John is a social studies teacher in New York City who uses Ponder with his students. Additional Ponder narratives are available in these interviews: http://ponder.co/#interviews.
For John’s US Constitution module, he adds links to foundation readings on the social contract, natural rights and constitutionalism to his class web site and assigns them as homework. This reading experience is lightly scaffolded by a service called Ponder. While reading, students are asked to extract insights from the text into Ponder “micro-reading responses.”
Once they make a text selection to share with the class, they assign one of Ponder’s predefined sentiments to explain why they chose to highlight that particular excerpt (I’m confused. I’m dubious. I’m in awe.) and then select theme tags to identify which course concepts it’s relevant to (This is an example of ‘Divine Right’.) Students also have the option to elaborate further on their micro-response in writing. “The Founders’ assumption of natural rights seems overly simplistic because…” All student micro-responses are shared to a private activity feed for the class.
The micro-response structure provides the students with guidance to encourage close reading and, when shared in aggregate with John, provides him with insight into how his students are faring with the material. Unlike with traditional reading responses however, where it would take at least an hour to review each of the 30+ students work, Ponder aggregates the micro-responses by the type of sentiment (cognitive/analytical/emotional). Each type is color coded, which makes it possible for John to bring up the document page itself and see a heat map of where and how students responded to the text.
Before class, he identifies a couple of choice excerpts students highlighted with which to drive discussion once the students arrive, using the star feature to pull them out into a separate list on the class activity feed.
Once he is satisfied that the core theory is understood, John brings in a specific example. To bring constitutional theory down to earth, John takes the class on a deep dive into mandatory minimum sentencing laws by creating his own micro-responses on texts that are expressing opposing viewpoints of the policy. His students will further research this topic on their own, take a position and write an argumentative essay. Because Ponder is simply a browser add-on, it works on any web page and on any video students browse to. That means during their individual research to better understand the issue, when following links in the initial documents, searching the library or the web, Ponder travels with them. They create micro-responses wherever they go to gather examples and ideas for themselves and their classmates as they begin to form their theses.
During this work, using Ponder’s data clouds, John can quickly filter student research by theme, sentiment, source or topic, for the whole class or individual students. This is not only useful for gathering responses around a particular idea (e.g. public safety, racial profiling, militarization, etc) but also to show the students the breadth and depth of their research. Which themes are getting ignored? Are they over-relying on a single source? John discovered in one of his early assignments that few students were venturing beyond the New York Times as a resource, and was able to show them using Ponder’s site cloud that almost all of the class’ reading was being done on nytimes.com.
To initially get started with Ponder, the instructor sets up a class on the Ponder website, installs the Ponder add-on in their browser, and uses the unique invitation link to add students. When students login, they are prompted to install the add-on and are automatically added to the correct class. Being part of a class means the student can share micro-responses with it, and see their classmates’ responses, both on the activity feed and overlaid directly on the documents.
Further, because Ponder’s activity feed is an automatic archive of all of the work students are doing, they can always search back through it to make connections across the semester. Research done during smaller class discussions can be immediately referenced at its source for use in a term paper, a debate or when studying for an exam.
Ponder extends beyond reading to online videos as well, allowing micro-responses to be created at points along the timeline of the video, creating an aggregate heat map to identify parts of a given video that the class may want to re-watch together. John has been using the video functionality to create his own take-home video lectures; he records his voice as he walks through several explanatory slides on the screen. Because students pre-watch these lectures at home, more class time is available for discussion, and everyone comes to class with a sense of the top questions and points of interest.
While Ponder video shares the micro-response interface with Ponder for reading, it also has additional video-specific navigation mechanisms. Because, unlike when reading a text, you can’t control the speed at which you consume a video, Ponder’s ‘what?’ button quickly jumps the viewer back 10 seconds to re-watch a sequence, and the star button allows you to create bookmarks along the video timeline as you watch. After a first watch-through, students can review their bookmarks and their classmates’ bookmarks, re-watch as necessary, and craft their micro-responses and questions. Watching a video for homework is no longer a passive experience – it is ‘close watching’ in preparation for in-depth discussion the next day.