Wednesday, July 8, 2009

PollEverywhere, Poll Everyone!

PollEverywhere did it!
Every once in awhile, affordance of a technology reaches across the Web and grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me till my teeth rattle. I don't have to think deeply about how to use it or how to convince instructors to struggle with changing their teaching practices to use it in meaningful ways (Blogs, Wikis, RSS, RefWorks, shared docs, etc).
Every once in awhile (and oh I love those awhiles), there's a tool that can instantly be adopted across the disciplines to make learning more active, engaged and participatory. Student response systems (clickers) were all that, and I lobbied long and hard ~5 years ago for budget to purchase enough TurningPoint clickers for ASU West to outfit the auditorium. The mobile service my cracker-jack sharp team created was popular with a number of instructors, but never caught on the way I thought it would because of the difficulty for instructors in:
  • learning the software to pre-incorporate questions into PowerPoint
  • installing in the desired classroom
  • ordering equipment
  • passing out the clickers
  • working around hardware problems (line of sight, battery, etc)
Too much wasted time. Too hard to work around the glitches. Lots of effort simply to give learners a voice in polling, checking understandings, determining results. Mostly I failed in my convincing arguments and the mobile cart of clickers sat in the supply room.

I tried writing a Web application that instructors could copy and use in the computer classrooms to do their own polls on the fly, but it was kludgey and little utilized. I KNEW the research showed better engagement and attention when learners were involved in thinking, deciding, choosing, responding and that instructors paced and re-evaluated lessons based on awareness of student understanding. What to do about that?
PollEverywhere did it!

Recognizing that people in an audience generally have access to SMS, or Twitter or the Web...they built a Web-based audience response system that takes input from all three. Plus, they made it time-and-idiot proof for me to put up a poll in moments via their Web interface. Each response has a number (clearly displayed) that the audience chooses if they want to vote for that option. And PollEverywhere even keeps track of machine/browser, politely telling your students that they already voted on a particular question.

From my poll authoring account, I can instantly display all incoming results via the Web site, or close the poll and download results to a slide. (Don't forget to upgrade to the slightly more generous, higher education account for this option).

It couldn't be easier and here's more info on that. I can use it online and in F2F classes. Advice: if there are students in the F2F class that don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them, tell your students to work in teams. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there and in no time, you may find more students bringing their laptops to class. And that's a good thing! Feel free to ask me why.

The bid disadvantage: free accounts only allow 32 responses per question. Your students will have to work in teams. This isn't a bad idea as you may find students in your F2F class that still don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there, form <32 groups and collaborate.
If I had a bucket of wishes, one would be that ASU purchases the site license for PollEverywhere and makes polling possible for all instructors, for classes of all sizes. We'd be able to tie responses to student ID, take attendance automatically, use as team reporting tool. Plus, we don't need to be passing the cost of expensive clickers on to students at a time of spiraling tuition and textbook costs. We do need access to meaningful learning technologies embedded in the fabric of the university. So that's what I'd wish for if I had a bucket of wishes.
Failing that wish, I'd wish that PollEverywhere had kinder pricing for teachers going it on their own. Right now, education budgets won't support this pricing, and no HE instructor is going to reach into their pocket for $700/year to replace student-purchased clickers. We're stuck with free, limited seat option for now.

My poll on ASU's efforts in digital literacy, results and info on voting via Web, Twitter or SMS are all available here.
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