Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Socrative Teacher and Student: Get past the name, love the Apps

Socrative by MasteryConnect....What? No, you heard me. Socrative.



My first post for this new review blog will be for a set of apps that I have spent an entire semester testing out live in 3 classrooms.  The story of how this began is simple and familiar. I am cheap, like terribly, its kind of a disease with me. Anyway, I am cheap and I also hate waste. This makes traditional classroom clickers anathema to me.  I hate them: they don't last, aren't really useful past one semester, and are basically e-waste from the start.  I feel as though tablets and cell phones should have made these entirely obsolete and lo and behold, I am discovering they have. The new clicker device is a phone, tablet, laptop, etc. that offers far more power and flexibility than simply recording who clicks to answer a question.

This semester, instead of having students buy clickers, I had them download an app, Socrative, by MasteryConnect. I too wondered, as I'm sure you all are, is that a word?  Put simply, no, but if you can get past the butchery of Socrates' name and the questions about why they couldn't have named it Socratic, you will discover a set of very handy, powerful, and simple tools for enhancing your classroom activities.

I downloaded the instructor version: Socrative Teacher and the students downloaded the student version: Socrative Student. I am using the free version, because, as I mentioned, I'm cheap.  The free version allows for a use level that is certainly suitable for in-classroom responses to questions and brief polls.  The paid versions, which are more reasonably priced if they are purchased for an entire school, offers a very high use level intended for entire exams and/or other evaluative exercises.

I paired this app with two different types of games we played in my Comparative Mythology and History of Satan classrooms. I had two sections of Comparative Mythology, one at the college campus and one at a satellite location in a high school in the evening which allowed me to note differences in student use as well as quirks with internet reliability.

In short, I created individual questions in the Teacher version of the app which corresponded to questions that the students encountered either in the course of a card game or collective "dungeon crawl" conducted in Minecraft.  The students were organized into guilds and one or two students had the Student version of the Socrative app so they could type in answers to the questions that popped up as we moved through the dungeon. A volunteer dungeon crawler maneuvered through the dungeon on a computer connected to a projector so the all the guilds could see the screen at once.  When the volunteer got to one of the wooden signs in the dungeon they would pause, read the question out loud for the class from the sign, and then the guilds would scramble to answer the question from the wooden sign.

Using the Socrative app ensured that each guild could answer without hearing the answer another guild might give to the question. If the guild answered the question correctly, all participating members got a point.  Here are the pros and cons of MasteryConnect's Socrative apps:

Pros:

The apps' interfaces are simple, accurate, and easy to navigate. Even students who had never used this type of clicker app before figured it out very quickly.  The app allows you to set either anonymous or identified answers so that you can clearly dictate if students need to identify who they are when submitting answers. In our case, using their guild name was sufficient since the whole guild got a point when a member answered correctly.

The teacher version of the app will allow you to either ask questions on the fly or create a quiz or bank of questions ahead of time in preparation for class.  If you create a quiz ahead of time you are also able to preserve it for future use.

The teacher version tracks all responses that it receives from the student apps and stores them. It logs interactions with students going back to my earliest uses. If I forgot to award a point for a correct answer, a guild could challenge and I could check the records. I also noticed that I could share questions or quizzes with another instructor who is using the same app. While I didn't have time to check out this feature, it is certainly a cool idea.

Each instructor gets a unique classroom key number which they can give to students to insure that there is no crossover from instructor's use of the app to your own classroom if others are using it in the vicinity.

The app tracks the number of people logged into the virtual classroom area so you can note the number of users.

The app makes exit polling for an activity or class discussion very easy and students can leave comments.

The dashboard offers some pretty powerful analytics allowing you to archive individual questions or whole quizzes and see student responses. If you are setting up questions for a quiz/exam or in-class activity, you are able to compare performance on the same activity from one instance of the course to another. It also offers the ability to download the results for storage on your device or computer.

If your students are using a Windows machine or cannot make the app work on their phone or tablet and need to use their laptops, there is a web version of the app which will run nicely.  I tried out this functionality when I broke the screen on my Google Nexus tablet and needed to use my Lenovo Miix convertible laptop (laptop/tablet) to track our last dungeon crawl.  The interface is the same and there is no variance in the functionality. I recently discovered that a version of this app is available in the Chrome Web Store which means it can be run as an app in the Google browser without having to navigate to the web page or on a Chromebook (which has become a very cost-effective alternative to a laptop for many students).

Cons:

The app and web versions are dependent upon Wi-fi or a mobile device connection so variations in speed or reliability of your internet connection affect the usability and speed of the tool. At the high school, my connection was often unstable and so students would lose their connection and have to re-log in. Also, at times when internet usage was high, responses would be delayed and so I would have to check the answer area after the activity to make sure I didn't overlook giving points to a guild who had answered correctly.

The app doesn't offer a timer to tell you the precise time a person has answered a question.  This would be helpful in instances where points are only awarded to the first student or students who respond.  A student's response may be delayed and tracking the time of input and button clicking would allow for more precise calculations of point awards.

Having an area that records the student's responses to each question in their own app would be very useful.  If a student types in a response, the app could record it and preserve it - at least for the duration of the activity. This would ensure that if the teacher version of the app doesn't receive the response, the teacher has a means of adjudicating claims that the student answered and pushed submit but their response was lost in the mists of the internet. Tracking this with time of response would be doubly helpful.

More support for team activities would be nice.  Although we were easily able to adapt the system to work for our guild activities in class, the ability to build the activity as a team one to begin with would be very helpful and would allow for quicker, more fluid use.  Being able to build the guilds and populate them with students who logged in on their devices or who could type in the names of all students from their guild participating for that particular activity would save time and energy.

Finally, and this was an inconsistent problem that only surfaced now and then, a student would find that the submit button was non-responsive during a crawl. This may have been related to internet issues but again, if the app recorded responses on the student side when the submit button was tapped, even if it couldn't send the answer, this might have been a non-issue. Additionally, the ability of students to send a log of their team's responses at the end of an activity would make for very accurate point counting.

To wrap up, I found that the pros of using Socrative far outweighed the small glitches and small amounts of maneuvering that had to be done to make it work. If you have Wi-fi in your classroom or if students have mobile connectivity on their devices or laptops, this is an amazing tool and can encourage some very responsible and constructive use of their devices during class activities. The apps can be downloaded from the Google Play store, Chrome Web Store, and iTunes apps. This means it can be used on any Android, Apple, or even Chromebook as well as through a browser window. The Socrative web page also offers great tutorials on using the tools, guides for how to make them work, and video overviews focusing on individual aspects of using them.

Students had a great deal of excitement over using the app and discovering they wouldn't have to pay for an additional app or device for the course.  They enjoyed the fun of answering questions this way and of being able to have more than one guild get a point for a question instead of having me or my TA have to figure out whose hand shot up first and then only being able to award the point to one group.  They also liked the variety of possible interface options for the app so if one person forgot their phone or tablet or laptop, another person in the group could pick up the slack and be the hero for their guild that day.  They did express frustration over some of the glitches in app usage and the lack of a recording system for the submission of their answers on their own devices.

All in all, I highly recommend this one.  I would give it a 9.0 out of 10.0 for ease of use, flexibility, power, and creativity.  I will be using this one again next semester in my face-to-face classes. I will bounce this one over to Jesse H. for comment.

The Teacher Lady Rating:

Easy to use (out of 10): 10

Flexible (out of 10): 10

Fun (out of 10): 10

Power Level (out of 10): 9

Functionality (out of 10): 8

Affordability: 10 (applies to the free version only)






*Please see my Rating Scale Explanation page to see what each rating category addresses.*






Have you use these apps in your classroom? If so, I'd love to hear from you and perhaps share some of your thoughts here. Email me or leave a comment below.