Helping you answer the right questions first
Whether it is a large undergraduate lecture, a smaller advanced course centered around group projects, or an online class with a wide range of student diversity, your ability to identify the most pressing questions that students have can be the key to broad student success. Does expertly answering the questions from that one vocal student on the front row mean that the rest of the students understand? Google Moderator is a tool that will open up a channel for students to ask questions during or outside of class, so you can be sure that the time you spend addressing student concerns is meeting the needs of the most students.
Much like a regular online discussion board, Moderator will allow you to post a prompt, like, “What questions do you have about today’s topic?” and students can submit a response. The benefit of Moderator over discussion boards, though, is that as responses are posted, students can vote each one up or down. The deeper question that most of the class hadn’t thought to ask can be voted to the top of the list. When you pause from your lecture to ask if there are any questions, rather than hearing uncomfortable silence from the students, you can check your Moderator page to see what question has been ranked highest by the students. Meanwhile, the off-topic question that sometimes arises in class, seemingly for the sole purpose of derailing the lecture, has been left at the bottom.
A home-grown product called Hotseat is used at Purdue University. It has many of the same features as Moderator. See what their students think of it:
Other than just a place for students to ask you questions, Moderator could be set up as a place for students to share useful resources, the most useful of which is voted up to the top of the list for easy access. This is something that could be built throughout a semester. You also have the option of allowing students to respond to each other’s posts, allowing a silent discussion that helps students learn without interrupting class. This would help ensure that no students are lost along the way, since you have given them a tool to help support each other. These multiple levels of interaction, from simply asking a question, to reflecting on one’s own understanding of the topic and voting for the most important question, to answering the question of a fellow student, allow Google Moderator to bring a much higher level of engagement to your course.