Using interactive ibooks + polls to discuss tough topics
Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books– the ones that made you decide whether to hide in the cupboard or run for your life? What if you could bring that same self-reflection and adventure to your course material?
That’s what Andrew Milne is doing in his health class at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. He introduces everyday scenarios about sexuality, friends, dating, cheating, and abuse through an iBook his students access with their iPads.
He doesn’t preach on the topics at hand. Instead, Andrew provides a link on each scenario page. It sends students directly to a multiple-choice Poll Everywhere poll. There, students decide for themselves how they would react, and then discuss their decisions with the rest of the class.
Sometimes they continue the discussion with open-ended polls. Andrew keeps screenshots of the students’ responses to these questions, and reuses them as visual aids in the next version of his iBook.
It’s an efficient, long-term strategy that happens to be paperless, and often powerful.
What Would You Do?
Here’s how it works: The word “vote” on this page is a hyperlink to a Poll Everywhere poll. Andrew sets all his iBook polls to Keywords mode, so that students can vote on any poll at any time by texting. If his iBook polls were set to Presenter Session mode (ABC responses), students would only be able to respond the the poll Andrew happens to be presenting at the moment.
Students love seeing the poll results appear live, and seeing others respond the same way they did. Administrators like it too. Andrew says, “Every time my boss comes by my class, he loves to see Poll Everywhere, because it gives the quiet students a voice.” That doesn’t just apply to the multiple choice polls in his iBooks.
I’m Not the Only One
Andrew has found that quiet students tend to think their problems are unique, which can lead to feelings of isolation. “They may think they’re dealing with an issue on their own. They think no one else will understand.”
The same students who feel anxious about speaking in class feel perfectly at home responding to a poll. So Andrew often uses an open response poll to ask them about sensitive topics, like their top sources of stress (parents, school, bullying, relationships…). That way everyone gets a chance to speak up anonymously. “As they start to see the screen populating with more and more responses like their own, they develop some confidence.”
Students Teaching Students
The other advantage of doing this through a poll, besides anonymity, is longevity. “You could do it differently, and just say, ‘Everybody who is stressed with school sit in this corner / parents in that corner,’ but with this I can screenshot what they say in the polls and put them in the iBooks for future use. So essentially I’ve got students teaching students.”
Support and Appreciation
“One of the most powerful polls was when students, in front of other kids, came out as being gay. They didn’t know what the straight kids were going to say.” The group of LGBTQ teens had formed a panel to tell students at New Trier High School about their experiences. Afterward, Andrew ran an open-ended word cloud poll to gather one-word reactions from his students.
The impact on the young panelists was huge. “For them to have multiple peers say things like ‘Inspiring’, and see that word getting bigger and bigger on the screen… you saw how proud they felt seeing those responses from other students. It was really simple, but really powerful.” Andrew captured a screenshot of the results, so that the teens on the panel could take it home.
Use Social Media to Keep Responses on Track
Even in a room full of adults, when you combine total anonymity with the freedom of an open-response poll, you run the risk of seeing prank answers pop up on the screen. Doing it in a room full of high school students can be even more perilous.
The safest way to keep things on course is to use Poll Everywhere’s moderation controls, and nip off-topic remarks in the bud. Andrew has a more innovative approach. “I’m always about sharing screenshots of my students’ work on social media. So they don’t write silly responses, because they know it’s going to be shared. It keeps them on the straight and narrow.”
Polling + iBooks = Participation with Depth
“I think as a teacher if I see someone not participating that’s my responsibility— I need to engage that student.” Using interactive resources like iBooks along with well-timed polls helps Andrew succeed at this goal. “The questions are perfect for promoting discussion. It’s great to get live responses straight from the kids and say, ‘Hey, who typed this? This is great! Let’s expand.’ There’s a lot of depth in that.”
Can You Do This in Your Classroom?
You surely can! If your students have access to smartphones, tablets, or laptops, you can design an eBook that works for them. It doesn’t have to be in iBook format. Any file format that supports live hyperlinks (MOBI, EPUB) will work. If your students have a mix of device types, use a format like EPUB that can be viewed almost universally. If your school has a 1:1 device provision, find out which file works best for the standard-issue device at your school. Then you can…
1. Create your course material. Include lots of visuals, if possible. You could even include screenshots of previous responses to your polls.
2. Make it interactive by adding links to related poll questions. (Use Keywords mode in this case.)
3. Link to outside resources like videos, extra reading, and local organizations.