Evaluating Micro-Responses: The Good, the Bad and the Learning Moments


A question we often get from instructors just learning about Ponder and micro-responses is:

"Can't students just select and click a lot without actually doing any thinking?"

It's easy to see where this question comes from, after all our intuition tells us that it takes effort to write a coherent sentence, whereas you can fill in bubbles on a multiple choice question and get the answer correct one in every four or five times.

The problem of doing assignments without thinking is not limited to multiple choice - every teacher has wasted time reviewing written assignments of complete sentences that demonstrate only minimal effort by the author to delve into the deeper issues represented in the material.

Counter-intuitively, as instructors who have implemented Ponder in their classes know, Ponder's pre-defined critical thoughts or sentiments are a very different kind of multiple-choice; they bring out deep thinking in students and save time identifying low-effort student work.

Over time, after reviewing hundreds or thousands of micro-responses, an instructor begins to notice a fairly clear qualitative pattern across responses.

Here we will describe four high-level types that will help you manage your class' work and provide a starting point for providing feedback to your students (or classmates). 

A Good, Solid Micro-Response

Read the response as "Alex understands that Chicano field laborers believed education was the ticket to a better life in America, a way out of the heat and dust of the fields." At first blush you might think this is what any random click-to-complete response would look like.

  • The excerpt selected is coherent
  • The sentiment selected fits with the excerpt
  • "Understands" may even have a double meaning that could be worth exploring in discussion.

But creating a good response is harder than you think - more on what a random response looks like in a moment.

An Excellent Micro-Response


Read the response as "Alex would like examples of this excerpt 'Ogle maintained there were sound educational and social advantages to segregated schooling.'" Why is this excellent? It has the qualities of the good response, and demonstrates a deeper level of questioning and considering.

  • The excerpt selected is coherent
  • The sentiment selected fits with the excerpt
  • In the middle of a module on segregated schooling in the US, which is usually cited as having predominantly if not entirely negative implications for education and society, someone cited in a document is claiming that there are in fact benefits. The student is questioning that claim and asking the author to present example and evidence supporting that claim.

This response goes beyond simple comprehension to grapple with the author's logic and methodology, and identifies the beginning of an interesting debate for class.


A Junk response

Every teacher has read an incomprehensible five paragraph essay. It's grammatically correct, roughly follows the guidelines, but makes you question your sanity because it doesn't seem to go anywhere and do anything. And yet you may spend many minutes trying to make sure it's not your brain recovering from the eighty-three essays you just plowed through.

You wondered about a student "clicking-to-complete" with Ponder, and here is what that looks like.

  • The excerpt selected is incoherent
  • The sentiment is inconsistent with that incoherence

If a student is doing this a lot, you probably want to follow-up with them to understand why and work with them resolve the academic or behavioral issues behind it. 

But, luckily, unlike with five paragraphs or mush, it takes just seconds to realize that this critical thought is not a critical thought at all. 

Now, some of you may be saying "but couldn't the above suggest the student is simply confused or is misunderstanding something"? It's definitely possible, which is why you always want to look for patterns in student activity to get a sense of their work. 

However, genuine student confusion is valuable for discussion in class, and looks quite different from click-to-complete.


A Learning Moment Response

Student confusion in Ponder is often expressed directly, using the cognitive/comprehension (yellow) sentiments. However, it is often expressed indirectly with a coherent but ambiguous sentiment selection. Here's an example: 


Read this response as "Alex understands...'A month later, Brown called one of her tormenters 'white trash' and was attached by several bystanders.'"

  • The excerpt selected is coherent
  • The sentiment selected fits with the excerpt
  • However, their is ambiguity in the student's point (which they have not chosen in this case to clarify with a text elaboration)


The student could be understanding Brown's actions, or the bystanders. Both are 'understandable,' but from different perspectives. The coherence indicates that the student read the sentence and made sense of its significance in the broader narrative. 

This is a great opportunity for a discussion. Who is 'right'? Who is 'wrong'? Why do people use offensive language? Why does language provoke violent reactions from people? 

Please share your experiences reviewing student responses with your fellow teachers.


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