Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Kristin Krantzman from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Dr. Krantzman attended the Faculty Technology Institute in 2014. In this post, Dr. Krantzman recounts her experiences using Poll Everywhere to provide students with opportunities to work on practice problems during class.

Poll Everywhere is a program that allows an instructor to give interactive polls over the internet without requiring students to spend additional money on special equipment. I decided to try using Poll Everywhere as a supplement to my traditional lecture in two sections of the general chemistry course, CHEM 112. CHEM 112 is the second in a two semester introductory course that is taken by students in the sciences, and my enrollment in Spring 2015 was about 45 students per section. This course has an introduction to chemical equilibria, reaction kinetics, entropy and free energy. Fundamental concepts are applied to acid-base reaction, precipitation reactions and oxidation-reduction reactions.

A primary challenge in my course is that many of the concepts in the class are abstract and mathematical. As a result, many students do not immediately understand the material when it is presented. Students are focused at the beginning of class, but their attention decreases when they cannot follow what I am talking about in class. Students need to work out problems in order to learn the material. But, there are many topics to cover over the semester, and there is not much time in class for students to practice problems. Another problem is that the final exam is all multiple choice questions, but the practice problems that students do as homework in the textbook are short answer. I decided to give students multiple choice questions with Poll Everywhere as a way to engage students and allow for practice. I chose to do this because I thought that students would learn more if they were required to think about questions and respond in class. Students showed a greater understanding of the material and improved their ability to answer multiple choice questions.

Prior to class, I wrote the multiple choice questions in Poll Everywhere. One strategy I used was to post a Poll Everywhere question for students to work on as they entered into the classroom. Previously, this time was unused because I could not start class early and we had to wait for all of the students to get settled. This question was on a topic that we had covered in the previous class. This review reinforced student learning. In addition, I often gave students another question to answer, either halfway through class or at the end of class. After the students had answered the question, I displayed the response results. If the majority of students did not respond with the correct answer, I asked the students to discuss the question with each other and then respond a second time. After reviewing the responses, I went over the correct answer and explained why the other answers were incorrect. I chose to put some of the Poll Everywhere questions on the in-class tests, which motivated students to study them.

The students showed a dramatic improvement on the final exam, with average scores increasing by 7% from the fall semester. The students responded on the course evaluations that they liked the Poll Everywhere questions because doing them in class helped them understand the material. They also enjoyed the class more when I broke up the class lecture by having them work on questions that they had to actively work through.

My advice to other faculty is to have the answers to the Poll Everywhere questions count towards their grade and write this into the syllabus. Students could be given credit for answering questions even if they are not correct, which would reward students for attending class and actively participating.