Written by Brad Butler & T. Adam Baldry, Instructional Technologists, Pima Community College
Students First: Pima Community College and the Case for Perusall
As the Academic Learning Technologies (ALT) team at Pima Community College, one of our main goals is to identify and implement technology tools that can increase community and student engagement within our online courses. We understand that the use of technology in education is not just about using the latest and greatest tools, but rather about finding tools that address the pedagogical needs of our institution. Recently, we had the opportunity to pilot Perusall, which aimed to improve students' analytical reading skills and increase student discussion surrounding assigned readings.
Perusall was originally brought to Pima Community College by a Social Sciences instructor who saw value in what it offered for her courses. The tool was added to our LMS and implemented in her courses. However, the instructor quickly discovered she was unable to properly support Perusall to encourage its growth across the institution. This is where we as the ALT team stepped in to take over Persuall to see if it is the best fit for our institution and to encourage more usage of the tool. To ensure that Perusall was the right fit for our institution, we ran a small pilot with a limited number of courses in the Social Sciences department.
As part of the pilot process, we collected feedback from both students and instructors through a survey. The student survey aimed to gather their perspectives about Perusall's implementation and effectiveness in their course. The survey questions focused on students self-identifying if Perusall helped them with their analytic reading skills, increased their engagement with assigned readings, and their level of interaction with their peers using Perusall. There were also survey questions that provided insight into the user experience of Perusall. Similarly, the instructor survey aimed to document their experiences and perspectives on the piloted technology tool. We analyzed the survey data both quantitatively and qualitatively to get a comprehensive understanding of the impact of Perusall on student engagement and learning.
The results of the survey were both surprising and encouraging. One of the key findings of the quantitative data was that Perusall had a positive impact on student engagement. A majority of students reported that they were more engaged with the course materials and their peers when using Perusall. Additionally, the use of Perusall was found to increase actually reading and understanding of the course materials. Using a pivot table we were able to look at the data the students provided on another level to get more insights. Through the pivot table, we were able to see things like the correlation between students who found Perusall easy to use and a sense of an improvement in their analytical reading skills. We also saw that students who believed their analytical reading skills improved also wanted to see Perusall used in more of their courses. An additional helpful finding showed students preferred Perusall to our Learning Management System (LMS) discussion board.
On the qualitative side, we found the themes that emerged from the survey data revolved around the benefits of peer-to-peer interactions and collaboration. Many students reported working with others on the documents was one of the top benefits of using Perusall. They reported they enjoyed the collaboration aspect of the tool and found it more attractive than traditional discussion posts. Additionally, students reported they were introduced to unique and diverse perspectives from other learners, which helped them to learn more effectively about the content of the course in their community.
One of the most unexpected findings was that students reported the use of Perusall had a positive impact on their peer-to-peer interactions. They could engage with other learners, learn from other learners, and get feedback from other learners in a way not possible with traditional discussion boards. The annotations and discussions taking place within the documents allowed students to better understand their peers, gaining awareness of their peers’ various perspectives. This provided a strong sense of community to the point that they would even monitor and regulate themselves in Perusall. If something was said out of line, then the students would be the first ones to call out their peers and have a discussion within Perusall on why the statement or action was inappropriate. This unexpected side-effect makes Perusall more attractive to instructors as it can aid in crucial community building that can be very difficult in fully online courses.
The results of the pilot have been extremely positive, which has led to a growing number of instructors choosing to use Perusall in their courses. One of the main reasons for this is that Perusall offers a smoother experience for instructors and instructional designers, with fewer technical issues than other tools. The use of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) 1.3 has streamlined the instructor experience with Perusall and allowed students to access Perusall content in a consistent place. This has reduced the need for triage from a technical support perspective. With the LTI 1.3 integration, we no longer find ourselves solving issues with students not finding assignments or grades not syncing.
Curious on how to get LTI 1.3 in your course? Email us: email@example.com
In conclusion, the Perusall pilot at Pima Community College has demonstrated that it effectively improves student engagement and learning. Based on these results, we plan to move into a soft launch of Perusall across our institution and follow up the next semester with a hard launch across the entirety of our institution. This will ramp up the usage of Perusall in a scalable method so it is properly supported and utilized effectively in courses. The data gathered through the pilot process has provided valuable insights into how students and instructors perceive the use of Perusall and how it can be used to enhance their educational experience. Our team is committed to putting students first, and we believe that Perusall is an excellent example of a technology tool that can be used to support student success and build community in courses. As we continue to explore new and innovative ways to enhance online learning at Pima Community College, we will continue to place a strong emphasis on student feedback and engagement. With Perusall, we have found a tool that addresses our pedagogical needs and aligns with our goal of putting students first.