Alternative to clickers – freeing up the physical location limitation

In a previous post I outlined some broad ideas of how to understand “lectures”. At the crux of it was an initial stab at a “taxonomy/framework” for understanding characteristics of lectures. In this initial stab there were three main dimensions: participants, physical space, and time. Each had some additional sub-points.

As one example, a sub-point of physical space was physical co-location. i.e. for most lectures there is a requirement that you be within the same physical space. There are various ways around this limitation. For example, my institution has a significant physical, networking and support infrastructure around video-conferencing that allows folk to be in a number of physical locations – though still generally on the institution’s campus.

The point of this “framework” was to allow some initial comparisons of the various approaches. For example, clickers have been pushed by publishers as a way of increasing interaction (one of the sub-points under Participants is “limited interaction or participation”). However, most clickers retain the limitation of the same physical space. The technology used in most clickers means that the participants have to be in the same room. Which causes problems with using them over video-conferencing.

Alternative technologies for clickers

With the rise of mobile phones, especially those with web capabilities, it would appear straight forward to move clickers away from using infrared or radio frequency technologies to using the Web, SMS or increasing Twitter. I thought a simple tool that provides support for tracking the Twitter back channel and using it for polls etc during a presentation might be useful. It would certainly get around the same physical location limitation. Having vicariously lived through the EdMedia conference via twitter comments while on a road trip to Longreach, reinforces this perspective.

I was pretty sure that someone else has already through of this idea, so was going to spend some time searching at some stage. I’ll still do that but I did come across a commercial alternative while reading a post from Tomorrow’s Professor.

The name of this service – Poll Everywhere – makes the point about location independence (though I wonder if it being a US-based company has implications for folk using the SMS version). There’s a video on the home page, the integration with Powerpoint looks neat, but it’s not available for the Mac – though there is a work around using a Deskbar widget. It appears that there is a RESTful API and a wiki.

There is a free account, limited to 30 or so responses. An instructor plan that allows 400 responses costs $399 a semester – I’m assuming $USD.

So it is being done. Anyone know of any open source versions? A search for latter date.

7 thoughts on “Alternative to clickers – freeing up the physical location limitation

  1. zzedd

    I use Votapedia in my lectures. It is free, allows input from mobiles as well as the web and comes with different templates for quizzes and surveys. Since it is the result of a CSIRO project and is free, I’m not sure how it will survive though:

    1. Thanks for the pointer.

      Not sure if it’s a sign of the potential survival of Votapedia, but if I currently try and visit the site I’m getting a “Content encoding error”.


  2. zzedd

    Well they both work for me. Anyway, I’ve found the system to be pretty robust over a few years: I regularly use it with classes up to 400 and it hasn’t let me down. My university bought in to a clicker system that requires special Powerpoint templates, booking of clickers, handing out (and geting back) clickers, etc. Not surprisingly, no one uses it. But votapedia works nicely with face-to-face lectures – I haven’t tried it with online groups (using the web interface) yet.

    1. A classic example, at least for me, of a top-down, IT-driven approach to the selection and design of tools and systems. Force folk to change to fit the tool, rather than get a tool that can fit with what people already do.

      Do you find that most of your students have mobile phones?

  3. zzedd

    Yes, they all have mobiles. It usually takes them a few minutes to answer a multi-choice question, so I have to think about how I will use this time … and weave the results back into the lecture. I have a few techniques to do this and we normally have a bit of fun. I let them change their answers, so that sometimes the exposition/survey experience takes unexpected turns.

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