Teach, motivate, and measure students’ learning

Today, teaching tools are plentiful but teaching must be adapted to get the optimal benefit of the tools. Simply bringing in a new tool to teach alone does not necessarily make your teaching better. Liz Kolb talks about cellphones and learning in-depth in her new book, Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education. In it, among other things, Liz shares the cutting edge use of Poll Everywhere used for student learning.

At Poll Everywhere, we realize a product by itself is more effective when combined with specific objectives when used in the classroom. If you’re a teacher, consider the following objectives and why you might use Poll Everywhere’s classroom response system:

Encourage less-confident students to be more willing to participate in class

Poll Everywhere gives students a chance to respond anonymously (or non-anonymously if desired) so they can feel more comfortable about answering questions in class. As a student, I was always raising my hand but have learned that many people may not raise their hand and it isn’t because they “just don’t get it.” It’s often a function of their personalities and learning styles. They may believe they’ll “say something dumb” or they’ll just feel that the “smart kids in class will say it first.” In reality, students who are otherwise very quiet may also be hiding the fact that they feel unable to participate or share their opinion on a learning subject. Let them respond with their cellphones or laptops to questions posted up on-screen and you’ll see a wider array of answers and opinions than simply asking students to raise their hands.

Achieve a better understanding of my students’ understanding of the concept during the lecture

As I said earlier, there are some teachers who are also very good readers or body language, intent behind a question asked, and intuition about why students got a question wrong but not all teachers have that ability. Being able to understand those things is, in my opinion, not necessarily teachable but perhaps a natural talent. It can be improved with the passage of time and lots of experience teaching but can also be accelerated by including real-time assessment in class. This is part of the foundation behind Eric Mazur’s work in Peer Instruction. Use Poll Everywhere to get this real-time assessment and do it with the least amount of hassle, cost, and preparation.

Put cellphones and computers to work as learning enablers, not distractions

Universities have been using Poll Everywhere heavily and the use of cellphones on campus is much more liberal and accepted than in K-12. Sadly, in many K-12 schools, there are non-negotiable complete bans on cellphone usage in anywhere in the school, let alone in class. Obviously, the schools that do have those bans on cellphones completely miss the opportunity presented by Poll Everywhere. Instead of treating cellphones as distractions, include them as a useful tool for engaging student learning. They’re cheap, almost all students have them, and they are multi-purposeful. Instead of letting them sit in students’ backpacks while they secretly text their friends (ban or not), have them get the devices our and show them that there is more than meets the eye.

Create a fun and engaging learning activity, different from other things I’ve done

I remember a lot of interesting, fun activities my teachers did when I was in grade school. Some were pretty effective. I’ll always remember my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Moses, at Kildeer Elementary School in Long Grove, IL. She had part of the year where she had the class earn “Moses Money” which was really just her own paper currency and she would reward students for various homework assignments or how many questions they answered correctly from last week’s lessons. Once or twice during the year, students would participate in an auction using all the “money” they had earned to buy items being given away by students in the class. Yes, that’s right, the students themselves would provide the auctioned items to each other, using the “Moses Money.” Of course, this was both fun but also engaging and encouraged us (well, me at least) to learn more so we could earn more. In any case, this was just one example of using (some very basic) tools to encourage learning and classroom participation. Using Poll Everywhere is also a way to do the same thing but in a different way. Even if you’re not looking to use it for simple summative assessment, it encourages students to participate and learn more. It’s just fun to use a cell phone in class.

Hold students’ attention and focus longer during class

There are probably a million different tactics on this but if you’re looking to take a different strategy, it becomes possible to use Poll Everywhere as a method in your teaching. Again, I reference Eric Mazur’s Peer Instuction as an overall teaching strategy, which would rely on Poll Everywhere as a tactic in the overall strategy. By requiring students to respond in class, they must hold their attention and focus longer. Even when students are guessing or just responding “randomly” because they’re busy doing something else in class, the instructor can know about it immediately. This works especially well in a large lecture hall. Obviously, in college, the instructor’s job isn’t to baby the students into holding their attention but at least he/she can give all students another opportunity to be more involved than without.

See how my students are learning outside of the class (and with class assignments)

An important aspect of Poll Everywhere that differs from all other student response systems is the flexbility we give instructors to create questions and get answers from students even while outside of class. An example of this is having students text in answers to 1 or 2 questions from a nightly reading and requiring them to respond before class the next day. It becomes quite clear who did the reading and who didn’t. Instead of just using alternative (and expensive) student response systems only in class, use Poll Everywhere in class and out of class.

Give students another opportunity to ask questions inside and outside of class

In addition to asking students to answer questions about a lesson, you can easily use Poll Everywhere to receive questions that student want answered. Here again, this is very easy to do with Poll Everywhere in the classroom and out of the classroom. An instructor can take questions from students in real-time during the lecture and answer them all using a few minutes at the end of the lecture or as a way to collect questions during the nightly reading example (above) to answer at the beginning of the next class. Of course students can always email their professors and teachers and we’re not replacing that (or just raising one’s hand!) but Poll Everywhere gives all students an equal voice and another opportunity to enhance their learning by asking questions directly to their teacher and even do it privately and anonymously.