Seven applications for building student engagement

Personal Response Systems are becoming more and more popular in classrooms.  More commonly called “clickers,” these devices allow educators to assess their students and actively engage them in classroom discussions.  I have a love/hate relationship with clickers.  I appreciate that many students enjoy the “game show atmosphere” and that using clickers can be a great way to conduct ongoing assessments during a lesson.  From an educational perspective, however, I wonder how often these devices are used to assess low level, knowledge-based content.  While the tools can be great ways to check for student understanding or assess students’ prior knowledge, there is a danger that the clickers could lead to an over-emphasis on trivia.

Another concern I have is that the devices can be expensive, especially since most of the clickers only perform a single function.  With all of the inexpensive alternatives, I don’t believe that their limited functionality warrant their expense. For example, a few months ago, I highlighted Poll Everywhere, a polling site that allows participants to text their responses. This week,  I thought I’d feature a few other alternatives to clickers.

Flisti: Flisti is a free site for creating web-based multiple choice polls.  The strength of Flisti is also its main weakness.  The site does not require a username or password to get started so creating a poll is effortless.  The poll can be shared easily by sharing the poll web address with others.  The downside of this is that the polls are not saved for long periods of time and anyone could theoretically access the polls.  Despite these issues, Flisti would be a great tool to make a quick web-based survey for students to access with their smart phones or laptops during a class discussion.

BooRoo: BooRoo offers free online polls, surveys and quizzes.  The site is easy to use and allows the polls to be shared via web address or embedded into websites (or into course management systems like Blackboard or Desire2Learn).  The site requires a username and password to get started but this allows surveys to be saved for revising or for analyzing.

99Polls: Much like BooRoo, 99Polls offers free online polls and surveys that can be embedded online.  The unique feature of the 99Polls is that it shows responses from geographical locations based on the IP address of the participant.  It’s a cool feature but not really applicable to educators who want to use the polls and surveys to build student engagement in a classroom lesson.

PollDaddy: PollDaddy is one of the more popular online surveying sites.  While a full subscription to the site is expensive, PollDaddy offers a free plan which allows up to 100 responses a month.  Might be limited for those educators who work with larger classes, but the polls are highly customizable and can be shared and embedded in many locations.

eClicker: For those educators who use iPads or iPhones, eClicker is an inexpensive alternative to clickers.  With eClicker, an educator purchases a “host” application for their iDevice which runs the survey questions.  Students with iPhone or iPod Touches can download a free eClicker response application which connects to the host application.  Educators can purchase the host application for $9.99 on the App Store which allows up to 32 clients to connect if they are on the same wifi network.  The application also allows participation through other devices (laptops, other smartphones, etc) as long as they connect through the same wireless network as the host device.

Edmodo: While Edmodo offers polling as one of its services, the site is better described as an online social network for education.  Unlike some of the other sites in this post, Edmodo allows real conversations between participants where information, ideas and documents can be shared in real time.  While the site functions somewhat like Twitter, its educational focus helps to limit the celebrity drama that permeates across Twitter.

Google Docs: Buried deep in the expansive Google library of features and tools is Google Docs.  I featured Google Docs several months ago but did not highlight the Form ability.  Simply put, Google Forms are incredible.  The forms allow multiple choice and text responses and allow of the responses are collected in a downloadable spreadsheet.  Check out this tutorial from Google that shows how to use Google Forms to create surveys.


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