Optimizing Classroom Discussion with Student Devices
Educational technology is a valuable classroom tool, but budgetary constraints can hinder availability. Some school districts have the ability to provide devices to every student, while other districts struggle to provide one operational computer lab. Listed below are some technology resources that can enhance classroom discussion despite the budgeting issues that many districts face.
Some school districts institute a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. A BYOD policy allows students to bring and use their personal devices in class. Possible devices students can use include smartphones, tablets, and laptops into the classroom. By doing this, students are helping to improve the student to device ratio. There are both benefits and limitations to instituting a BYOD policy.
The primary benefit of a BYOD policy is that it places more devices in the hands of the students for educational purposes. There are some limitations to using a BYOD policy. These limitations include addressing students who do not have their own devices and monitoring students for appropriate use of the various devices in the classroom. Although these concerns are warranted, they are also surmountable. The benefits of a BYOD policy outweigh the limitations.
Using student devices in class opens up possibilities that would not be available otherwise. Allowing students to use their own devices can give them access to online resources without reserving a computer lab. This provides steady access to tools like the ones discussed here, and provides more opportunities to teach digital citizenship skills. There are many accessible tools for classroom assessment, research, and promoting discussions.
There are tools accessible for school or district wide purchase that could accomplish similar if not identical tasks, but they are cost prohibitive for many school districts. The tools discussed here are cost effective, and they can be used for formative assessment or to initiate class discussions. Each of these tools could easily be discussed in a paper about other topics like assessment as well. Although, those topics may be mentioned here, the focus will be on promoting discussion.
The tools allow students, who may not participate otherwise, to take part in a class discussion in various ways. Feedback can be obtained about student opinion or points of confusion. This information can be used to create talking points in class. Some tools, TodaysMeet can also be used to facilitate backchannel discussions to maintain class discussion flow without interrupting conversation midstream or losing students to confusing concepts.
Each of these tools are free for at least an initial account meaning that there may be a cost for large numbers of participants, but not in all cases. There are positives and negatives to each tool mentioned. In this paper, these positives and negatives will be discussed with suggestions for best practices for each. Educators should consider the strengths and weaknesses of each tool as it relates to their teaching or course objectives when trying to choose which tool to incorporate into their teaching. The tools discussed are GoSoapBox, Kahoot, Socrative, PollEverywhere, and TodaysMeet.
GoSoapBox is a quiz tool, but it has other capabilities also. There are four main features to GoSoapBox; a confusion meter, quiz, polls, and discussions. The confusion meter appears as thumbs up and thumbs down icons. Students either can click on a thumbs up or thumbs down icon to indicate whether they understand the content at any particular time. The program defaults to thumbs up until a student clicks on the thumbs down icon. On the administrative side, there is a counter to indicate the number of students online. When students click the thumbs down icon, it is indicated on the screen on a separate counter for students marked as confused. This feature allows students to indicate confusion with anonymity. This anonymity can make students more likely to admit their confusion. This may not reveal the exact source of confusion, but it will let the teacher know if there is confusion and how many are confused.
The quiz feature allows the user to create short multiple choice or short answer questions. Pictures can be added to each question through a web address, but images cannot be uploaded. Quiz results can be downloaded in an Excel file for review. This can be useful when trying to identify student comprehension or needs. Students do not have to enter their names so the teacher would need to review for themes rather than pinpointing individual student’s progress.
The teacher can add descriptions in two places, in the beginning to elaborate on the question and after the answer is given to explain the answer. The program works through the Internet instead of through an app so the type of device the user has is not a factor.
Polls are an option in GoSoapBox also so teachers can pose questions to students and gauge student opinions on debate topics. The discussion option allows open-ended questions to serve as a starting point for classroom discussions. The nice thing about GoSoapBox is that it operates as a system. Each option can be locked and unlocked by the teacher for participants to access at any time. This is nice for someone who really wants to have access to a few different tools in one lesson.
The students can enter the GoSoapBox “classroom” at the beginning of class. They would be able to expression confusion at any time through the confusion meter. The teacher can keep the other tools locked out of view, but unlock individual tools when they want for use. The ability to lock and unlock tools is nice for reducing confusion. You can just unlock only the tool needed at any given time so students know which tool to use.
Kahoot is another great quiz tool. There is a lot of overlap between the tools discussed in this paper. The thing that makes Kahoot stand out is its ease of use and level of customization. The program allows for quizzes, surveys, and discussions like several others. The discussion tool is limited however. It only allows for a few clickable answers. One the major advantage of
Kahoot is the ability to share resources. Kahoot quizzes can be shared to a central database for others to access. At the time of this article being written there are 5.6 million Kahoot assessments available. Pictures and videos can also be embedded into both the overall quiz and the individual questions.
The features of Kahoot provide opportunities for formative assessment and discussions points. Focusing on Kahoot’s quiz feature, teachers can give an in class quiz and discuss the answers to questions that give multiple students trouble. I like to use Kahoot to review for tests. The students enjoy it and get competitive. I let them choose whatever silly name they want to compete with as long as it is appropriate. Kahoot provides immediate feedback for each question and tallies of how many people selected each answer. This is nice because you can briefly stop to discuss any questions where several students were wrong. I occasionally put in a short YouTube video for students to answer a question about. Students can also create their own Kahoots for fun to stump their classmates or to use at the end of a presentation they give.
Socrative offers several assessment resources. They are a general quiz feature, quick questions, space race, and exit ticket. Quizzes can be created or imported from an excel file. Question options include multiple choice, true/false questions, or short answer questions. The results of these quizzes can be downloaded in an excel file. The same question options for the quick question option, but the teacher provides the question verbally or can display it somewhere in the classroom for students to see. Quick questions can only provide one at time whereas quizzes can consist of several questions of different formats. Space race is a timed quiz that allows students to challenge each other to a race. The student who answers the questions quickest and most accurately wins. It is called space race because the results can be displayed on the board as space ships racing toward a finish line. It is not unusual for teachers to use exit ticket activities to bring closure to their classes. The exit ticket feature in Socrative is an adaption of this activity. Three questions are posed to students in a Socrative exit ticket activity:
- How well did you understand today’s material? (multiple choice)
- What did you learn in today’s class (short answer)
- A third question provided by the teacher (short answer)
The exit ticket feature is cool to use at the end of the class because it offers a nice mix of preformatted questions and you still get to add your own. It is also much easier to go through student answers on the computer in Socrative or in a downloaded excel file.
Socrative has two apps for download, a teacher version and a student version. Students can sometimes get confused and download the wrong app. Socrative used to require students to create accounts to log in and participate in activities. Now they only need to enter a classroom code to participate. This has made the tool much more user friendly.
PollEverywhere started as a resource that allowed user to poll audiences live. Audience members participate through their cell phones by texting a code to a particular number. I first saw it used as a beginning of the year icebreaker for teachers. The capabilities of PollEverywhere have expanded dramatically since then. Users can now access PollEverywhere through a website and Twitter in addition to text messaging. In addition, in addition to polls, open-ended questions, clickable images, and brainstorming exercises can be created. Open-ended questions allow for word walls and clouds. This feature is useful to initiate course discussions by creating a word cloud to brainstorm ideas. Users can upload an image and embed clickable hot spots. Images, including pictures and maps, can be uploaded for users to view on their devices. The user can click either anywhere on the image or on predetermined hot spots.
I like PollEverywhere for doing something called a four corners activity. I have never been big fan of doing debates debate having a background as a social studies teacher. I use the four corners activity as an alternative. During class discussions involving debatable topics, each corner of the room represents a different perspective. One example from a few years ago was the possible boycotting of the Beijing Olympics by the United States because of human rights issues in China. One corner would represent just participating in the games, another corner represents boycotting just the opening ceremonies, the third corner represents boycotting the entire Olympic Games, and the fourth corner was for any fourth options the students can create. As the discussion progresses, students move from corner to corner to represent their opinions on the topic. PollEverywhere can be used to substitute for the physical corners. The teacher can take occasional polls about student opinions of the discussion topic. This allows to give their opinions without having to physically move from corner to corner in front of everyone. This can make some students more likely to express their true opinions without fear of judgement by their peers. This type of activity is great because of its connections to argumentative writing and communications standards in the Common Core.
TodaysMeet is a backchannel tool created to allow structured conversations to occur in class without interrupting the class. This is nice for situations where the teacher prefers to not be interrupted, but is concerned about students forgetting their questions. It also allows students to discuss questions on the side without breaking the flow of class discussion. Access information can be given to students through a short URL or a QR code. A TodaysMeet widget can also be embedded in many websites, including WordPress, Google, and Moodle sites.
By creating a formal space for side or backchannel discussions, the teacher can reduce the frequency of unproductive or unrelated conversations. Conversation transcripts can be downloaded when finished for review and accountability. TodaysMeet is a helpful resource with several advantages, but it needs to be used on a regular basis to be productive. It is more complicated than other tools on this list, so students need a proper introduction to the resource to use it effectively. It may not be worthwhile to use TodaysMeet once without proper preparation.
TodaysMeet is great for high-level classes where discussions move quickly. Students in these classes can check with others about something they missed quickly and easily. Several TodaysMeet discussions can be created also for students to keep track of what is happening in each group.
Each of the tools discussed in this article can be a great resource in the classroom. Some things need to be considered to be as effective as possible. Think about why you are using it, and what results you hope to get. There are differences between the different tools that can help you decide which to use. One tool may have certain options that make it more valuable to you. Table 1 provides a summary of the options for each tool discussed. You should not try to use all or even a majority of these tools in the classroom. This is a matter of quality over quantity. There are countless educational technology resources, and many of them are great. Using too many in the classroom, though, can confuse students and slow down learning to a crawl. The goal is to optimize student learning, not use as many tools as possible. Think about which tool will work best for you and what you hope to accomplish by implementing it into your teaching. This will increase the probability of success in using technology in your classes.
Discussion/ Short Answer
Clickable Image Option
Results Download Option