As an instructor of college freshman writing, I am constantly looking for ways to grab the attention of my millennial students. I am painfully aware that blank looks on faces and glances at the clock can only mean one thing; plenty of output is happening, but no input is taking place.
No one likes to be lectured at.
Students, like everyone else, have a limited capacity to derive meaning from a blah-blah-blah lecture. In order to learn, they need to actively engage in the process of understanding a new concept in context with their current knowledge. In academic terms, this is called activating schema.
Schema is our brain’s way of organizing what we know.
Schema is the knowledge that is already held in our brains. It is the understanding of other ideas and processes that enable us to make inferences about new concepts. It is, in essence, what we already know about a topic. In helping students activate schema, I can effectively enable them to come to acquire knowledge on their own; one of the easiest ways to activate schema is to pose a question before a topic is discussed in a lecture.
Polling activates schema.
This idea of activating schema is exactly what polling is about. When publishers place a poll question “What do you think about XYZ?” on the side of their webpage, they can give their audience the opportunity to become curious and reflect upon their basic understanding of topic XYZ. Readers who are engaged read more thoroughly and derive more understanding from the content. The second part of engagement is the opportunity for readers to express their thoughts and opinions about a topic. Polling encourages readers to commit to an idea and share their opinion with the rest of the world. Creators of websites like to gage engagement through time on page, number of click throughs on each page, likes, shares, and site visits, but true engagement is much harder to measure.
True engagement is shown when we relate what we have learned to other people.
True engagement appears in places like the coffee shop where readers discuss, long after their lattes are finished, the stories that sparked their interest. These readers become champions for the stories and an evangelist for the sites that bring the stories to them. By polling or otherwise, this all begins with engaging schema.
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