Depending on where you are in the world, how this article will apply will vary. Some of you may already be doing this in your schools, colleges, universities and other institutions of learning. Some of you may not have a classroom at all and therefore rely on this technology to provide and interface to your students. Finally, they’ll be some of you that have stuck with the tried and tested traditional teaching of pens, paper, textbooks and the fabled chalk/dry-wipe boards – of which are all still very valuable tools!
However in today’s smart world, people are embracing tech more and more each day, some even coming to rely on it in their daily life in some way shape or form. Be it being woken by our smartphones and music players or digital clocks powered by radio waves, drinking beverages from our wireless kettles and coffee makers, picking up our agendas and daily messages from a variety of portable devices or scrawling a barely legible signature for our parcel on those crap handheld scanners. All of this before you even get into school.
“But Mike”, I hear you ask, “Why change my classroom when the teaching methods I learned from worked for me?”. The truth is, people change and children and young adults in particular adapt their lifestyle to the environment they’re in. If you notice, they’re forever on phones and tablets these days or talking about the latest stuff they’ve seen on YouTube or social media. I remember when I was at school and the phones were still monophonic and polyphonic noisemakers that had no internet access, but it never stopped students being more interested in texting each other or playing Snake II than listening. So if you’ve not yet embraced Technology Enhanced Learning, why not use the modern tech to your advantage? Let the kids either keep hold of their own device, or introduce them to a school issued one and at the same time, let them learn a little something by being engaged in the content you deliver to them.
If you’re already using the “norm” in your school of a few computers and an interactive whiteboard, think how you can take this further. There are many solutions that can easily scale beyond this from using extra devices in the classroom or consolidating it to a few machines at a time, right down to just using extra content on the whiteboard you have!
If you’re up for this adventure, great! But what sort of things can you use? I’ll touch on a few things in this post, but I’ll be covering more of these solutions in the future through both the “Have You Met…?” features as well as a few insight posts into various groups of solutions out there.
For Those That Go Hard or Go Home
For those that wish to use some quite literal hands on tech in their classroom there are a wealth of different general devices out there to help drive the engagement of your students and encourage some two way interaction without taking the mortifying step of putting your hand up in the classroom.
Many of the manufacturers of Interactive Whiteboards have long supported the use of hand-held devices with their whiteboards such as well known brands like Promethean who have ActivExpression/ActiVote, which works out of the box within the Activ suite of software natively and allows a simple student friendly interface for students to answer your questions with whilst you gather feedback in realtime from them. Whilst the design of the devices has changed quite a bit in the years as Promethean’s products have grown and evolved, a good cameo view of the solution can be seen regularly within the early seasons of BBC’s Waterloo Road series. They’re located in the science lab scenes found sat by each pupil attached to the desks.
If you prefer a less ‘locked down’ solution there are also independent companies offering solutions that can often integrate with or complement your existing software packages.
Qwizdom is a solution I was introduced to 2 years ago, which offer an intuitive suite of software and a family of remotes from their years in the business to help you capture your audience’s opinion or knowledge (in this case, your class). The system works through their WizTeach learning suite, OKTOPUS Whiteboard software or through their PowerPoint addin known as Actionpoint. As an Actionpoint user myself, I can highly recommend the solution to regular PowerPoint users who may not wish to migrate too far from something they’re limited to or are already comfortable with. It’s also easily scalable and despite advising you’ll only need to set up the remotes once, can be flexibly add remotes or allow them to change to entirely different class with a simple option built into each remote’s menu.
Another alternative I have witnessed in use comes from Turning Technologies – creators of the well received TurningPoint software. Like Actionpoint, TurningPoint is designed to help facilitators provide a fast and powerful setup to pose questions and receive and display answers in real-time on PC or Mac through their wide range of ResponseCard or QT Families of devices. If you’re looking for something that’s fast and easy to set up and go, give these guys a look.
For The Softies
Having kit everywhere isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If your school has already invested in equipment such as Chromebooks, iPads and Andorid Tablets, or you teach in a desktop/laptop based lab, there’s a wealth of software available that works on these, a lot of which is Cloud based, so installing programs and apps isn’t always necessary.
A fun and simple software tool to test assessment is Kahoot! A free online too that’s easy to sign up to, set up a quiz, survey or discussion and deploy. All you need is a computer or portable device, the free app or a modern web browser and the unique, use once ID generated once you’ve pressed Play. If you want to take it further and use it as an instructional tool, there’s also their #BlindKahoot initiative too.
If you’re looking for something with more question types, Socrative is another online tool that’s free to use (with premium features if you need a little more). Once again, it’s easy to learn and allows you to output your quizzes using the ID generated for your Teacher account when you sign up. What’s more if you want to add in a fun element like Kahoot’s presentation tool, take advatage of Socrative’s space race, encouraging friendly competition between your students.
For a more complete Classroom experience Promethean enter the stage again with the ClassFlow suite of cloud based software. Again this generates a ‘Class ID’ that your students will use to enter your class using any device that has a modern web browser for free. If you don’t mind paying a little extra there’s also a legacy app for iOS and Android, but to be honest the browser experience offers the much the same performance. There’s a built in question and assessment system allowing you to pose questions and get the results back through the cloud in realtime. You can then review these results online and save them for further assessments. If you already use a Promethean board, ClassFlow also ties into the ecosystem as well further enhancing your existing classroom experience and has a large and active community trading resources and lessons for those that need some inspiration or wish to share their expertise.
For SMART’s offering, there’s Response 2, a question tool that’s built into SMART Notebook (if you’re on an old version like me) and the newer SMART Learning Suite that’s included with the new whiteboards, interactive flat panels, Podiums, Kapp systems and LightRaise Projectors.
Nearpod takes a similar approach to this, offering prebuilt lessons from the Team and the community and the ability to create your own for free (again with a Premium option to use some of their fancier tools). Like ClassFlow, Nearpod allows you to upload your own slides allowing you to perform an entire lesson on the platform or you can build simple slides in their easy to use editor. You can break up the theory and allow interactivity with you class through their built in activities, such as pools and quizzes to challenge knowledge and encourage discussion to DrawIts (their more artistic tool) or embeddable content such as videos and whole webpages. When presenting, your whole class will follow along with you on their respective devices, connected by…yep, you guessed it…a uniquely generated ID that changes each time (meaning no student gets ahead and nothing gets muddled up should you wish to reuse the lesson again in another class). Alternatively, if you wish to go premium you can throw in some of these activities on the fly or you can take the lesson out of the classroom entirely and turn your Nearpod session into an impromptu eLearning package by using “Homework Mode”.
Of course this is just the very tip of the iceberg and there are many many more solutions out there, free and paid that I hope to cover in the future (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the almighty Google Classroom either) and expand on the above some more in their own dedicated articles.
But hopefully some of these solutions may inspire you to try them out or to even consider how you can take your classrooms further forward without leaving the traditional one behind.