Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My favorite (so far) app

Socrative. It is easy to use and very powerful - it is able to be deployed in a number of ways. The Swiss army knife of apps? Not quite (I'll reserve that post for digital whiteboard apps, perhaps), but it certainly is a multi-tasker.

Socrative is, essentially, polling software. It turns a tablet into a clicker on steroids. Here are a few reasons to like it love it:

  • It is available for iOS, Chrome and Windows
  • It runs on smartphones as well (at least iOS - I haven't tested others), so you don't even have to be teaching a tablet class to use this app - you just need students with smartphones
  • It is free

Clickers vs. Socrative
For those of you who, like me, have never used a clicker or perhaps don't know what a clicker is, it is a piece of technology a little smaller than a TV remote control, and it has some buttons with letters on it. The professor asks the class a multiple-choice question (takes a poll), and everybody "clicks" the button corresponding to their answer. The professor sees the results appear in real time on her/his computer screen.

Why use clickers? This is a great way to perform formative assessment of your students: every two to five minutes or so during a lecture, the professor displays a slide on the screen with the multiple-choice question, everybody clicks, and the teacher gets a snapshot of the class' current understanding of the topic being discussed.

So, why use clickers? Why not just ask students to raise their hands when taking a poll? We know that's been going on in classrooms for decades (at least). But we all also know what happens when you vote in public: the timid among us hesitate for a second, glance around to see what the herd opinion is, and then join in. Clickers are the great equalizer. The ability to obtain anonymous, and so supposedly honest, feedback from the class in a rapid manner is a great technique that we all should employ.

Why use Socrative instead of a clicker? It is free! And if students already have smartphones or tablets, then they don't also have to purchase a clicker. Both the Socrative student and teacher interfaces can also be accessed via the web on a personal computer.

Collecting Student Feedback with Socrative
Another reason to use Socrative: you're not just limited to collecting multiple-choice feedback from students! There are four main modes in which Socrative can be applied:

  1. You can run an "Exit Ticket," where each student is sent a standard set of three questions, asking the student to rate how well they think they understood the day's material, to state what they think they learned that day, and an empty question that can be specific by the instructor.
  2. In "Quick Question" mode, you select whether you want to ask a single multiple-choice, true/false, or short answer question (this is where Socrative is most like a clicker, although clickers can't collect responses to short answer questions!)
  3. "Space Race" is an in-class game in which students are grouped into teams and try to answer as many questions correctly as possible to move their spaceship across the screen faster than the other student groups
  4. Last, the instructor can develop and deploy, using a very user-friendly interface, a quiz in the "Quiz" mode. Again, question options include true/false, multiple-choice, and short answer. In quizzes, the instructor is also able to input the correct answer (so that Socrative can do your grading for you!) You also have the option, for every question, whether to reveal the correct answer or other relevant information afterward. An essential component: Socrative also allows you to upload an image to accompany any question.

For all of these assessments, Socrative provides a downloadable report containing all of the self-reported student names (which they are prompted for at the start of each exercise) and their answers. The report is Excel friendly (of course).

What's missing from Socrative?
Well, nothing is perfect. But, then, when it is also free, how can one complain?

  • One limitation of Socrative is that there is a fifty student maximum "attendance" per digital "room" (session).
  • The most important thing that the Socrative folks could give me in the future is the ability to collect free-form (drawn) student responses that they would make on their touchscreen: either a drawing of their own, or manual corrections/additions/annotation of an image I provide.

Best practices

  • Want to take roll? Use a Socrative Quick Question and you get the answer to whatever question you ask plus the names of all of the students in attendance
  • There are two versions of Socrative: "Socrative Teacher" and "Socrative Student." Tell your students to download the latter. It doesn't impact anything if they also (or accidentally) download the Teacher version, but they'll need the Student version to answer your questions.


  1. Assuming the teacher has created an account, and all of the students have accounts, the teacher announces to the class "launch Socrative Student."
  2. The next step depends on whether the teacher wants the students to see the real-time responses or statistics. If not (because you want responses to remain anonymous), then do not use whatever computer is currently projecting in the classroom to initiate the Socrative activity (or turn off the projector). In my class, my tablet computer would be projecting, so I would use either my laptop or smartphone to open the Socrative Teacher app, login, and either start a pre-constructed quiz or to assign a Quick Question on the fly.
  3. When you login, your Socrative-assigned "room number" will be displayed to you. You provide this number to the students. All they need to do to access your digital poll is to enter that room number as they login. Then your activity shows up on their device, and they answer the question(s).
  4. At the end of the activity, you are given several options of how/when to receive the report containing all of the student responses

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