from peers, and the effectiveness of the teacher’s feedback guides elicit deeper and critical thinking.