Reinforcing concepts with live student engagement

Reinforcing concepts with live student engagement
Washington and Jefferson College
Use case
Higher education

Throughout class, I use Poll Everywhere to keep students engaged and break the material up so that I'm not constantly talking. It changes the pace and wakes students up. I can then get instant feedback on whether they actually understood the material or whether everybody's flummoxed.

Michael Leonard, Professor of Chemistry at Washington and Jefferson College, poses quick multiple choice questions with Poll Everywhere to get a pulse of the class. “With first year students, there's more reluctance to volunteer and answer. If I ask a general question, it’s crickets — nobody raises their hand. I’m often loath to call on particular students because that’s uncomfortable for them as well, so Poll Everywhere allows me to force participation in a low-stakes way.”

Turning phones into learning tools

Michael teaches primarily organic chemistry and is continually thinking of ways to reinvigorate his teaching. One way to do that is live student engagement. “Clicker questions have always been appealing, but one of the problems with them is that there’s often a cost for students. I try to cut down on costs — for example, I wrote the textbook we use so that I could make it freely available — so I was loath to have students spend any more money.”

That’s when he came across Poll Everywhere after an online search about a year ago. “I realized it would work well because students could use their phones to respond.”

In between concepts, Michael poses a straightforward, multiple choice question about the material and gives students thirty seconds to a minute to respond. “I’ll be working at the whiteboard and then direct students to respond on their phones when I activate the Poll Everywhere activity. Then I can check the responses on my own phone, give feedback on the results, and very quickly go right back to the whiteboard so as not to lose too much time.”

Then, after class, Michael creates a debriefing sheet going over the material from the live session. “I insert a screenshot of the Poll Everywhere activity with the correct answer and some explanation if there was a common misunderstanding.”

Creating a comfortable learning environment

Michael’s approach is to make it as easy as possible to contribute. “I’ve set my questions to be anonymous because I didn't want students to think that I was judging their answers in any way. I am sensitive to the fact that the questions are in the moment and they haven't had a chance to study the material, so I don't want them to be reluctant to even answer because they're afraid or feel pressured.”

Students seemed to respond comfortably to the interactive, anonymous questions. “When I used Poll Everywhere in class, I would have very high response rates. I never had problems where I had to help the students with the tool. I would just write the website on the board and students seemed to be comfortable using it. Nobody got stuck or confused.”

I think it’s a great idea to give Poll Everywhere a shot in your particular field. My usage is very graphics heavy because I draw a lot of molecular structures, but other disciplines might be more equation oriented or more verbal and so it's going to work a little bit differently. There’s nothing to be lost. It’s a nice opportunity to ask a question in real time and take the pulse of the classroom.

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