Google Moderator is a system for soliciting and aggregating responses on a given topic. For example, before the 2012 Presidential election over 20,000 people participated in the Google Moderator poll “Your Questions for the Candidates.”
I set up a new Google account for use with the class, then created a new Series for my PHY251 class. I then created on topic for each day that we covered new material, such as “Unit 4: Newton’s Laws” (click above image for full size screenshot). The students were expected to view a smartPhysics pre-lecture before class, then participate in the Google Moderator poll for that day. They were instructed to either ask a question about the pre-lecture or vote on another student’s question rather than post duplicates. This way I could start the next class by going over the most popular questions, and just answer the less popular ones individually by email (or directly in Google Moderator).
This was tricky. I wanted the students to have the option to post anonymously so they would feel comfortable asking anything. However, with Google Moderator, even the administrator (me) is not shown the identity of anyone who posts anonymously. To solve this problem, I created a link on Moodle to each topic, and students were instructed to access Google Moderator using these links in order to receive credit for participation. Moodle can generate a report of which students clicked on a given link, and this is how I was able to assign credit. Of course, I could not determine whether a student actually did anything after clicking on the link, but once students got used to the system there was not a significant discrepancy between the number of participants in Google Moderator for a given topic and the number of students who clicked on the link in Moodle. It is worth noting that early in the semester a few students went to the topics through Google Moderator directly, rather than via Moodle, and did not receive credit.
Successes and Challenges
Overall, Google Moderator was not as useful as I had hoped, but I had a class of only 15 students. Because I use a lot of group activities in my classes, after a few weeks into the semester, students seemed to be comfortable asking questions during class or emailing me when they had trouble. Some days the most popular question was something that would obviously be covered that day. An example of such a question might be “Can we go over Newton’s Laws?” for Unit 4: Newton’s Laws.
Perceived pedagogical or teaching value
This facilitates Just-in-Time-Teaching, especially for large classes in which there may not be enough time to answer every question.
I would try this again in a bigger class. I would also consider requiring students to post using their names, so that assessment is easier. The class I am teaching currently (PHY252) is even smaller, so I did not use Google Moderator again. Instead I solicit feedback directly through smartPhysics and use that to prepare before class.