simple browser-based polls as student response systems?

handheld-srsI’ve been looking at various options for student response systems – primarily clickers – and have been quite frustrated at how that market is set up. I wouldn’t be able to recommend use of those, in good conscience, given the recurring costs. It also seems a little strange to compel students to buy a specific piece of hardware to perform the task, when they (almost) all have laptops and/or smartphones in their hands anyway.

Why not just use a browser-based polling system to solicit and collect student responses during class? Ideally, it should be easy for the prof/instructor/TA/teacher to add new questions on the fly, which appears to be a weakness in the current web-based polling systems. But it feels like a much more productive approach, rather than sinking money into vendor-locked hardware that students have to pay to unlock each semester.

This isn’t the first time I’ve looked at web based systems to handle student responses and feedback. Last summer I was looking for something to fit the bill, and didn’t find anything that really did what is needed – a simple, frictionless, flexible app that lets profs (or anyone else) ask a question (or a series of questions) and gather responses in realtime, and also allow on-the-fly modification and posting of new questions.

It seems to me that something like PollDaddy, TooFast or PollEverywhere (which allows response via SMS and the web) may be more appropriate, but even these aren’t quite what’s needed.

15 thoughts on “simple browser-based polls as student response systems?”

  1. I’ve never understood what’s so special about these student response systems. Other than the dedicated hardware, what do they do that we can’t just recreate ourselves in an afternoon?

  2. I know. I’ve had to stop myself from just rolling up my sleeves and giving it a go on my own. The problem really isn’t that difficult, and much of the infrastructure I’ve seen is more about restricting access than about collecting data.

    A simple web based system _should_ be able to do the trick. Bonus marks for supporting SMS and having native apps on mobile devices, but not necessary.

  3. I’ve long maintained that the clicker vendors would be smart to start reinventing themselves as polling providers or they’ll soon find themselves without a market. SMS would seem to me to be the ideal way of doing this – well, not ideal, but the most accessible given that most any mobile device supports SMS whereas mobile browsing is a bit hit and miss.

  4. My memory is bad on this one but last year at the CNIE Conference Marguerite Koole-Ady was talking about Mobiglam. It was supposedly a platform that would provide some interactivity on mobile phones. The idea, that you could use just about any mobile phone, not specific to a platform. I don’t think it was used in classes (synchronously), but can’t see why it couldn’t. Here’s some info:

    Here is some info on the session:

    This may be of use, or may miss the mark, but I thought of it when I saw your post.

  5. @Brian – that BluePhoneElite app looks pretty sweet. I’ll be checking it out. thanks!

    @alec – UMLAUT-M also sounds interesting – is it an SMS bridge to Moodle?

    @Chris – I’d _completely_ forgotten about Google Docs forms! It’s got the web side of things pretty close to what I’m imagining – except there should be a way to modify the questions on the fly so it could be used in a tighter feedback/response loop in a class without having everyone do a bunch of navigation to find the “current” question. But yeah – Google Docs Forms is the closest I’ve seen – different question types, flexible, anonymous (or not, as needed), with decent summaries and analysis of responses. Very cool.

  6. A couple of thoughts come to mind.

    First with my administrator hat on — if you standardize on a single system on campus students pay once for the hardware, you can do faculty development on a large scale to get many instructors using them, and in the process help them reinvent pedagogy to use them well.

    As an edu-geek what I really want are tools like Harvard’s Live Question Tool or even an open version of Google Moderator. What is more important to me is classroom interaction that comes from the students — not a system where I stand in the front and pummel them with more multiple choice questions, but an environment where live questions come in from them so I have to shift my teaching on the fly. I say screw the polling and go with helping students get real about participation — if they are too afraid to ask out loud I am sure they’ll ask via a text message or a simple form field. Let them move the discussion, rate other questions, vote on important issues, and push us around.

    That’s my 2 cents on the whole thing.

  7. Cole, thanks for the 2 cents (and so much more). Part of the frustration I have is that we’re _not_ doing this institutionally, and each faculty member gets to implement their own solution using their own budget. As a result, students could conceivably have to buy different clickers for different classes, and nobody can support or provide effective faculty development on any of it. I won’t be able to make the university standardize on anything, so the next best scenario in my mind is to find a free system that works with whatever device students already have.

  8. I’ll agree with Cole – there are certainly benefits of standardizing on a clicker platform. The big benefit in my eyes is getting beyond the technology/support issues and affecting change in people’s teaching. University of Western Ontario’s clicker resource site: Similar to PSU, we’re using PRS.

  9. I just did a presentation on cell phones in the classroom and used PollAnywhere as an example!

    I know some districts that use Moodle as their student response system, and I’ve started work on my own. I like the idea above where the polling should be combined with something like Google moderator.

    I should have more time this summer to finish mine to let people beat on it. I’m going to use to accept responses from SMS (that’s what used before they got their own short message code).

  10. Darcy – why don’t we jump on the phone for 10 minutes sometime? Would love to hear you describe exactly what’s missing, then we’ll get it prioritized into our scrums. Please email me and we’ll schedule a time.

  11. In some cases people use clickers when laptops or desktops aren’t available in sufficient numbers. Think of lecture halls, campuses without laptop initiatives, non-lab-classes, etc.

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