Trialing an in-class polling tool for student participation (Part 1)

Chris, Dan and Diedre
Chris, Dan and Deidre

Dan Daugaard is a Fellow in the Applied Finance Centre at Macquarie University. He’s not afraid of trying something new to help his students engage and understand the complex information that they grapple with in lectures.

I had the good fortune of working with Deidre Seeto (Educational Developer) and Dan in the first half of this year, on a Faculty Partnership Project that aimed to facilitate greater student participation and engagement in the postgraduate unit ECFS865 Investments.

The problem

Dan’s problem was that students would often just sit passively in the lectures. Dan was not sure if they were “getting it”. They would not contribute much discussion to the class and it would often be Dan just talking. Does this sound familiar?

The solution

The solution we piloted was to use web-based in-class polling tools. This was based on learning theories where students learn most effectively when they are engaged in a social community, and when they construct their own knowledge through an interaction between their experiences and ideas. The in-class polling tool allowed Dan to create a series of questions, multi-choice, free text that he could display to his class, and they could respond to these questions during class and the results would be tallied in real-time. This led to some interesting results in Dan’s class, but more about this later.

The process

As part of the project we canvassed a large number of different solutions that could cater to Dan’s needs. To make a rational choice, we created a decision matrix where we ranked each tool according to was what was important for Dan and his students, things such as: was the interface easy for students to use? Did it cater for all the question types that Dan wanted to use? (If you are interested here is a blank decision matrix form.) We ended up deciding to use the in-class polling tool Socrative.

Another aspect of the project was to ensure that students had the relevant technology to participate. In-class polling tools allow people to respond using mobile devices, however did students of ECFS865 possess technology that would allow them to participate? We conducted a poll of students to assess what technologies they had and if it was sufficient to work with the in-class polling tools. Fortunately we found that all the students had a mobile device that was capable of working with the in-class polling tool we were considering. Some even had more than one in class! This gave Dan and I confidence that access would not be a problem and that all students could participate.

We quickly trialled the use of Socrative with some teachers in the class environment, to check both the wifi connection and the usability of the tool from both the student and teacher perspective. This provided further insight into how the real class should be run and Dan made a few changes. We were now ready to use it with a real class. To find out how it all went read part 2 of the article (coming soon!).

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