Monitoring Student Progress with Poll Everywhere

A colleague from the College of Education at NAU recently suggested I try Poll Everywhere to evaluate the main points students are taking away from my lectures and assigned readings. I recommend it to new lecturers or anyone who wants to keep tabs on how well students are absorbing information.

Cover of “Leyes Nuevas” of 1542. 

With five minutes left in a 75-minute introductory survey, I put up a question for text message live polling. Students had the benefits of anonymity and immediate evaluation of their responses. (The question below regards legislation from the mid-sixteenth century.) I’ll be trying out Poll Everywhere with easier and harder questions as the semester progresses. It is certainly helpful to get a range of answers to a question, in this case to see if students are following the reading. The downside is that not all students participated, but I hope more will get used to the exercise as the semester progresses. The goals of using the tool are to keep students on track with the readings and to ensure my own clarity with lecture.

new laws poll

A Successful Lesson with Prism

As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” as its creators describe it, Prism is visually and functionally interesting for college students. This semester I used Prism to teach two texts in Latin American history, but one stood out as a good length and style for classroom use. Below, I’ve pasted a screen shot of how the class marked up an excerpt from Maria Eugenia Echenique’s essay “The Emancipation of Women” (1876). (This text was published for educational purposes by Harcourt Brace Custom Books and translated by Francisco Manzo Robledo.) I uploaded text and had my class sign up for Prism in small groups. They then read part of the essay and highlighted portions of the texts using three facets. Below, you can see how they understood the theme of legal culture working in this text. The other facets were “Gender Roles” and “Progress.” Three facets seems like a limited number, but I think adding more would not make the exercise as compelling or easy for students to conduct in groups.


My class found the Font Size Visualization feature appealing, though Winning Facet I think would be interesting in a larger class. The Font Size is easier to understand on impact and encouraged students to think about their ideas in relation to those of others. We were able to discuss where we strongly agreed and where some groups had different ideas. The Winning Facet Visualization takes some clicking to understand. Black text indicates places where facets were equally popular. For example, the author argues that Argentine women, “can manage the interests of our children, these rights being the basis for emancipation.” My students believed that managing children’s interests was equally applicable to gender roles and legal culture in nineteenth-century Argentina. Therefore, this portion of text had no winning facet. When we examined this phrase using the Font Size feature, we found that fewer groups had highlighted this section anyway. The combination of the two visualizations is really neat and helps students communicate their ideas with their peers. This exercise allows the class to quickly evaluate multiple opinions–where they overlap and where they diverge.

Like many educators, I have found Prism valuable. Thanks again to all the graduate students, librarians, and faculty at University of Virginia who support the Praxis Program, and the Scholars’ Lab in general. I am a huge fan!


The Praxis Program at UVA: DH for Graduate Students

A wonderful resource for grad students interested in learning more about DH is the site for The Praxis Program, a project from the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library. Do not miss the “Tutorials” or “Scratchpad” tabs if you (like me) don’t know everything yet. I am still trying to decide which of these tools is best suited to my teaching and research, but Prism is intriguing. As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” this looks like a great way to encourage collaboration among students and between scholars. I plan to try it out on my introductory class and will post successes and challenges in my lesson. Thanks to the contributors who made this public and available!

As a scholar of Africana and Latin American Studies, I am on the look out for digital humanities projects that address my regional and thematic interests. The UVA Library Scholars’ Lab is undertaking exciting projects in African-American and Latin American history, such as the Falmouth Project. I am following with interest the scholarship of Tamika RichesonCecilia Márquez, and Alex Gil, among others. And there is also “Mapping an Asian American Indie Rock Digital Diaspora,” which technically is not my field of remote knowledge or expertise. But I had to link to it because it’s an excellent presentation of scholarship. I will end this post by lamenting the fact that I could not attend a recent GIS workshop at UVA that promised the “pursuit of mappiness.”

Teaching with Podcasts

This semester I assigned a five-minute podcast on gender in Latin American history in my introductory course. I recommend this kind of project as a method for practicing speaking, building argument, getting experience with technology, and encouraging students’ interacting with peers. Students used Audacity, which caused few technological hiccups. The project involved a peer edit based on a rubric for clarity, length, accuracy, and persuasiveness. Though these were broad elements, they elicited useful qualitative comments from student partners during peer grading.

I requested feedback from the students regarding the assignment. One student mentioned that making the podcast immediately preceded an interview and provided preparation and practice for measured, clear speaking. Another student said that peer edits increased the quality of the podcasts; students wished to provide their peers with a good example of their work. For an introductory course, a podcast assignment is useful in conjunction with written essays to help students build distinct skills and communicate with their peers. Here is a site I consulted for instructions about audioblogging/podcasting. I look forward to incorporating more audio elements into my teaching.

I have consulted Dr. Lisa Spiro’s blog entry “Digital Pedagogy in Practice” for useful information about the rationale behind creating digital assignments. Her post, “Getting Started in the Digital Humanities” from a few years ago also comes recommended.

Omeka for Teaching

Attending THATCampAAR gave me some great teaching ideas, including using Omeka for student projects. This is a tool that makes it easy to place digital content in historical context, as evidenced here. A big thank you to Amanda French (GMU) for her workshop!

The first time I integrated a curated online exhibit as a project in a course was my first semester of teaching, through a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship at JHU. I used the digital media project in place of a final exam and had students execute their projects and present them in groups of three or four. The purposes were to present exhibits that contextualize digital sources in historical ways as well as build skills in presenting and explaining historical processes. The projects were stellar, but the stakes of the assignment were too high (40% of the final grade). I now would not consider weighting so much of a grade in a lower-division course toward a final project or exam. Still, the outcomes were good and the students built digital, written, and oral presentation skills.

Reglas de Congo snip
Screenshot of an Omeka site created for a lower-division Latin American history course in Spring 2014 at Johns Hopkins University.