Many innovative educators are familiar with student response systems (SRS) a.k.a. clickers. Common brands are eInstruction, Sentio, TurningPoint, Activote. The systems run about $2500 - $4000 (depending on various options selected) for a class set and allow educators to track student learning, engage an entire class as they collect real-time responses from students, and enables them to quickly assess understanding and achievement. While I believe these are valuable instructional tools, I’m not convinced they are the best tool to accomplish these goals in all situations.
As an active participant using such devices I have witnessed that the distribution, collection, and maintenance of devices is a bit cumbersome. I have also observed that even tech-savvy, innovative educators have enlisted others to support their use. They've needed help from a specialist to engage in using the software to upload questions, maneuvering from one question to the next and sharing the answers.
I have also found when answering questions, typing on a phone-like keypad without a letter on each button makes submitting a response rather cumbersome. Most recently I was disappointed that my slowness in doing so resulted in my answer being omitted. Additionally, the clickers just don’t look like the technology I am used to using in my real life. They seem like artificial or manufactured constructs that I can’t imagine incorporating into everyday instruction. While I have been interested in this technology it has just seemed like an add on rather than a practice I would incorporate into my daily routine. There is also new software that has to be installed and requires a bit of a learning curve. While I am guessing there may be some innovative educators that have seamlessly incorporated these devices into the classroom, I have yet to see this for myself. In fact, sadly, I think I know of about a half dozen schools where a tech savvy teacher or coach has ordered these devices and they remain in an unopened or once opened box in a locked closet (shhh-don’t tell).
For mobile computing professional like me who want to present and operate mobiley the idea of traveling with 32 clickers is unappealing. So, while I love the functionality, the practicality of passing out clickers, configuring voting software, and lugging around bags full of difficult to use keypads has not seemed feasible. Fortunately, I have discovered ways to use everyday tools for free while still being able to harness the power these systems offer without needing either the equipment, software, or funding.
Here’s what they are.
I have found three tools that provide a similar function as student response systems and do so for free and with technologies many of us already have access to inside and/or outside of school. Furthermore they do not require downloading or learning how to use software. They are Google Spreadsheets and Forms, Twitter, and Poll Everywhere. All can be used with no cost, no software, and without the purchase of equipment for those with access to either cell phones or laptops.
Here is how to use them.
Twitter is perfect if you want to know what your audience is thinking, feeling, or seeing. No software to download and all your audience needs is a cell phone or laptop to contribute. Simply go to www.twitter.com and set up an
account. You can Tweet from your phone by entering your number at http://twitter.com/devices. When exploring a particular topic, you need to select a short tag (an approximately 6 letters or less searchable word or acronym) and then have your audience’s tweets include that tag (i.e. Marta Valle High School might be MVHS). They can contribute using a laptop or through text on their phone. You can capture the Tweets in any number of forms. The easiest is to do a simple Twitter search for the tag. You can click here to see what the Tweets from a recent conference look like. Of course one of the more famous tags that made Twitter popular was IranElection.
Do you want to poll your audience? Do you want to do a pre and post assessment? Google spreadsheets is your answer. Recently I used Google Spreadsheets to poll school leaders about what name we should select for our learning network. After they Tweeted their nominations from their laptops or cells, I placed their nominations on the Google spreadsheet and then placed their names across the top of the spreadsheet. They each had 5 votes to use to select their top choices. I set up the spreadsheet to record their choices and had their results captured in a chart on a separate tab so they could instantly see the results which I projected. You can see what it looked like here. This was done without any equipment beyond their laptops.
Of note is the fact that not every person voting needed their own polling device. Participants had 24 hours to vote. They could have voted any time they had access to a computer and accommodations were set up for those who could not vote in advance because they didn’t have access to the internet. We spent 10 minutes the next day where I projected results. A few participants were recorders who captured responses for those who had yet to vote or for those who wanted to change their vote.
Google forms is another free and effective option to capture responses from your audience. Not only does Google forms look nice, it also easily allows you to capture participant results without participants being able to see what other respondents have answered. Here is a sample of a form I used at the same conference to capture conference reflections. It can also be used effectively for assessment with students.
Poll Everywhere is a great tool that can be used by anyone who knows someone with a laptop or a cell phone they can send a text message from. For educators in schools without laptops and where phones are banned, this can still be a powerful tool that students can use outside of school by students who have their own phone or laptop or have family, friends or a public facility with a phone or laptop they can use. Futhermore Poll Everywhere is free for people who need to collect 30 or fewer responses per poll, and for schools who have not made Adequate Yearly Progress.
To use poll everywhere the teacher sets up an account at which they’ll be assigned a number or url for participants to send their answers. Within the message students enter the code corresponding to their response. This looks similar to what you see on popular shows such as American Idol. Without any additional equipment or need to download software within seconds educators will have student responses. Another nice feature is that it doesn't matter what device your students are using as text message, web, and smartphone responses can be instantly combined.
If knowing what your students are thinking is important to you and you are not able to invest in student response systems Twitter, Google Spreadsheets and Forms, and Poll Everywhere are few alternatives well worth investigating.