When you teach, do you encounter this scenario?
Instructor: “Does anyone have any questions?”
Students: blank stares and shaking heads
Instructor: “So it all makes sense?”
Students: blank stares and nodding heads
Based on this nonverbal feedback, you assume the students understand the material and move on. But then half the class earns a C or below on their next exam or paper!
While teaching, I often wish I knew what my students were thinking — are they really understanding the material? Are they too embarrassed to ask for another example? Are they sniggering because I have lipstick on my teeth? There are a huge number of audience response tools that all offer students the opportunity to respond to questions or request help using their devices. This allows instructors to get feedback from students in the moment and adjust their teaching strategies as necessary. I’ve tried many in my work as an instructional technologist, but I’d like to highlight three in this blog post.
The first app I’d recommend is ClassKick (Free; iPad only), which allows instructors to view their students’ work as it is being created. Instructors first create a class, which is assigned a unique code, and then add their roster. Next, the instructor can create questions by drawing or typing on the digital whiteboard or take screen shots of documents, websites, or anything else displayed on their iPad screen. For example, an instructor could log into Google Drive on their iPad, open a copy of a worksheet, and take a screen shot of a page that contains a math problem. After the instructor gives students the class code, they have access to that math problem on their iPads. Each student has their own space to work out the problem and that work is viewable by the instructor. This provides an opportunity for “just in time” feedback. Students can even click a button to raise their hand to alert the instructor that they need extra help.
ClassKick may seem elementary to higher ed professors, but it can be incredibly useful for classes that require calculations, illustrations, or diagramming. For example, one of my School of Business colleagues has used it in his business statistics course to help students with calculations even when he travels out of the country. No matter where he or his students are, they can both join a ClassKick session and view one another’s work.
While I love Classkick, the one major drawback is the requirement of a 1-1 iPad classroom. So if you’re looking for a way to collect real-time feedback without the need for student devices Plickers (Free; Android and iOS) is your solution! Each student responds by holding up a card that’s printed with a special image that has letters around the sides. If, for example, the answer to the question is A, the student will turn the card so that the letter A is on top.
The instructor then uses their smartphone or iPad camera to scan the room and capture the cards. The app registers the student answers which then can be displayed to the room. The data can be saved to review later and specific cards can be tied to students’ names (so they can be used for attendance or quizzing). The only weaknesses of Plickers are that you cannot use it with a class larger than 63, cannot export the data, and cannot ask open-ended questions. But if you’re simply looking for a quick way to ask students multiple choice type questions, you can’t beat Plickers.
Finally, if you’d really like the option to ask open-ended questions, an audience response tool you may like is GoSoapBox (Free; Web), which is a clicker tool that works on any device that connects to the Internet. The beauty of GoSoapBox is the simplicity of the user interface despite the numerous features. “Social Q&A” allows students to contribute ideas and up-vote the ones they like. This could be great for an exam review: students submit questions and vote for the ones they really want to spend class time discussing.
The “Confusion Barometer” is a super simple way to gauge just how well students really understand the material. Instructors can see a live graphical display of how many students are confused by the material being covered and can then adjust their teaching strategy as necessary.
Students can respond with their names or anonymously, so GoSoapBox can be used to monitor students and allow sensitive opinions to be freely shared. Instructors can even export reports in spreadsheet form to track student performance. The downside of GoSoapBox is that it is only free for classes of 30 students or less.
Hopefully one of these audience response tools will meet your needs. If not, there are many, many more available including Poll Everywhere, Top Hat, and Socrative. Regardless of the tool used, you’ll be gathering real-time data from your students that allows you to check understanding and modify your lesson plans in response to student feedback.