January 11, 2013
Teachers Talk - Free (or cheap) Options for Classroom Response Systems
Colin Hill, SDACC TDEC Representative & Director of Computer Services at Canadian University College

Before we get into this month’s topic, I want to give a brief follow up to my last article in September on Collaborative Classroom Projects.  I presented a session at the NAD Teachers Convention on this topic, and after talking with many who attended that session, felt that there was enough interest to initiate some kind of site where Adventist educators could share and connect for these type of projects.   With the support of AVLN, using resources developed by LLU, we have now established the “AVLN Projects” community site where teachers can sign up, share their information, interest and projects they are planning and connect with others who share projects they are initiating. 
Currently, there is an area set up for K to Gr. 7 projects and an area for Gr. 8 – 12 projects.  As activity and members increase, we will create new categories as appropriate.  There is also a Members Introductions area where you can give some information about yourself and the type of projects you are interested in.  The site is available at http://syncall.llu.edu/AVLNPROJECTS. If you are interested in joining, please send me an email (chill@cauc.ca) with your name, e-mail addres,s and school where you teach, and I will create an account for you. (We are working on self-enrollment capability; it may be ready by publishing time.)
Now, for this month’s feature, I want to familiarize you with a few tools that are available for increasing interactivity in your classroom.  While I do not know how many of our Canadian Adventist classrooms are equipped with ‘clickers’ or ‘Personal Response Systems’, these are items that have been available for quite a number of years and have gone through several generations of development.  However, using these means that you have to purchase a set for each class, install special software, learn how to use it and maintain the hardware.  So, what if you could get a lot of the benefits of these devices for free (or definitely lower cost)?  With today’s trend toward Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the reality that most students have a smartphone, iPod or laptop, why not use them to your advantage instead of fighting to limit their use?  Here, then, are a few resources that allow your students to use whatever device they can access to help keep them engaged in your lessons.
First, there is Google Apps for Education.  As reviewed previously on CAT~net, Google Forms allows you to easily create forms which can then be filled out with any web browser, and the results are collected in a spreadsheet.  You could then create graphs from these results.  However, this is not quite as friendly or flexible as some of the following options.  (For those who are really into Google, take a look at their quiz-and-poll offering [http://code.google.com/p/quiz-and-poll/], sadly only available for Android devices at present.)
PollEverywhere is the most well-known and feature rich of the current offerings.  Their free account will allow up to 40 responses per poll.  Plans for a single teacher with enhanced features are available starting at $50/year.  School plans are also available based on a per student fee.  As well as using pre- planned polls and surveys, this service allows you to create live polls on the fly.  This allows you to be truly adaptable in your teaching and respond to feedback instantly.  Your class members can participate and post responses using any web browser, sending an SMS text message or using Twitter.  This allows just about any device that students may have in their possession (even iPods over the school wireless network) to be used as a response device.  No need to purchase and distribute class sets of response devices.
To create a poll, you simply point your browser to www.polleverywhere.com and log in to your account.  You then start typing the questions you would like to ask.  You can either type in the questions as you go, or copy and paste in questions you have previously prepared.  A nice feature is that you can copy an entire question and its responses as one block, and the system will break it into the question portion (followed by the question mark) and post the responses appropriately.  Thus you can easily use questions from a textbook question bank, for example.  Images can also be added by either drag & drop, selecting a file from your computer, or from a web link.  For those math and science teachers, complex math and chemical formulas can easily be entered using the Latex markup language(see http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeXfor more information)
If you are concerned about a student sending an inappropriate response, it is possible to moderate the responses, allowing you to view all responses before they are displayed.  Responses can also be auto-graded to show the correct answers on the screen.  If you subscribe to the premium account, you can register your users.  You then can create polls that only registered users can respond to, and scores can then be recorded and matched up to the users submitting them.  As a true cloud service, there is no software to install, and no updates necessary.  Apart from the straight forward classic poll, this service now offers the creation of word clouds and brainstorming sessions.  You can use the default web site to display responses in several types of graph formats, or even directly in your PowerPoint or KeyNote or Prezi presentation program.  If you subscribe to a school or district account, you can share content between users, or browse other’s questions and surveys as allowed. 
MQlicker (http://www.mqlicker.com/product.html) is another free service that was launched earlier this year.  It has a very nice interface that uses javascript on a PC platform.  Responders use an app that can be downloaded for iOS and Android devices, or from any web browser.  There is no limit on the audience size.   Along with the typical charts and tables for responses, they also offer ‘sticky notes’ that can be moved around the screen.  This service allows for a wide variety of question/response types and supports rich-text formatting.  It is one that is well worth trying out.
EClicker (http://www.eclicker.com/) is another option that has a presenter app (iOS $14.99 and MAC’s $19.99) for creating and administering polls, and a free audience app for iOS devices to respond with. 
SMSPOLL (www.smspoll.net/index.php) is  similar service that is limited to receiving votes by SMS Texting.
ProProfs (http://www.proprofs.com/polls/) has a free plan and a $5.00/month professional plan that has no advertising, allows you to brand your polls, and has increased security and reporting.  A $20/month plan adds a quizzing option. This service is used by a few universities and has the same basic features as others above.
Slightly different is an offering called PowerPoint Twitter Tools(http://timoelliott.com/blog/powerpoint-twitter-tools/).  It is a set of tools that plug directly into a Windows based PowerPoint (requires Adobe Flash) that allows you to run real-time polls that respondents use Twitter to reply to, and you view the results directly in PowerPoint. 
Using any of these above services you can, for free or very cheaply:
  • Evaluate whether your students are understanding and retaining your class material.
  • Get near instant feedback on any question, very useful in on-line classes.
  • Find common misconceptions and then address them.
  • Find out what your students are thinking at critical times in your classes.
  • Keep students engaged in your lesson, reducing them using their electronic devices for non-class stuff.
  • Increase retention through participation.
  • Encourage every student to contribute, even the shy ones who can remain anonymous.
  • Conduct non-class surveys like graduation themes, or even conduct class officer elections.
Happy Polling!