Voting cards

I will be teaching the first year module G11FPM Foundations of Pure Mathematics this autumn at Nottingham. It looks as if I will have about 250 students in the class. (First-year Probability and Statistics may get over 340 students this year!)

One of the methodologies mentioned at the METAL workshops uses voting followed by small group discussion and repeat voting. The idea is that students try to convince their neighbours that their answer is right before the new vote.

Voting by hand-raising doesn’t work well for me. I find that:

(a) people are reluctant to vote at all;

(b) after a while people start to watch for a known strong student’s hand to go up.

Now electronic voting systems are available which avoid these problems. However, booking 250 voting devices, handing them out at the start of the class and getting them back at the end is probably impractical. So I am going for a coloured (and numbered) card approach. The voting packs will consist of a plastic pocket with some thick white card at the back and with four coloured (and numbered) square pieces of card. The students will be asked to move the relevant square to the front and hold up the pack. At least the students behind won’t see what the ones in front have voted for. Of course I can’t stop people turning round to look at the cards behind them.

It will be interesting to see whether I can easily make a reasonable estimate of the proportion voting for each colour.

The voting system will certainly cost time. But the gains may be very high. It will certainly be interesting to see what the students make of it!


10 responses to “Voting cards

  1. Thanks to my colleague David Hodge (who knows a lot more about javascript and css than I do!) I can now test my colour judgement out on a random set of coloured squares.
    I hope that David will make a simple web page available with this on, so that others can try it.
    When it comes to red, blue, green and yellow (as named colours in html), I have the impression that I have a tendency to overestimate the amount of green slightly, but it is quite close. Certainly it is easy to tell if one colour has significantly more than the others.


  2. Maybe you could enlist the use of smartphone and twitter to accomplish voting:
    Set up hashtags for various responses and ask people to vote by tweeting.


    • Smartphone voting is being trialled at the University, but I suppose that not everyone has a smartphone yet.
      Potentially this could be very effective. But for now, I am going with a low-tech solution!


  3. My first lecture using the voting cards was yesterday morning (9AM!)
    In the large, tiered lecture room I was in (Keighton Auditorium) the voting was incredibly clear. I had no problem at all estimating the proportion with each answer, and when two answers were roughly equally popular that is what I announced.
    For most of the questions I asked, after I gave students a chance to try to convince each other, the re-vote produced considerably more correct answers. The exception was related to Simpson’s Paradox, where the audience was split 50-50 even on the re-vote as to whether this phenomenon was actually possible. This was a very reasonable result, I think!


  4. A few weeks in, and the voting is still going well!
    I also found that the flat lecture room didn’t cause trouble: I can still see a sea of colour and can make a good estimate of which answers are most popular.
    With the current cards I can also allow students to vote for multiple options: no need to have only one right answer. You can show 2 or 3 different colours using this voting pack.
    Feedback on the voting is good: it appears to help with engagement, and get them talking to each other about the subject. However I sometimes find that only half of the class will vote at the first request. The other half may be waiting to see what the rest go for!


  5. Pingback: G11FPM exam | Explaining mathematics

  6. Pingback: Foundations of Pure Mathematics | Explaining mathematics

  7. Joel, are you still using this methodology? Have you seen Plickers?


    • I moved on to Google forms (discussed elsewhere) which works fine, but does require students to have a mobile device with internet access.
      Plickers looks interesting, but currently allows only four possible answers to each question doesn’t it? These days I have up to 6 possible answers to my questions, including the rather useful “Please explain the question again!”


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