This activity created was by Benjamin Schneer, a graduate teaching fellow for GOV30, to help students understand methods in public opinion polling. Schneer provided a dilemma for students to resolve using information about public opinion polling found in their textbook or online resources. Students enthusiastically participated in this active learning exercise to incorporate classroom knowledge in a practical setting.
Prior to the activity, students were instructed to read in their textbooks about public opinion polling. When students walked into class, they were given a handout (attached) with a problem (e.g. “You are part of a committee that has been tasked with selecting the new Dean of Harvard College… you need to determine the preferences of your peers before you can make your choice”) and were encouraged to come up with a short presentation on how to properly conduct a public opinion poll while accounting for issues like sampling error and selection bias.
The students were split up into groups and worked on brainstorming effective ideas; while the instructor walked around the class to make sure students were on the right track. After fifteen minutes of discussion, each group performed a three-minute presentation where they described their approach. Once they finished their presentation, the instructor opened the floor up to the rest of the class to discuss the feasibility of each group’s idea, and how it may succeed or not.
Students enjoyed the project, for it was a fun way to learn about public opinion polling. Rather than dryly discussing the main concepts, students were given the freedom to explore them in a practical setting. The assignment itself allowed for some flexibility in the methodological backgrounds of the students as well, so this project was perfect for an intro level course where students might have varying levels of exposure to the concepts presented in the class.