Clicker questions from an iPad

I’m using my iPad to present the key points at the start of each class, and yesterday I wanted to ask some interactive clicker-type questions with , like I had done . Students could submit responses via text message, but I immediately ran into a problem with students trying to respond via the web. phentermine The was loading, but indicating that there was no active poll for them to respond to. I didn’t realize that in order to accept responses over the web you need to be running the questions from a computer with Flash. Their FAQ seems to assume this, at least, so I figured I was out of luck with the iPad.

Then I stumbled upon a blog post on their site announcing their , which perfectly solves the problem. It allows you to fully control the polling process from a tablet or smartphone just by going to a . Here you can create new polls, stop and start polls, and push polls to . This is exactly what I needed, and I’m looking forward to trying it tomorrow in class. My only suggestion for them is to add this somewhere on their so it’s more easily discovered.

Poll Everywhere revisited

I’ve just finished my first semester experimenting with a classroom response system and thought this would be a good time to collect a few observations. You may recall that I opted not to implement a clicker system but rather adopted Poll Everywhere as the means to collect student responses. Using Poll Everywhere allowed students to respond via text message or the web, with most of my students choosing text messages most of the time. Because I had the students register on the site, I could attribute their responses with their names and have a record of their participation.

I found myself mainly using the response system to quiz students on a topic we had just covered, usually from the previous class meeting. As with all such teaching approaches, the system is only as good as the quality of the questions, and I found it challenging to write consistently useful questions. I can imagine that the longer I use this approach, the better question bank I will accumulate across all the topics we discuss. On a related note, I must confess that I found the question bank supplied by the textbook publisher mostly worthless. In preparation for a class I would typically scan over their file of questions, but almost never used anything from it, which was surprising. I also found certain topics to be difficult to approach with the response polling system and ended up just having students use more of the think-pair-share approach for some subjects because it seemed less constricting.

Although I had the students register, I found that I didn’t actually use the information from their registration all that much. I could probably get by without that step in the future, but I think the students took it more seriously knowing that I would be reviewing their activity. I did use the data in a broad way when assigning participation points, just not as much as I thought I would.

Throughout the semester, I kept being surprised at the teachable moments created by using this kind of approach. Time and again I stumbled upon misconceptions and misunderstandings that were exposed by the polling system. Although we would circle back on the topic as a class, when I challenged the students on a similar topic on the midterm, I often found students remained unclear, which was disappointing. I need to become better informed about how to remedy such misunderstandings in the moment.

All in all, using the Poll Everywhere system was well worth it in the classroom. It was easy to get going, easy to create new questions, and easy to implement during class time. In an exit survey, nearly every student agreed that the in-class polls were very helpful for understanding class material.

Using Poll Everywhere for Classroom Clicker Questions

A couple years ago, we combined 2 of our 3 intro biology courses into a single organismal course, providing me the opportunity to start teaching our introductory cell biology class. When I began working on my prep for the different class, I was interested in introducing more teaching methods that have proven to be so effective in science education over the past decade, but because all of the material was new for me to teach, I defaulted to the more familiar lecture-driven approach. Now that I have been through the course twice, I felt more comfortable trying some of these new approaches this fall.

So what are these “new approaches” I keep alluding to? I mean, for example, things like Just-in-Time teaching, pioneered as a means to teach college physics; clicker questions to test and challenge students during class; more activities during class that enable students to really think and develop understanding of the material, rather than act like scribes and copy down everything I say. I’ll try to write more about my implementation of the first and third approaches later, but I want to focus on my incorporation of clicker questions for now.

My first problem with implementing clicker questions was, I don’t have any clickers. And neither do my students. Instead of asking them to buy one on top of their $169 textbook, I did some research about asking clicker questions without clickers. Most of the options involve the web, as I expected, but one of them, Poll Everywhere, also includes the option for respondents to use text messaging as a means of response. I figured most of my students would be able to get on the web in class, but all of them would at least have their cell phones, so this is the path I chose. Plus, this way maybe they or their parents could deduct the cost of their SMS plan as an educational expense, right?

Poll Everywhere is designed with a number of use cases in mind, including everything from taking a live poll of an anonymous audience to classroom use. Because I wanted to use the response data as part of my students’ grade, I needed to sign up for a paid plan. This allows me to see a list of participants and associate a response with a given student. The registration process for my students went smoothly, I emailed them a special link that took them to an account creation page and automatically associated them with my class. Those students using text messaging to respond had to text a unique code that linked their cell phone to their account.

Now that all of those logistics are settled, it works like a charm. I can pose a question in class and the results show up in real time, just like the purpose-built clickers would but with one big advantage. I can ask open-ended questions in addition to multiple-choice ones, and students can text in their free responses. This works great for big picture kinds of brainstorming, then I can collect all of the responses and, for instance, make a word cloud of them. I have used this to have the class identify the “unifying themes” in biology, and to add a few that they overlooked.

That brings me to my last point, which is the usefulness of this tool. Only two weeks in to the semester, I have seen it uncover 3 misconceptions that I could help the students correct on the spot. The first is the one I mentioned above regarding some themes in biology that students overlooked. The second was a point of confusion between electron orbitals and energy levels (see above). The third was confusion about what an isomer actually is. I am admittedly a novice at constructing sound questions for this kind of assessment, but if I have already found these misconceptions, I’m hopeful that this approach will bear even more fruit as I improve at it.