FMUL has a new APP for all students
It's called myFenix and it is a smartphone, version now available for Android e iOS (iPhone).. The app is a pioneering initiative within the University of Lisbon and although it is still in the experimental phase it has been implemented since September 2018 among MIM first-year students.
It is the brainchild of Joaquim Ferreira, President of the Pedagogical Council and Faculty Member. The app was developed by qubIT and implemented with strong support from FMUL's administrative team..
With a wide range of possible future applications, the goal now is to fulfil three major purposes: Disseminating the academic schedule, managing student attendance and assessing classes at the end of each curricular activity.
We spoke to two big players in this project, its creator and someone who will use the app on a daily basis. And although their points of view are not always aligned, they are already, to a large extent, complementary.
But let us begin by seeing exactly what changes in students' academic life.
Through a smartphone the entire school schedule becomes available at any time, thus, allowing students to know which classes are planned each week, as well as the physical space where they will be taking place. Professor Joaquim Ferreira stressed the importance of this point: "My vision is that any member of our academic community knows, at each moment, what is happening in the School. With this knowledge, students, or other teachers, can attend any class, if the teacher in charge permits it. What we intend with this is to share knowledge, by offering an open-doors, free-access experience. It is an open space for the academic schedule that is now shared with everyone".
Attendance at the touch of a QR code
Although paper wasn't entirely eliminated and some practical classes are not yet using the new system, the purpose is that, instead of having a written attendance sheet, attendance is registered digitally, Professor Joaquim Ferreira explains. "Students will use their phone to scan a QR code on a tablet, that is passed around in each class, , and register their presence in class that way. But this system has a "catch": whenever it is scanned, the QR code changes, so as to avoid replication."
We heard Carolina Pureza, Henrique Freitas and Mariana Andrade, all 1st-year students and, regarding the attendance sheet, not everything is as functional as they would like.
Carolina Pureza: It is necessary that the tablet reaches all of us, which does not always happen in theoretical classes, because we are paying attention to the class and sometimes don't even realize it. Even when the tablet reaches us, that is distracting, as we have to take out our phone and scan the QR code and we lose focus. But I still prefer this digital feature over the paper attendance sheet.
Henrique Freitas: In theoretical classes, the attendance register is not very efficient, because, as people are paying attention, sometimes, they pass on the tablet without registering their presence. Perhaps it would be more efficient if each person who entered the room scanned the QR code.
Mariana Andrade: In the beginning, the APP was not available for all types of phones and so, not everyone signed in using their code. Because of that, what happens now is that some people have not yet gotten used to the new system. There is still another matter, the APP takes up a lot of space on the phone and many of us no longer have space, so we have to keep installing and uninstalling it.
Joaquim Ferreira explains that because it is still an experimental period, it is expected that some adjustments will be necessary. Although it will be mandatory, the way the tablet reaches the students and at what moment of the class this happens, will depend on the Teacher.
Immediate evaluation at the end of each class
Admitting that the quick teacher evaluation is, out of the three functionalities, the one he likes the most, the Professor explains that it takes only 5seconds to evaluate the class. "At the end of each class, students will automatically answer two questions using their smartphone: if the educational goals were reached and what score they give to the quality of the class. The options range from "I totally agree" to "I totally disagree". I believe that these are two very relevant questions in terms of the quality of teaching and that it allows us to know if the lesson goals have been achieved and how students evaluate it and whether the overall quality of the lesson exists. The goal is for this to be a training action. "
Soon after the evaluation, the overall processing is simple and also immediate. "Professors have immediate access to the evaluation of their class and the Regent of the curricular unit also accesses this information and can intervene in a constructive way using this information. For now, access to this information is confined to the Teacher and the Regent. However, in the future, it may be used in a more open way, as the Faculty deems appropriate. This is in line with a fair assessment of all teaching activities, as it is my conviction that this is the most efficient way for all of us to improve, through individual confrontation, ideally with an increasing degree of exigency". We want to see many evaluations in green and few yellows and reds!".
Regarding this evaluation method, students' opinions seems consensual.
Henrique Freitas: It's a good idea and we like being able to give our opinion.
Carolina Pureza: This way of evaluating is more appealing than a sheet of paper and it is very important to us.
The new APP was released in the first week of classes. Initially, the app was only available for Android, but it is already currently operational also for iOS (Apple). And although this is an experimental period, next year, we will extend it to 2nd-year students and repeat the experience with 1st-year students. “Only after we feel comfortable that the system is robust and solid, can we take a more ambitious step, but it will depend on the degree of success measured the end of this year," explains Professor Joaquim Ferreira.
We must emphasize that, while attendance is for everyone, evaluation is not mandatory and only those present in the class can evaluate. And, although there is no mandatory attendance in theoretical classes, their evaluation allows us to conclude on their degree of success and quality. "The great achievement is that we now have multiple evaluation moments. Thus far, there was an evaluation of the Teacher at the end of the year. What happens now is that each teacher and each curricular unit will have hundreds or even thousands of evaluation moments, which can have an increasingly grounded representation. We are pioneers within the University of Lisbon with this App and I think other entities will want to follow our example."
Known for being a driver of change, Joaquim Ferreira knows that, until everything is integrated into the daily routine, there are always doubts and constraints. Yet, he congratulates both Teachers and students for the way they have received this new system.