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For most posts on this blog, comments are turned off by default. For reasons why this is the case, and with which I largely agree, see this blog post at Bioethics Bulletin. I will open comments on individual blog posts when I explicitly desire feedback on something I have written. Those comments will be moderated; irrelevant, abusive comments will be sent to the circular file.

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Using Poll Everywhere to increase class participation

I’m interested in ethics, teaching, and technology. So it makes sense to talk about a combination of those three things as my first blog post.

I recently began using the webapp called Poll Everywhere in my classes. I found it to be a good way of engaging the students’ attention. Poll Everywhere allows you to ask questions of your audience and get their instant feedback through multiple-choice opinion polls and open-ended question polls. In response to a question, the students send a text message consisting of a six-digit code number (plus a message if necessary) to Poll Everywhere - or via the web at this link, if they have their computers or iPads handy - and you and they can watch as Poll Everywhere auto-updates in real time with their answer. You can use Poll Everywhere in the web browser or imbed the polls into your Keynote or PowerPoint slides (Flash required). Although your mileage may vary, I found, through testing Poll Everywhere in multiple classes, that students generally do have unlimited messaging plans with their cellphones and are more than willing to use them. If you’re considering using Poll Everywhere in the class, I would recommend telling your students that they shouldn’t feel obligated to participate unless they have an unlimited messaging plan.

So here’s how I put Poll Everywhere to use. The topic of the lecture on this particular day was an introduction to W.D. Ross’s ethic of prima facie duties. By way of introducing Ross to the students, I attempted to get them to see Ross’s reasons for rejecting Kantian deontology and Moore’s ideal utilitarianism. To get them thinking about reasons why Ross would reject Kantianism and utilitarianism in favor of his own preferred view, I asked them to first vote on which of those two views they themselves favored. The idea behind asking them to vote is to make them take ownership of one of the theories that Ross criticizes, so that they might better understand the force of his objections.

I used the multiple-choice opinion poll to gauge my students’ opinions on this question. Poll Everywhere makes it super simple to construct the poll. All you do is ask a question and provide some answers, such as in the following format:

Of these two choices, which moral system do you lean toward? Kantianism or Utilitarianism

That nets you the following poll, which the students answered as follows:

First Poll
First Poll

As you can see, twice as many people in this particular class favored Kantianism over utilitarianism.

Then, in order to get the students to see why Ross might have rejected Kantianism or utilitarianism, I asked them to send in what they thought of as the best criticism of Kantianism or utilitarianism, which they did - again, using their cellphones or computers.[1] From there, I proceeded to go on to talk about Ross’s own objections to Kantianism and utilitarianism.

I asked the students what they thought of Poll Everywhere. To a person, they all thought it was a neat tool. Not a few of them were excited to be allowed to use their cellphones in class, and most thought incorporating the tool into the classroom was a good use of technology. It’s something they can understand, and it made everyone a bit more willing to participate. Interestingly, some of the students told me afterward that Poll Everywhere allows the students who are shy about speaking up in class get their opinions out there to be heard. That’s a good thing in and of itself - and maybe it’s also a way of breaking the ice around speaking up in class, too. If increased vocal participation does follow, however, I suspect it will follow from a combination of things, namely: judicious use of the technology, group work, and increased student confidence about knowledge of the material.

It costs nothing to set up an account with Poll Everywhere. A free account, however, lacks some of the features of a premium account, such as the ability to moderate open-ended question polls. But a free account will enable you to do quite a lot to get your students participating. What’s not to like?

  1. I’m not embedding these particular polls here, as doing so requires Flash and there isn’t an option to imbed a static image.  ↩

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