Professor Sarah Shields teaches the history of the Modern Middle East at University of North Carolina. Her lectures fill up with 200 students each, which doesn’t leave much room for traditional class participation.
Sarah spent much of her research time trying to come up with ways to change the tenor of her lectures. She wanted to go beyond just transmitting facts and concepts to her students, and actually teach them how to question, evaluate, and prioritize stories like real historians. To learn science, she reasoned, you do science. But how do you do the work of a historian in such a large group setting?
It starts with two polls a day.
A colleague in the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence recommended that Sarah try using Poll Everywhere in her lectures. She knew it wouldn’t completely transform her class into a critical learning lab, but she hoped it would help to engage students with the big questions, and break them out of passive study mode.
She found that polling gave her students a voice, even in a huge lecture hall. She starts each session with an attendance poll. Students check into class by answering a multiple choice history question. As class wraps up, Sarah asks them to discuss major historical issues in small groups, then text in responses via a final word cloud poll.
Questions a Historian Would Ask
Sarah also uses a free response poll to mine questions on the lecture, often getting insightful queries that anticipate the next lecture. She finds students love watching others respond, seeing new alternatives to the problem, and looking at new ideas.
The use of polling has had unintended results, too-- welcome ones: “Students’ participation through Poll Everywhere has also emboldened them to speak out without using the technology, though volunteering to speak in front of more than 200 students remains a daunting prospect for many.”
How can you do this?
Near the midpoint of the lecture, allow students to discuss how they would solve a related problem, or research a certain issue. Project a free-response poll asking for their ideas, and use the text to word cloud option to display results.
Wrap up the lecture by asking what questions the students have. Allow them to respond via a free response poll. Analyze responses to help with tailoring content in the future.