Saturday, November 16, 2013

Another great resource in technology for language teaching

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed today and discovered a great new resource!  FLTMAG is a new online magazine dedicated to language teaching and technology, with a focus on practical suggestions for using technology in language teaching. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

World's best dictionary, now available online for free!

Confession: My least favorite class to teach is composition. I think it's critically important for any major, especially a language major, and I worked really hard to develop a good class after it flopped the first time I taught it, but I'm much happier teaching writing as a component of other Spanish courses rather than in a course focused entirely on writing.

Before I taught composition the first time, I reviewed lots of composition textbooks. There were some that were OK, some that were fairly good, and some that weren't so great. But there were none that I felt were worth the ridiculously high prices that textbook companies were charging. Students need models to write well, but in the internet age, there are plenty of models available online for free. It did take more work on my part, because I had to build the course from scratch, but in the end, I had exactly the course I wanted (notwithstanding the fact that I didn't want to teach composition at all). 

So I thought about what students really needed, and realized that most students want and need to build their vocabulary. And I had this fantastic, amazing dictionary that I randomly found at the U of Illinois bookstore (because I used to troll language dictionary sections in bookstores, before I found this dictionary) that was perfect for the advanced second language learner (beginners, too, but beginners can get by with the one that doesn't weight 10 lbs). This beautiful dictionary was the Collins Spanish-English unabridged dictionary, and it's perfect because it's the only dictionary I've found that includes word usages with the possible translations of a word. This is essential for second language learners, because if they're using a dictionary (or online translator/dictionary) that just gives them a list with no clues as to what the differences are between the different words, they will just pick one, and invariably, it will be wrong. The Collins dictionary gives examples, in phrases and sentences, in both languages, so that learners can tell if that's really the word they're looking for or not. For words with multiple meanings or parts of speech, this is crucial. So I made the dictionary the required textbook for my composition classes. The last time I taught composition, in spring of 2012, my entire class was online except the required dictionary, which students found odd, but at the time, there still wasn't an online dictionary that came close to the breadth and depth of the Collins dictionary. But thanks to my friend and colleague Gwyneth Cliver, a German professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I learned today that the Collins dictionaries are now available online for free! I compared an entry for the word 'can' from my paper dictionary to the online entry, and I'm happy to report that the online version contains all of the same information as the paper version. So while I'm thankful that I don't have to teach composition again, if I did, there would now be no textbook requirement, since the world's best dictionary is available free online. 

(I love this dictionary so much that I have multiple copies of the unabridged version. I justify this compulsion by saying that it's too heavy to cart back and forth between home and school, so I need a copy in both places.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm a terrible artist

In the days before I had consistently accessible technology in my classroom and could project images, either with an overhead projector or a computer projector, I attempted to draw things on the board. With practice, I've gotten better, but mostly it just resulted in students erupting in laughter and asking me what I was trying to draw. So it didn't work very well as a strategy for avoiding L1 use and getting students to make direct connections between the L2 and an image.

With current technology, this has gotten a lot easier, but you still can't always find every image you want for teaching, so if you're a skilled artist like me, you're just out of luck.

Looks like her, yes? And this is after lots of practice playing Draw Something.
Or maybe it looks more like this:

Which is what makes this library of images for foreign language teaching so amazing:

It's a repository of almost 500 illustrations created specifically for language teachers.

With many thanks to Lori Czerwionka for passing this great resource along!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Applied linguistics conferences + tech tips for traveling

As the post title indicates, this post isn't really related to teaching, but I thought it was still useful information for language teachers and academics in general.

Fact about me: I love going to applied linguistics conferences, which is what I'm doing right now.  (I'm currently at the Second Language Research Forum in Provo, Utah.) I have three conferences that I try to go to every year: PSLLT (Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching), SLRF (Second Language Research Forum) and AAAL (American Association for Applied Linguistics). If our state language teaching conference (NILA - Nebraska International Languages Association) doesn't conflict with SLRF, I go to that, too.

There are lots of reasons that I love going to conferences in general, and these conferences in particular, but I'll limit myself to describing a few:

  • Going to conferences is great for meeting people, both professionally and personally. It's a fantastic opportunity to meet other people interested in the same types of research as you who maybe haven't happened to have published much yet. Because you're both the same type of nerd, you will probably become friends. :) For early career academics especially, this is a great opportunity to meet people that you can collaborate with, and get your name out to established people in the field (useful if you're on the tenure track and you need outside reviewers for your research).
  • A lot of great research is never published. This happens for lots of reasons; in my case, my studies never end up how I expect, and there are no statistically significant results. Even though these studies still tell us a lot about the field, they are less likely to be published because there are no statistically significant results. Conference presentations showcase a lot of that research, which is particularly useful for research about instructional effects. I get a lot of my best ideas for teaching from attending research presentations on different instructional techniques. Sometimes I just directly adopt a strategy from a conference presentation, and other times it provides the creative spark I need to come up with my own ideas on how to modify my teaching so that it's more effective.  
  • I think I mentioned that I was in school forever. :) This is because I love learning, and there's always a lot to learn at these conferences. I've learned to think about things in new ways by having regular exposure to people researching in lots of different subdisciplines of applied linguistics. These amazing people bring up ideas that would never occur to me in a million years, and I love it. It energizes me and reminds me why I wanted to study applied linguistics in the first place.
Because I love these conferences, I try to go to as many as I can every year, which can get expensive. One of the most annoying but necessary costs is internet access; for some reason, conference hotels never have free wifi, although they cost substantially more than other hotels that do have free wifi. (I'm sure there's some business logic in there somewhere, but to me it's mystifying: hotels that are already reasonably priced offer free wifi, and hotels that cost a lot more want you to pay extra for internet service.) Usually these hotels charge $12-15/day for internet access, which means that your real per-night cost ends up being substantially higher than advertised (I consider in-room internet access a necessity, not a luxury).

So when companies started coming out with prepaid mobile broadband plans, I was all in. I first had a little USB modem that let me connect to mobile broadband, but when mifi devices became available with a prepaid option, I upgraded. So now when I go to conferences, I always have my trusty mifi with me. I use Virgin Mobile*, and for my current trip, for example, I paid $25 for 1.5 GB of data that lasts for a month.  So how does it work? You do have to put down money up front to get the mifi device; mine was $100. But once you have it, you're set up. Then, when you're traveling, you just buy the amount of access you need, from $5 for one day and 100 MB to $75ish for a month and several GB of data. For my current conference, I would have spent $60 to have internet in my room over four days, but instead I spent $25, *and* I'm sharing with friends at the conference, since the mifi will let you connect up to five devices. It's not as fast as hotel wifi, since it's 3G, but I've always been impressed with how well it works. It stutters occasionally when streaming video, but I've uploaded and downloaded lots of sound files with no problems. [UPDATE: When I tried to publish this blog post the first time, my device had been kicked off the 3G network, and I had to restart it to reconnect. So it's not perfect, but it's portable and affordable.]


If you're an Android user, there's another option that's even cheaper. There's a wonderful app called PdaNet* that you can purchase that turns your phone into an internet hotspot. [CAVEAT: Installing and using this app almost certainly violates your terms of service with your mobile provider, particularly if your service includes an unlimited data package. But since Android is open market, this is a viable and cheap option, and it works wonderfully well.] This app is also available for iPhone, but you have to have an unlocked iPhone in order to install and use it. This app has both a paid version and a free version, so you can check it out and see how well it works. In my experience, the free version is one of the best free apps I've ever used, so it's definitely worth checking out.

The other gadget that goes everywhere with me now (not just to conferences) is my portable battery charger*. This particular charger comes with adapters to various mobile devices, so it would work to charge my mifi, for example. But I mainly use it for my phone. When I'm at a conference, my phone is main internet access point, so I tend to drain the battery pretty quickly. Now when my battery gets low, I just plug it in to this, wherever I'm at, and charge my phone. (It has come in really handy at baseball games, for the record.) If the charger is fully charged, it will charge my phone completely about three times.

Portable battery charger
This isn't a tech tip, but I attended Robert DeKeyser's plenary talk on age effects in second language acquisition today, which was fascinating. One of the main ideas of the talk was to point out the fallacy that younger is better for language learners in terms of classroom exposure. He pointed out that while young learners in an immersion context achieve high levels of second language proficiency regardless of how much language learning aptitude they have, this does *not* mean that instructed SLA is beneficial for young learners, since an immersion context is nothing like a foreign language context. It's far more efficient in terms of number of hours to instruct adolescent or adult learners, because they have the cognitive capacity to acquire things much more quickly. So while it's true that in an immersion context, a young age of acquisition is crucial for achieving high proficiency in the target language, we need research looking at instructed SLA in a non-immersion context to see if there is really an advantage to starting children in second language courses in kindergarten, rather than fifth grade, for example.  (There's some research on this in the context of Canadian dual-language programs that supports the idea that learners who start acquiring the L2 in the classroom from the beginning of their education don't perform any better at the end of their K-12 education than learners who start acquiring the L2 in, say, 5th grade. Sometime when I'm not so tired, I will track down references and post them.)

His concluding point was that we shouldn't be asking the question of when to teach a second language, but rather how to teach a second language to learners of various ages. Since children learn best by repetition and exposure to lots of input, and not by explicit instruction about forms, it's a waste of time trying to teach them grammar rules. It's far better to maximize their exposure to the target language. Conversely, it's non-sensical to claim, as certain language-learning software products do, that the best way for adults to learn a language is as if they were children, with exposure to lots of input and no explicit instruction. Given that adolescents and adults have much higher cognitive capabilities, and actually will fail to acquire many target-language features in the absence of instruction, instruction is enormously beneficial to language learners at these ages. As Prof. DeKeyser stated in his address, "Don't tell adult [language] learners that they can't learn explicitly, because you're taking away the only advantage these people have [compared with young learners]!"

*Note: I do not receive any benefits or compensation for mentioning these products. They're just things that I've found useful in my conference travels, and they've helped me save money.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Well, duh. Lessons from marketing & branding

As I was prepping my lesson for today, I realized that a PowerPoint presentation that I'd done a few years ago needed some work. Although my slides contained all of the necessary information, and didn't violate any major PowerPoint rules, there was no clear organizational structure that carried over from slide to slide.  Here's what I mean:

Slide 1

Slide 2
Both of these slides contained all of the information students needed in a reasonably organized format. But it occurred to me that it would be better if all of the slides had the same basic structure to help students organize the relevant information more easily. So I made a table for each sound, clearly identifying the relevant points about each sound in a way that was consistent across sounds. My slides contain all of the same information as the originals, but now it's much easier to quickly identify the relevant information about each sound.

Slide 1 with table
Slide 2 with table

Interestingly enough, today as I was circulating around the class helping students with homework, I noticed a lot of students had either pulled up this slide from my PowerPoint, or had printed it and had it out next to their computer. Partly this is because this is one of the newer concepts that we've studied, and they had to answer a question about when each sound was used.

/ɾ/ or /r/?
But then I realized that they also needed to answer a question about when each sound was used from the information on this slide, and I didn't see anyone with this slide pulled up or printed out. I would like to say that it's because this information is slightly older and they know it already, but I don't think that's the case (based on reviewing homework assignments).

/m/, /ɱ/, /n̪/, /n/, /ɳ/, /ɲ/ or /ŋ/?

Again, this slide is reasonably well-organized and easy to read. But which gives you a more efficient and accessible summary? The above slide, or the one below?

Same information, but in a table.
I mentioned branding & marketing in my title because over the last few years, my university has been proactively pursuing creating a unified brand. When I first heard about this, my reaction was less than favorable. I thought, 'We're a university, not a business! Why are we talking about branding and creating a cohesive, unified brand?' (Although I was excited about the resulting PowerPoint templates, to be sure. :) )

The short answer (and most likely dumbed down for academics who twitch and start to foam at the mouth when universities use corporate-speak) is that it makes it easy to identify something as pertaining to the university, and easier to find information. For example, prior to the development of a webpage template, all colleges and departments were free to develop their own webpages as they saw fit. That was a recipe for disaster, because there was no internal cohesion between pages on the university webpage, which made it incredibly difficult to navigate, and by extension, difficult for people to find information they were looking for. ('Here's your navigation bar over here! Oh, but on this page it's at the top of the page! And on that one it's in the right sidebar!') In addition, let's just say that some of the pages looked like a three-year-old designed them. In some cases, you wouldn't know that it was a university page unless you looked at the address, because there was no indication anywhere on the page itself that it was part of the university. Implementing a single template meant that the basic structure of each page is the same across colleges and departments, which makes it much easier to use (and also appears much more professional).

As I was thinking about my PowerPoint slides, I realized that branding principles can apply here, too. If there's consistency between slides in a single presentation, or better yet, between slides across presentations, it's much easier for students to find the information they're looking for, which reduces the amount of time they spending clicking through presentations trying to find the information they need. It seems blindingly obvious to me now that I think about it; hence the 'Well, duh' directed at myself in my post title. :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Settings for grading online homework assignments: Why I don't instruct Blackboard to take the most recent grade

In the interest of efficiency, speed of feedback, and mastery learning, I've designed a number of online modules for various Spanish classes I've given. I've described some of these projects in detail in my portfolio, so if you're interested in details, that would be a good place to look.

This semester I'm offering two fairly challenging courses that include these modules, Spanish phonetics, and Intro to Spanish linguistics. For all homework assignments, students are allowed (encouraged, and occasionally required) to submit multiple attempts of the homework. The number of attempts is limited, so students can't "game" the system by simply changing answers until they get them correct (see my portfolio for strategies to create assignments that promote real learning), and while they can see when they get something right or wrong, they never see the correct answer, so they can't simply copy and paste correct answers into subsequent attempts.

At the beginning of the semester, students asked what would happen if they got a lower grade on a later attempt. Would Blackboard keep the higher grade, or the more recent grade? I have Blackboard set to always take the highest grade, and my main reason for doing so is this: I want to encourage mastery learning. I want students to keep trying to do better and figure out where they're making mistakes. Which grading option best promotes that goal? Highest grade, or most recent?

Instructing Blackboard (or any other course management system) to take the most recent grade is enormously demotivating to students. Let's say a student gets a B on the assignment. If they know that they keep the B no matter what, they can afford to take risks and try for an A. But if they know that if they try again and get a C, their grade will go down, then a B might be good enough, because you don't want to have to do the assignment two, three or four more times just to get back to the grade you received on your first attempt.

I saw how important this was over the summer, when my sister was enrolled in an online graduate class. She's a teacher working on her second master's degree, so she's an extremely motivated student. For her online class, though, the assignments were set to take the most recent grade, and I had the opportunity to observe the cost-benefit analysis done by a highly motivated learner enrolled in a graduate program regarding whether it was worth it to attempt an assignment again. Her general rule of thumb appeared to be that a B was sufficient, although not desirable, because she didn't want to end up with a lower grade if she repeated it and didn't do as well on the second attempt, and she wasn't interested in repeating the assignment four or five times just to get back to her original grade. {Side note: I actually looked at these assessments, and they were spectacularly poorly designed. So it was just adding insult to injury to have a terrible assessment and then penalize students for repeating it.} This is noteworthy to me, because my sister is obsessive about getting As in her classes. She's not normally the type of student that's satisfied with a lower grade when she knows she can get a better one. Now imagine that you have an average student, not really interested in the course content, but needs the course for his/her major. Will that student try the homework if s/he manages to get a C on the first attempt? Most likely not, although a better mastery of the content is well within the student's grasp if the assessment is well-designed.

So I tell Blackboard to always take the highest grade. Persistence is key to learning, and if we discourage student persistence by our grading policies, we're doing our students a huge disservice. A recent article in the New York-Times pointed out a connection between high achievers and their musical abilities. Researchers don't know what causes the connection, but one of the high achievers said this:

“I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Back in Nebraska, and some news!

I know I've broken every rule of blogging by not updating the blog for five months, and I apologize. But I do have a very good reason for not blogging, which I was not at liberty to post in June. I am happy to announce that my husband and I are expecting our first child sometime near the end of January! During the summer, I was suffering from debilitating nausea, which was worse if I used my computer, so my computer got a summer vacation this year. I am finally starting to feel better, but now classes are in full swing, so I'll do my best to update regularly from here on out.

In light of our news, today's post is a TED Talk by Dr. Patricia Kuhl, discussing how infants are born with the ability to learn any language in the world, but by 10 months, their brains have been trained to ignore sounds not in their ambient language. So now I'm wondering how many languages I can expose baby to in the 6-10 month window. :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Live from Wyoming! Quick tools for making videos

Life has been a little hectic over the last two weeks, which is why I've been absent. I live in Nebraska, but my husband is working in Wyoming for the summer, so we've just temporarily moved out here and gotten settled in. My goal for when we're not moving to a new state is to post two updates per week.

I'm starting to work on course materials for the fall, and one of the things I'm working on is preparing instructional videos for students to use outside of class time. You might be hearing/reading about flipped or blended classrooms, which is part of my goal with these videos. So why bother with such a big change?

  1. Deeper learning. I was mainly interested in this concept because I was noticing a problem in my Spanish linguistics class. The class met once per week, and had a weekly homework assignment. (I know it doesn't sound like much, but the homework assignments are challenging, and require a fair amount of time to complete.) What I noticed was that a number of students failed every assignment, but never asked for help. They clearly hadn't understood the material. If I notice that the whole class is having trouble with a topic, I change the schedule and devote more time to the topic. But what do you do when 2/3 of the class is doing fine, but 1/3 is completely lost? I realized that these students needed to be able to review the material outside of class time, and a good way to do that is to create videos. (The other part of the course redesign was the implementation of digitized homework assignments delivered via Blackboard, which allowed them to repeat an assignment. This was crucial for understanding the material.)
  2. Better preparation. This will depend on how you structure assignments, because if you just post a video and ask students to watch it before class, in my experience, they won't watch it and won't be prepared for class. But I've had a reasonable amount of success with posting videos and assigning online homework (delivered through Blackboard). I should say that all of my homework assignments are listed in the syllabus (and on Blackboard) from the first day of class, which helps students stay on top of when they have things due. This approach might not be as successful if you assign something for students to bring to class the next class period.
  3. Opportunity for review. Remember when you were a student, and you watched your teacher do something on the board, and it looked really easy? But then when you went home and tried to do the homework, it was much harder than it looked? Making a video allows students to go back and review the content while they're doing the homework, so that they can keep working instead of giving up until they can talk to the teacher to figure out what they're doing wrong. (Learner autonomy!)
  4. More class time for getting help. The last hour or so of each class period was for students to work on homework and ask questions. This was enormously successful, because a lot of students work and have families, so office hours aren't always feasible. They're still getting all of the contact hours because the instruction is given outside of class time, but they have an opportunity to ask for help (and work collaboratively with other students, which was also beneficial).
So that's the why. Here's the how. There are actually multiple ways you can do this, depending on what platform you're using. I always use PowerPoint, because I'm presenting information, and PowerPoint is the clearest way to do that. In theory, you can add audio to PowerPoint, but when you try to save it as a video (which appears to be an option only in PowerPoint for Mac), it doesn't incorporate the audio. (In addition, the audio quality seems to be better if you record it in a different program, in my experience.) So what can you do?  Here's a quick solution that works for PowerPoint for Mac:

The only thing that I do differently is that I record my audio separately in Audacity (a free program you can download here), and then add it into iMovie. It's a lot easier to edit that way, so I don't have to re-record nearly as much.

Another option that could involve any program is this free app available through the App Store (also only for Mac). It allows you to do both screen capture and webcam (and put them side-by-side if you want). You can publish videos to YouTube or Dropbox. Videos under 1 minute are free, but videos longer than a minute appear to cost $1.99 to publish. (I'm not sure if it's a $1.99 flat rate, or if it goes up by length of the video.)

UPDATE (10/27/2013) : The newest version of this app allows you to publish videos of any length for free with the Adobe Presenter Express watermark; it's $1.99 if you don't want the watermark to appear on your videos. Here's a video that I've done using this app:

On the Windows side, probably the easiest free option is Windows Movie Maker. You can import pictures and audio into Movie Maker to create a video the same as for iMovie. You can save your PowerPoint slides as images (see instructions here), and then import them into Windows Movie Maker.  I would also record the audio on Audacity for Windows Movie Maker. (A tutorial for Audacity is on my to-do list for this blog.)  If you have a few hundred dollars to spare, you might want Adobe Presenter, a plugin for PowerPoint. Older versions have been limited in that you've had to have an Adobe Connect account to publish your videos, but Adobe Presenter 8 allows you to upload your video to YouTube. (Retail price is $499; you may be able to get a better price through your school due to volume licensing.) 

Suggestions or questions?  Let me know!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Does txting mk u crazy?

As a specialist in linguistics, I teach a class that deals with the nature of language and language change. In the first chapter, there's a true/false question that says something like: "People use language less correctly today than they did 50 years ago." A lot of students will say that the statement is true, for a number of reasons. So one of my objectives for the course is to demonstrate that one of the most fascinating aspects about language is that it changes constantly. If it's not changing, that means it's a dead language, because human languages change naturally.  As a related principle, I want them to know that language change does not equal language deterioration.

That's why I think this video is so interesting. It does a great job of pointing out that humans have always complained about language deterioration, and also makes a case for cognitive benefits that arise from being bilingual and bidialectal, and makes a good case for texting having evolved into its own dialect.

So how can you use this information in your classroom?  Each language has its own texting lingo, and thankfully for us old folks, nice people offer texting dictionaries online. So for Spanish, here's one dictionary. This will depend on your own personal tolerance for mobile devices in class, and your school's mobile device policy. But if they have their phones with them, why not tell them that they can only text in the target language during class?  If all students have phones with texting, make an activity designed around that. You'll actually be helping them develop their brains instead of contributing to the deterioration of the language, lol. :)

Know links to dictionaries in other languages? Leave them in the comments! Thank you!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ditch the textbook for skills classes

This isn't really applicable to K-12 language instructors, but for higher ed instructors teaching conversation or composition (or reading or listening skills, if those are offerings at your institution), this is a great way to increase student engagement.

Here's what I mean. These are the topics I'm interested in: bilingual education, language acquisition, language policy, language and technology. The second time I taught composition, I found articles in a variety of genres addressing the same topic: language policy in the Basque Country. I thought it was fascinating, but most of my students didn't read any of the articles because they didn't care about the topic, so they didn't get the point or the benefit of having models in different genres.

When I was considering what I wanted to do for my conversation class this past semester, I thought about my goals for the course: I wanted students to talk (in Spanish).  I looked into some textbooks, but I didn't think the content would be interesting to many students.  So on the first day of class, I asked students to write down what subjects they liked to talk about. I took all of their lists and put them into a spreadsheet and worked through them during the course of the semester (I also tallied the number of times a topic was suggested in order to get a sense for more popular topics). Some of them were too specific to be useful as discussion topics for the whole class, but frequently could be generalized to a broader topic (many students wanted to talk about a specific career, which was easily broadened to talking about careers in general).

What does this have to do with technology? I got all of my materials from the internet, which meant that all discussion topics were current, and since the students decided what they were going to talk about, they were more invested in talking. To localize discussion topics even more, on Mondays, each table (3-4 students) decided what topic they wanted to discuss on Wednesday. They each had to find an article in Spanish, read it, post the link to their group's discussion board on Blackboard (by Tuesday at midnight), and on Wednesday, each person summarized their article for the group. Then a group leader (different every week) summarized the content of the articles for the class. In addition to increasing student engagement, this had the added benefit of giving students informal (ungraded) presentation practice every week.

A number of students noted in their final reflections (recordings, because it was a conversation class) that they really enjoyed having the freedom to choose what they wanted to talk about, and that it made it much easier to participate because they were interested in the topic. (As a side benefit, it tends to increase instructor popularity, because students appreciate not having to buy a book for your class!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

I just read this article on harnessing mobile technology in the classroom, and as my post title implies, I agree. I just finished teaching two sections of advanced conversation (in Spanish) this semester, and every student had a laptop, tablet or smart phone (or some combination of those).

One way to incorporate this technology is to incorporate anonymous polls. In a conversation class, many students are reluctant to discuss or give an opinion on a polemic issue. One way to break the ice is to use an anonymous poll, using a site like Poll Everywhere. This is one example of a question that I posed to the class.

While there are several polling platforms that allow text message responses, Poll Everywhere has a free account option that allows up to 40 responses per poll, and an unlimited number of polls/classes. There are other paid account options at educational pricing, including the option to have your school purchase a system-wide license. Other sites include SMSPoll (free account includes 15 votes per poll) and Top Hat Monocle (free account includes 30 votes per poll, and has a one course limit).

Once you've created an account in Poll Everywhere, it's easy to set up your first poll. Just click the "Create Poll" button and enter your question (and answer choices if applicable). Once you've created the poll, there are a number of ways you can distribute it. Since I use PowerPoint for all of my classes, I use the option "Download as Slide". However, you could also embed it in a Blackboard announcement (or assignment, or anywhere else in Blackboard or another Learning Management System) using "Share and Publish" and selecting the "Blog or Webpage" option. This option will generate the code you need to embed the poll in the page. (Coming soon: Video on how to embed content into a web page by using the "Edit HTML" feature in blogs and other websites.)

There are a number of ways that students can respond, including using a laptop or tablet and navigating to the webpage, responding via text message, responding via Twitter, and responding via a private link. Choose how you want students to respond, and then start the poll. If you want them to be able to respond on the web, make sure to click the button circled below.
Make sure to start the poll, and click the circled button if you want students to be able answer on the web.
Here's what a live embedded poll looks like:

To respond, students can text an answer code to 37607, or go to the website . As soon as they respond, the chart changes to reflect the response. Feel free to try it if you want!

I usually use this at the beginning of a discussion, especially if I anticipate that it may be difficult to get students to give their opinions. This lets them know that they're not alone, whatever their opinion is, and has helped get past the awkwardness of discussing controversial topics.

Do you have other suggestions for how to use anonymous polling? Leave a comment, or submit a tech tip!