Google’s Forms opened my eyes to a new way of getting input from my students. Five years later, I still use various online survey generators (Excel Online or ones in my LMS) to ask students communication questions (“When is the best time to contact you?”), content questions (“What do you need help with?”), or general reactions (“How do you feel about…?”).
You can use surveys in Discussion Boards to help students reflect or to assess their knowledge. Students can vote on topics even. In the past, I used a survey to activate prior knowledge about effective writing. You can read about that here.
But, as many social science research experts will tell you, the way a question is asked in a survey, the layout of a survey, and the order of questions in a survey can prime respondents. This priming creates biased results.
So, what if I wanted to bias my students’ thinking a certain way before engaging in a discussion? Why would I need to do this and what are the results?
Maintaining an open mind about The Giver
In my 8th grade course, students read The Giver in the Spring. It’s an amazing book, and we can blame it for the dystopian YA novels that followed. No wonder the same book I read when I was in 8th grade is still being read. Not only does it give a drop of dystopian dopamine, but it is also thoughtfully written (something not as trendy these days). Unfortunately, between the popularity of dystopian YA and the movie The Giver, students don’t start the novel with the same sort of innocence as I did once. Of course the Elders are bad, and of course this society would be a bad place to live.
So, even when you introduce the DB question with words like “utopia” and describe the benefits, students still see Jonas’s world as alien and unreal.
Students begin this discussion with a bias.
Unfortunately, The Giver is only a cautionary tale if readers see how aspects of their own society could be perverted to create something similar to Jonas’s society.
Using Bias to Un-bias Students
To work against this and to encourage students to reflect upon how aspects of their own lives are also in the novel, I created an eleven-question survey to prime them. Or maybe to pry open their minds.
I wrote the questions to emphasize the similarities between their experiences and the world of The Giver.
For example, since Jonas’s family has all of their meals delivered to their house, I ask “Do you sometimes have pizza or Chinese delivered to your house for dinner?” followed by, “If you could have all of your meals cooked and delivered to your house, would you?”
Also, since residents are assigned jobs, and this seems like a bad thing, because we Americans value choice, I ask, “It would be a relief to know what job you will have in 10 years. Agree or Disagree?”
Hiding the Discussion Board Questions
The problem, however, is creating sequence in an asynchronous class. How can I ensure students take the survey before they see the questions?
The answer was to use the submission message and the conditional release option.
- First: delete questions in the discussion board topic and only leave a link to the survey. In Brightspace, you can link to tools within the LMS, so students didn’t get lost.
- Second: create a topic with conditional release asking students to complete the survey first.
- Third: put directions and the topic in the survey submission message to help students figure out where and what the actual discussion board topic says.
“And Surveys Say”…
To figure out what impact the survey had on student responses, I can make two comparisons. First, I’ll look at the survey answers and then evidence for those opinions in the DB posts. Second, I’ll compare some responses from this year’s course to last year’s course. One caveat: my current class is just getting started. Sample size: 6.
Primed for “jobs” but nothing else
In the questions, I asked about jobs, sameness, and how sameness relates to fairness.
Some students’ posts shows they thought about how Jonas’s world would offer job security, but not many.
- I also would live in our society because I also like having to work for jobs, but it would be kind of good to know what your job is going to be when you get older.
- The drawbacks to living here would be that you wouldn’t be able to choose your job.
Despite the fact that students agree sameness would reduce bullying and racism, and if things are the same, they are fair, their posts favored inequality:
- Out of attempt to create sameness, Jonas’s society erased the possibility of inequality. However, inequality isn’t necessarily a negative thing, and it could have some inarguably positive effects. Inequality forces people to strive for better rather than remaining apathetic as rewards are based of hard work and incentives.
- but in Jonas society no one has to work for it and no one really has it because there all equal …… so no one wants to fight to get what they need/desire because its handed to them.
And only one response so far mentions bullying: “Along with this society does come various benefits, though. Such as a possible lack of bullying, and an easier, less stressful life.”
How do these compare to last year?
Last year, zero students mentioned bullying and when jobs were mentioned, it always related to whether their jobs were chosen for them:
- societies need different people and skill sets to do different jobs.
- I wouldn’t want my jobs and family chosen for me.
- If I were in a society like the one in The Giver, I would most likely learn how to do my assigned job well and then I would try to learn other jobs too and hope to become good at many things.
As you see, students weren’t thinking about how Jonas’s society would eliminate unemployment.
One theme remains unchanged
Both the old and the new posts see inequality as good and beneficial to society. Never fear, my students are happy capitalists, who view inequality as mostly good:
- Inequality challenges people to work hard and better themselves. Inequality isn’t always good, but it definitely has capability to be.
- Inequalities are a good thing because without these life would be boring and you would never want to strive to better.
How effective was the survey and what impact did it have? So far I can see there is some impact, and the quality of the responses is overall better, even if students are writing about the survey topics. I’ll know more when my 16 week session students go through the same exercise. Also, I’ll ask a few students (in a survey?) what they thought about the experience.
But what are your thoughts? What have you tried the discussion board to prime students?