This month I am teaching an introductory physical geology course that could be called “All you ever wanted to know about geology in 15 days.” It is condensed into the first quarter of the Spring term, and so compressed into 15 classes in May.
I decided to use an classroom response system this time. I like the idea of being able to peer into the black box that is my students’ learning process, and fix problems as they arise. I also like that I can challenge them with complex questions. Students get points for answering the really hard ones regardless of whether they get the right answer or not (and sometimes there is more than one reasonable answer).
Classroom response systems often involve the use of clickers, but my classroom doesn’t have a receiver, and I didn’t want to spend $250 to buy a portable one. Instead I decided to try Poll Everywhere. It is an online polling tool that can be used to present questions to students, collect their responses, display the frequency of each response, and, for a fee, tell me who answered what correctly. An advantage of Poll Everywhere is that students can use the devices they already have to answer questions, either from a web browser or by sending text messages.
The obvious snag, that someone didn’t have the requisite technology, didn’t occur, and setting up the students was far easier than I thought it would be. I’ve noticed that many are now texting their answers rather than using their browsers, even though most planned to use their browsers initially. None have asked for my help with getting set up for text messaging, and that would be an endorsement for any classroom technology in my books.
My experience with the service has not been as smooth. It is easy to create poll questions, but the window that pops up to show the poll isn’t as easy to read as I would like it to be. The main problem, however, is that I can’t actually show students the polls. Aside from one instance involving random button pushing that I haven’t been able to reproduce, the polls show up on my computer, but are simply not projected onto the screen at the front of the classroom. I’ve looked around online for a solution, but the only problem that is addressed is polls not showing up on PowerPoint slides at all, which is not my issue. On the advice of Poll Everywhere I have updated a requisite app, but to no avail.
The work-around I’ve come up with is to make my own slides with poll questions and the possible responses. Normally, advancing to the slide on which the poll appears would trigger the poll. Instead I trigger and close the poll from my Poll Everywhere account using an iPad. I haven’t yet tried exiting PowerPoint and showing the poll using the app, then going back to PowerPoint, because after I connect to the projector, I can’t seem to control the display other than to advance slides.
As a classroom tool, I have found the poll results to be useful already, and I was able to make some clarifications that I wouldn’t otherwise have known were necessary. I would like to look at the results in more detail to check on how each student is doing, but with all the time I’ve been spending on troubleshooting and building additional slides, I haven’t got to it yet.
It is possible that my technical problems are not caused by Poll Everywhere. All aspects of the polling system that are directly under their control have worked great. I’m curious whether I can get the polls to show up if I use a different projector, or whether other objects like videos would show on the projector I’m using now, but I have limited time to invest in experiments. This is where I’m supposed to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will henceforth test-drive new technology from every conceivable angle before actually attempting to use it in a way that matters. Only, I thought I had tested it: I ran polls in PowerPoint multiple times on my own computer, doing my best to find out what would make them not work and how to fix it. I also answered poll questions from a separate account using my computer, an iPad, and by texting to find out what the students’ experience would be and what challenges it might involve… but I never thought to check whether the projector would selectively omit the poll from the slide. Who would have thought?