Saturday, January 31, 2009

Audience Response Systems in the Social Studies

Students are increasingly turning to the use of technology to access information, communicate and to create digital artifacts (Bennett, 2007). As society’s demand for technologically literate citizens grows, schools must contemplate the degree to which they empower future citizens with these necessary 21st century skills. As a social studies researcher and doctoral student, I must side with those researchers conclude there's often a lackluster use of technology for civic purposes in many of America’s classrooms. With a lack of resources and training, teacher education programs and professional developments must aim to help teachers use those technologies they do have access to more meaningfully.

In order to illustrate my point, I wish to describe the all too common use of the never-ending PowerPoint presentation. Students are often forced to listen to and record insurmountable groupings of text and facts. They are often then asked to memorize these facts for passage on a standardized test. This usually involves students being forced to stay quite, and nearly half of them falling asleep! Even though research points to the necessity of higher-level thinking and participation in meaningful learning (see Benjamin Bloom), many teachers inappropriately use this technology to encourage rote memorization and lower-level thinking. With PowerPoint being as popular a tool as it is, teacher educators must ask themselves ‘how can we help teachers better use the tools they do have access to in promoting higher-level thinking?” Thus, what can teachers due to make a common technology like PowerPoint more relevant and engaging for students?

While there are a lot of ways to entice student learning with PowerPoint (limiting text, asking frequent questions, the infusion of visuals and sounds, and making these presentations participatory), I wish to identify and explain another piece of technology that holds promise towards engaging student learners. is a devise that allows teachers to instantaneously poll students on their views and opinions. Students can respond to important questions posed by the teacher by using their cell phone or the Internet. Imagine, students actually using their cell phones to text their votes and opinions into a PowerPoint presentation. With the number of students owning cell phone increasing, teachers are frequently telling students to put away their cell phones away in class. But, what if cell phones could actually contribute to class discussions? What I like best about is that it’s easy to use and has a FREE plan that works well for teachers. The free plan requires that visitors sign-up for an account (they ask for the usual information: name, e-mail address). The free plan is also limited in that only 30 votes can be recorded per poll (so if you have a class of under 30 students each student could vote once and you would be ok).

After signing up for an account, the teacher has a choice of what type of poll they want to create and infuse into a PowerPoint presentation. They can include a fixed response poll whereby students selected from possible choices (much like when the audience is asked to text their responses to American Idol). Another type of poll offered is opened responses. After the teacher poses a question to students (such as ‘What are your feelings on global warming?’), students can use their cell phones to text their response into the presentation. As student respond, their answers are automatically uploaded in real time into a PowerPoint presentation. This devise holds promise in making PowerPoint presentations more interactive and student-centered. Student response could serve as a catalyst into a richer classroom discussion.

While this possible tool holds promise, teachers must understand that well constructed and engaging PowerPoint presentations does not mean throwing one slide or question from into a presentation. This tool is simply one additional way to make the presentation more student-friendly and interactive. It also provides teachers with a way to document and check for student understanding/ perspectives. If the presentation is systematically flawed with overabundant text, disengaging content, and sour presentation, this audience response device will do little to promote learning. However, if used in the right way, this audience response devise holds great promise in making PowerPoint presentations more interactive and engaging. Furthermore, it seizes those digital tools a growing amount of students use to access information, communicate, and construct digital artifacts with.

For more information, see the following websites:
1. Polleverywhere
2. Polleverywhere inserted into PowerPoint 2003
3. Youtube video on ways to use Pollingeverwhere for academia

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.