Easier classroom interaction, but still a few niggles

I’m steadily getting know more about the blended learning approaches that are being used here at GCU.  Blended learning is all about encouraging more creative, and engaging learning and teaching experiences and their are growing numbers of staff who are working with our learning technologists to make their lectures more interactive.  One popular method which seems to be gaining traction across the institution is the use of clickers.  There are a range of devices available, but as anyone who has used any type of clicker system knows, there are some practical issues around their use too – not least making sure handsets are available, in the right place and working.

It’s becoming increasingly easy to create simple web interfaces and apps that have a level of built in interactivity and record responses (which could be thought of as entry/basic level  level learning analytics).  Over the past month or so  I’ve seen a number of approaches to this type of thing including a number of ideas from the Jisc summer of student innovation projects, Bb Polls  (one of the first demos from Blackboard Labs), and today, along with a number of colleagues,  I’ve been having a look at nearpod.

The Bb polls tool is an obvious reaction to customer feedback and a first step towards integrating polls into the core Bb offering. Just now the beta version runs outside Bb, so anyone can play with it, but it does have a couple of drawbacks. If you want to set up a poll you have to register with your facebook account. Last week at the Bb on tour events, the team explained this was simply because it was the quickest way to get a simple authentication service up and running.  But couldn’t help thinking that  without spending too much more time they could have easily added a couple of more authentication options such as twitter and google. I know I’m certainly wary of using my facebook login for “work stuff” now as facebook is increasingly a non work related space for me, whereas twitter and google are pretty much 100% work related.  Also many teaching staff have similar issues about using facebook (despite reassurances of not being used for any other purpose than authentication) as they want to keep a clear demarcation between their private and professional online spaces and interactions with students.  However as a basic, real time polling tool, it works.

It  uses geo-location to display polls near to your actual location:

Bb polls

which is very “neat”, but if there was lots of take up (even in one department of somewhere like GCU) it could get quite confusing to find the right poll. Also just now it isn’t the most secure, doesn’t store results (only thing I could think of would be to screen grab results of polls as they come in).  So, it really is just a beta development, which to be fair to Bb they are totally upfront about,  and more for experimentation.  However it is a step in the right direction for Bb to increase interactivity in their core product offering. If you are interested in an overview of the Bb events last week check out Alex Spier’s blog post.

Nearpod on the other hand is a much slicker tool which allows a teacher to upload content, create a variety of activities including the obligatory quiz, and share synchronously with students via an app or web interface.


It does have in-built reporting which will no doubt it will be renamed “learning analytics” soon.  Clearly aimed at the byod/tablet market, this seems like a pretty straight forward tool to use (as long as you are confident enough students have an ipad/tablet device). As a teacher you get a pin code for your session which students enter and hey presto you are all synced and ready to go. No need to check if there are enough, or indeed any, clickers in your room.

Of course this is a stand alone tool so it’s not integrated to any institutional systems but that might have its advantages – but not if you wanted use it in a more asynchronous fashion as the demo suggests.  In app emailing might involved a bit of copy and pasting of emails, and similarly comparing and/or sharing/integrating any of the feedback reports (in PDF of course) might be fun. However as a simple tool to create quick interactivity, help staff begin to experiment with flipped approaches it is quite attractive and for the moment free.

If you are using any other approaches or have thoughts about these and similar tools, I’d love to hear your thoughts.