Tech Roundup: Classroom polling software

In prep for teaching 1st-year biology this summer, I’m in the midst of considering different types of classroom polling technologies (aka classroom response systems, aka audience response systems, aka clickers).

TL;DR: The clicker is dead; Long Live the Clicker!

I’m quite comfortable with the original clicker setup, but there are a bunch of next-generation systems out there, and I wanted to assess if they would benefit my students.  The decision has to be about technology that supports pedagogy, and not the other way around.

There appear to be several interesting benefits of these next-gen systems — specifically, moving beyond dedicated remotes and the constraint of multiple-choice questions.  I don’t love that the new technologies are all moving towards subscription models, but that seems to be the world these days.  And unlike the clicker remotes, at least it’s less likely that students will forget their phone at home!

In any case,  I’ve looked at i<clicker, PollEverywhere, Top Hat Monocle, Learning Catalytics, and Echo360 (formerly LectureTools) and met with almost all of their product reps.  If there are other systems out there worth looking into, let me know.

A ginormous table of my comparisons:

Comparing Peer instruction software

Table also on google drive.  Please note – this is entirely my own personal interpretations and opinions; let me know if I’ve made any mistakes or omissions.  The FIPPA compliance item is a local concern, specific to SFU and Canada — it has to do with storage of student information on non-Canadian or off-campus servers.  The consent forms are a function of how SFU deals with these different systems and where they store the information.  Ensuring student privacy is important, and can also be a hassle depending on which system you use, so I’ve included it on the table.

My verdict for the summer

At the end of the day, having thought about this way too much and talked to tons of patient people, I think I’ll be sticking with regular old clickers, at this point anyways.  I’d have to agree with my colleagues at UBC Physics – for next-gen systems, the cons (even when wifi signal is good – hah!), the mobile-based systems will always have a lag, and the hassle of having to bring multiple devices may not be worth the tradeoff of additional question types.) just outweigh the pros: Clickers just plain work.

Regardless, it’s cool to see that we’re moving beyond “to clicker or not to clicker?” and instead asking “of the various classroom polling systems, which will best support engagement & effective use of class time?”

I’m interested to hear feedback from people who have actually used these systems.  Are there other considerations I’m missing?  (service?  how often it breaks?  how much of a sales pitch you get?  How often you use all these shiny features?  diversity/accessibility?  costs for students with financial hardship?)  Other make-or-break things I haven’t seen?

Thanks to Kar-On Lee (from the Teaching & Learning Centre), Joss Ives, Georg Rieger, and Jared Stang for great discussions on this.  Also thanks Nienke van Houten for letting me come watch her teach her course using Top Hat!  If you’re interested in discussing more, we’re running a workshop together on May 18th on this very topic, at the SFU Symposium for Teaching and Learning – you’re welcome to join!


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