When I joined my current institution in 2012, I was offered the role of “Blended Learning Champion” – basically I had to promote a combination of the best pedagogical tools, including in-person techniques and digital technology. As soon as I started, I learned about what became known as “the clicker fiasco”. There was a time, you see, in the halcyon days of 2010/11, when all students in my faculty were given little devices that could be used to respond to questions during the class. It looked a little bit like the one on the right here, and worked extremely well. Lecturers would embed questions in their lectures, the students would answer using the clickers, and everybody was happy. At some stage some inconsistencies in the software versions, or possibly some old hardware (the exact cause is unknown), caused the whole system to come crashing down. What was frustrating about this situation is that there was substantial buy-in from academics to use these technological tools to enhance their pedagogical practice, but the failure of the clickers deprived them of both their favourite tools and their enthusiasm for blended learning. Now, I think I have found the solution: Socrative.
When I was looking around for a replacement, there were a series of criteria that I had in mind. Most of these are simply best practice for learning technology in all cases, but it is worth explaining why they are important:
- Platform agnostic – this means that the tool should work on computers, iPhone, Android, Windows, and all other kinds of devices. This ensures that students can bring their own devices and be confident in using the tool.
- No need for a student account – my institution has a policy of not requiring students to sign up for third party software. This creates a barrier to participation in some cases, but means that our IT team can dedicate their time to supporting a smaller number of tested products.
- Quick and easy – there’s nothing quite like finding the perfect teaching technology and then having to write a 10 page manual for colleagues to understand it…
- Good accessibility – ensuring equal access to teaching is important, and so any tool had to meet an extensive list of requirements. Usually the use of a tablet or phone (iPads are particularly good) means that the tool meets these requirements automatically, such as a read-aloud function or ability to increase text size, or a capacity to change colour schemes.
Socrative meets all these requirements. There is a quick sign-up and log-in process for teachers who are then allocated a “room number” that students use to access the content. The students themselves can either download an app (available on all devices) or simply visit b.socrative.com where they can enter the room via a website. This means that there is no need to download anything at all. The tool works efficiently in classes, and was simple enough that even some of my tech-phobic colleagues were able to quickly and efficiently find the site, log-in to the room, and answer questions during a short live demo. There are three core question types: multiple choice, true/false, and free text, all of which can be specified with one or more correct answers, and automatic feedback explaining the answers when the student has attempted the question.
However, Socrative goes beyond just giving a platform to ask questions. There are also a few nice little built-in quiz types that I hope my colleagues will try for themselves. One of these is the “exit ticket“. More common in schools and North American universities, exit tickets are used to check that the students understand comments by giving them the chance to rate how much of a given teaching session they feel that they have understood. Rather than waiting until you are marking the exam at the end of the course to find out that none of the students understood a topic, a teacher can get rapid feedback on a session-by-session basis.
The second really nice addition to Socrative is the gamification of some of the quiz formats. These include a “space race” where students are randomly grouped into teams and correct answers move their space ship, unicorn, bicycle, or some other team token along depending on how many that group gets correct. The tokens are shown on screen during the session (you can see an example using the unicorns – yes, there is a team Magenta Unicorn! – here) and the students see them move in realtime as their peers answer. Even if this is viewed as a gimmick, it is still a break from didactic teaching and introduces variety into the classroom.
All-in-all I am very impressed – Socrative is an excellent, easy, and free (for now!) tool. It is with some trepidation that I make wholesale recommendations, but this is one that I think will serve me and my colleagues very well.