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

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