24 January 2012

2012 South Central Association for Language Learning Technology Conference

The South Central Association for LanguageLearning Technology is pleased to announce its annual conference and invites submissions for individual/joint presentations, product demonstrations, workshops, and panel discussions.

SOCALLT 2012's conference theme is:

Success Stories in the 21st Century Foreign Language Class: Transforming Teaching & Learning with Technology

The conference will be held on the campus of the University of Colorado-Boulder, April 13-14, 2012.

Deadline for submissions is Monday, February 13, 2012 (5PM CST).

22 January 2012

Classroom motivation and assessment with iDevices (Part 2/2)

This is Part 2 of 2 of an investigation on the use of clickers and iDevices. Please visit Part 1 to learn about platform-specific devices and programs. 

Part 2 - Supplanting platform-specific devices for iPods and other handheld iDevices. 

In my quest to find a student response device system that 
meets our curricular and functional needs, I have looked to using non-platform based devices. Specifically: iPods (Phones and Pads) and Android-based devices. I currently have 17 iPod Touches and one iPad in my classroom. For two of my classes, this is enough for 1 device per student. For the other four classes, the students share or (and this is more powerful), the students use their own phones or iPods with which they can connect to the campus-wide student WiFi access. 

Over the years during which I have purchased expensive  devices using school funds and grants, I pondered the feasibility of students using their phones as response systems. While there are options such as PollEverywhere and AskingPoint that allow users to answer basic poll questions by texting a code to a number, I was more interested in using the Web-browsing capabilities of the devices. In the early 2000s, it was not practical to browse the Web with a non-smart phone and data plans did not allow for much freedom. Within the past years, an increasing amount of students are using smartphones with better data plans and WiFi capabilities. Increasingly, school districts are providing student WiFi access with strong filters. For the students who do not have these phones or devices, I am fortunate to be able to provide them a classroom-only iPod Touch. In other situations, teachers could pair students in order to insure that all have access. With the question of devices covered, I looked to find Web and App-based programs to run the assessments.

Pilot #1 "eClicker/eClicker Host" App-based program 

As an avid user of Twitter, I noticed a posting last summer 
about a new Apple App named, “eClicker Host.” The app is $10 for the teacher version and free for students I purchased the app before I had an iPad and before I learned that I could build question sets and run assessments from my desktop. I wish that I had researched the system a bit more so that I could have used it earlier in the school year. Due to this lack of research, the app sat dormant for a few months until I received an iPad from my district.  What is useful about eClicker is that is both a device and computer-based product. While it is possible to build the question sets and run the assessments on an iPod Touch, I found that the smaller screen took extra time and efforts. The addition of the iPad to my classroom greatly encouraged me to use the app more! I built a very quick 10 multiple-choice assessment (on the iPad) based on furniture and home vocabulary. The 4th year students are normally the test group on any new app. As they are juniors and seniors, they have the ability to express their opinions at a higher level than, “It’s cool!” The options for question types are limited to multiple-choice, True/False, and Agree-Disagree. The options may be changed from English to another language. There is, however, no option for texting the answer.


Pictures, graphs, and images drawn on the iPod can be inserted into the questions. I used pictures that I saved from the Internet to the iPad’s camera roll. To do this, choose a picture and press down on it until you are given the option to save it. From start to finish, it took about 30 minutes to make the activity.

Test run on French 4 students!
 I gave a brief explanation to the students on how to evaluate the app and we began the assessment. The students logged in with either their French names; and as it is their first exposure to the platform, I allowed them to also remain anonymous. I connected the iPad to the LCD projector so that the questions were visible on the screen as well as on their devices. The pace of the questions was controlled from the iPad. It was not a very smooth interface and I dealt with some difficulties advancing through the 10 questions. A better experience would be to allow the teacher to progress effortlessly through the question set. Instead, time is wasted cycling through the program to get back the questions in order to proceed to the next question. The students were able to see their replies and the answers of their classmates. 
 The program indicates if the answer is correct, offers a basic explanation of the answer (that I provided), and ranks the participants in the assessment. This final data is optional and can be turned off. 

At the end of the each question and activity, the teacher is presented with a summary of the data collected for each participant.  

 I queried the students and they all agreed that it was an enjoyable platform and that the preferred it to our previous devices, although Qwizdom games were again mentioned! It is amazing how they impressed on that antiquated system. We discussed as a group the positives and negatives of the app and students voiced their opinions in a thoughtful manner. They would have preferred the opportunity to text so that they could perfect their spelling skills. This important aspect to self-assessment was to become the subject of my next investigation.  

Pilot #2 "Socrative Teacher/Student" Web-based program

I found Socrative through researching response systems. It is a free program that can be used with computers or handheld devices with Internet capabilities. The one drawback to Socrative at this time is that you cannot add any type of visuals (pictures, drawings, graphs). It is a text-only interaction. Socrative's support team assures me that they are working on this!  However, you can make a quiz on Socrative and place the visuals on your LCD presenter. In this way, students will consult both media. I will be experimenting with this option this week. 

Click on the image to enlarge it. 

To build an activity in Socrative, visit its Web site and make a 
free account. By adding your e-mail address, your activites will be saved online and you will receive an Excel spreadsheet with student responses and scores.  I found this aspect of the program outstanding. I am able to send the students a personalized report on their strengths and areas that need reinforcement. A report is generated for the quizzes and the (very) basic team-based game. In order for the students to be able to “find” your quiz, you will need to name your room. I named mine “mvhs6.” This is a good practice in that if there were multiple teachers using the system at the same time, students may accidently connect to a different teacher’s activity.

Socrative does offer an Excel template in which you can build a quiz to import, but I have not tried this option as of yet. I prefer making the quiz in Word and transferring the questions by copy/paste. Quizzes can be teacher-directed or self-paced by the students.

As an alternative to pre-made quizzes, teachers can use Socrative as an "on-the-fly" type activity by posing questions either vocally or visually on an LCD projector. This type of assessment allows the teacher to "take the pulse" of the class to see if extra explanation or demonstration is needed. Students' responses are calculated and projected in real time. I appreciate this option because you could use a picture gallery from the computer, asking questions as you scroll through the pictures. A PowerPoint (gasp!) quiz could be used electronically. Socrative takes a lot of pre-planning pressure off of the teacher. The options for assessment are: multiple choice, true/false, short answer (texting), Space Race (team game), and Exit Ticket.  

Here is an example of what the multiple choice and short answer questions look like. I put the target point in parentheses so that the question is clear. 

Upon completion of an activity, you have the option to send a report to your e-mail or download it directly to your computer.

Quite simply, the report function is amazing and easy to use! Here is a copy of the first "Space Race" activity that I tried with my Year 3 students. The success rate was quite low due to some silly behavior. Luckily, I have the proof of who answered what! Notice the color codes for correct and incorrect answers. 

Student response systems are a quick, engaging, and unique way to encourage students to share their knowledge and strengths. Use of clicker/device activities should be brief, meaningful, and concise. There are teachers who use these each day in class, but I have found that the students respond better to the activities and assessments when the activities are spaced out. If the activities become too predictive or repetitive or if they are the only means by which they are assessed, the students will not be as engaged or motivated as they are when it is a treat! 

Whether you choose to use a platform-specific clickers and software, classroom sets of iDevices, or BYOT devices (bring your own tech), you will find that your ordinarily quite students will demonstrate their knowledge more readily in the class. I have tried out many different systems - each with various advantages and detractors. I have not found the perfect system, but as for now, I will continue to use a combination of Socrative (who promises that they will be adding visuals soon!) and eClicker Host. 
If you have any questions or comments about student response systems, please contact me (Catherine Ousselin) and I will do my best to help you choose the system that best suits your needs, available tools, and objectives. 
Bon surf et bonne chance!
Catherine Ousselin

Classroom motivation and assessment with Clickers and iDevices

Part 1 – An evolutionary history of software-specific systems and unique clicker devices

Readers should note that I (Catherine Ousselin) am a gadget-geek. I am constantly testing and piloting hand-held devices that can be used to encourage student participation, comprehension, and engagement. This love of the gadget most likely comes from my Sears brand "Atari 2600" system, circa 1980 and the two "Speak-and-Spell" devices that my parents bought us to encourage our spelling and math skills.
Thank you, Mom and Dad!  

I have been using an “Audience Response” system since 2003. I started with Qwizdom and my students went wild. Qwizdom provided me with 30 devices and never asked for payment as long as I demonstrated them to other teachers! The students loved the silly, outdated graphics as well as the 
"Mars Mission" and "FastTrack" games. 


I continued for nearly 6 years with Qwizdom until I noticed that the games were never updated and that my computer no longer appreciated the software. 

I had heard that there were new “clickers” that allowed students to text their replies. After contacting Promethean (known for their boards and ActivInspire software), my students were treated to a beautiful new set of clickers that allowed them to text complete paragraphs and to use accents.


The software is exceptionally easy to use. A basic review with multiple styles of questions could be created in under 15 minutes. The only drawback of the program was that there were no games or challenges to motivate the students. Whereas Qwizdom provided the space ships with their ranks and times, the ActiveInspire only allowed the students to see a bar chart with times and answers. Although outdated and malfunctioning, the students preferred the Qwizdom games. They enjoyed the competition. ActiveInspire seemed dull. I appreciated the data collection provided through the ActiveInspire software because it could track student progress and other important data. Unfortunately, when I proposed the clickers, students would slightly roll their eyes. Although I had piloted the devices with them, they soon grew weary of this tool. Perhaps they were put off by the numerical (“old-school”) texting operation. By the time I had purchased the devices, pull-out keypads were everywhere. QWERTY texting was more natural to the students. Their attitude was disappointing since I had used the last of my technology grant to purchase the system. 

Update 1: Promethean World now has QWERTY keyboards on a new device called ActivExpression2.

In an attempt to find yet another system, I turned to SmartTech as I have a SmartBoard in the classroom and had seen a demonstration of their newest XE Response System. I was excited to offer my students what they wanted: QWERTY keypads and SmartTech. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Smart Notebook software, you might wish to download for the trial period. You do not need a SmartBoard to run the software, just an LCD projector. Notebook offers Flash games that allow students to interact with the material in creative and thoughtful ways. The games are fun and productive. Most of all, they are magnificently easy to create. Type in the words, click “Create,” and the
 games are ready. Here are a few examples of Flash activities that I made for my TPRS story on «La légende de Carcassonne» These activities do not require (and don't accommodate) the use of clickers. They are an engaging way to start a class or to review before an assessment.   

The activity building template is as easy as typing the text, choosing a picture, and adding the answer.

There are 18 games/activities to choose from.

I had assumed that Smart would incorporate their Flash games into the Response system.  
Regrettably, this was not to be the case. The system was quite similar to the ActiveInspire software: multiple-choice questions, true-false, short-answer, agree-disagree, etc. 

Strangely, though, there was no option to use accents on the student devices. With the Promethean devices, accents were available by switching the device language. This lack of accents stunned me because Smart is a Canadian company. They market their devices and software in Quebec and around the world! During my one-on-one training (in my classroom!) with a Smart Rep, we contacted the company to inquire about the lack of accents. It was not in their plans to add them. This was an issue for me. To spend nearly $3,000 on a system that had neither extra motivational software nor accents for World Language teachers led me to heavily consider the purchase. 

To be fair, I tried the XE system in its Beta state. The devices were weighty, but not too cumbersome. The buttons were similar to most phones and math teachers could incorporate functions and graphs into their lessons as the keypads included math symbols. The devices stayed with me for one month during which I used them twice. While not a determining factor for me, an important issue for the students was the lack of student response time data. If there are no games or quirky graphics to hold the students’ attention, there should be at least the possibility to show which student answered first and correctly. They relish being the quickest texter in the class. I politely returned the system to Smart and informed them of what needed to be improved if World Language teachers were to adopt this system.

Note: Since my last exposure to Smart and its Response software, I have learned that the company has Beta software available that will allow students to connect their iPods/Pads, etc. to the teacher station. I have downloaded the software for a trial use, but receive messages that I need a code to activate the system. This will be a project for Spring Break.  Software-specific clickers will soon be obsolete. 

Before purchasing any devices or deciding on software, please continue reading part 2 which will be uploaded later today (22 January 2012). 

I have continued to use the Promethean/ActivInspire software as it does allow me to quickly assess basic knowledge and skills of the students. I offer small rewards of points and (yes) candies for the top five students. I don’t use it too often or they tire quickly of the repetition. Additionally, the assessment sets are never more than twenty questions. I have learned from many experiences that Freshman through Juniors need small doses of different exposures. Clickers are wonderful to engage quiet students who will not raise their hands to participate, but who will text any verb conjugation in less than ten seconds!