Learner SMS polls: Poll Everywhere

Poll everywhere - Natecla London
Poll Everywhere from Natecla London event

At the recent Natecla London e-ESOL event I demonstrated a text polling/text wall activity that seemed to raise a bit of interest. It’s called Poll Everywhere and I’ve only ever used it in presentations to teachers, but it’s started me thinking about how I could use this with learners.

Poll Everywhere: features

First, a quick description of what it does; the application is available online and as a freemium model (I didn’t pay for any of the premium features – you shouldn’t need to). The premise is simple, you set up a question and the application gives you some codes and a phone number. This lets people send their answers via SMS; these then appear on a website which can be shared – either online or through a data projector. You can set up multiple choice or open questions – multiple choice questions give you a graph of responses, while open questions display participants responses (up to 40 in the free version).

SMS are charged at a normal rate (in the UK); if your learners have inclusive text messages in their phone contract they won’t have to pay. Replies can also be sent via Twitter or online which may be more convenient or cheaper for some learners.

Multiple choice

In terms of classroom use the multiple choice questions can be used in a similar way to IWB voting handsets which some providers may have invested in. There’s a nice stock of lolcats-type images on their Facebook wall pointing out that they, ahem….  may not be the best investment – in case you like that sort of thing.

I can think of some ways that these could be used in class:

  • As part of a learning check – learners are asked to vote anonymously on a multiple choice learning check question – this can then be the stimulus for further questions. This could also serve as a recap in a follow-up session.
  • Deciding the course of a lesson – learners can vote on options for the next stage of the lesson.
  • Feedback on the lesson – how did you find the lesson? You need to plan the question that you want to ask your learners carefully, but it could be very effective.

I’m sure there are loads of possibilities, I’d love it if you added your ideas to the comments at the bottom of this post.

Open Questions

Text entry questions are more flexible; we used this at the conference to get suggestions for how to use technology in class – you can see the results here.

  • Get learners to submit spelling suggestions to tricky words.
  • Get learners to contribute short sentences, questions etc.
  • Get learner to submit a word that they have learnt during a lesson.
  • Get learners to submit vocabulary on a topic.

Again, there are loads of possible uses, and again, I’d love it if you add them to the bottom of the page. These polls could then be shared via a class blog or VLE.

SMS Polling vs Mini Whiteboards

Of course, these could also be done with mini whiteboards (Have I told you how much I like mini whiteboards?). SMS polling adds anonymity, ‘saveability’ and a bit of novelty value, and takes away some simplicity as well as possibly adding SMS charges. Which is best for your context depends on how important these factors are for your learners and your context as well as the task that you choose.

Situated learning

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on mobile learning recently and one thing that is often cited as a major benefit is the way that m-learning can bring learning from the classroom into learners’ lives.

I wonder if there are ways, particularly with the open response questions that learners could be given ‘homework’ where they have to text in responses to situations they find outside of lessons

  • “Text us words that you had to look up”
  • “Favourite English word of the day”
  • “How many different ways do people say hello to you?”
  • “Have you seen a good advertising slogan?”
  • “Have you seen a sentence in the present perfect?” [or any other target form]
  • “Text us every time you hear someone use [X] word”

What I’ve read about situated learning suggests that this may make it easier for learners to relate their classroom learning to their lives and in turn to be able to use presented language more fluently.

As this is SMS based, most learners will already have the equipment required, even the oldest phones are suitable, though there may be some concerns over SMS costs.

Incidentally if you are interested in mobile learning and ESOL, I really recommend that you read about the MASELTOV project – they’re putting together some very interesting ideas to support migrant language learning which look pretty revolutionary.

A free, flexible tool – ready for your imagination

Having used this, I’ll be honest, I can’t really see any reason for buying IWB clickers; this seem to do the same but cheaper, and generally much less hassle. That said – there are lo-tech ways of doing many of these things. Novelty value does work for a bit, and the anonymity can change the dynamic of activities. Being able to save, record and share learners’ suggestions easily has a lot of positive points.

What I need to think about now is how to exploit it outside the classroom – there are a lot of approaches being developed if all your learners have iPads; most of mine don’t. This is a relatively lo-tech and cheap technology.

The key thing here is, like many flexible tools, is coming up with ideas for using it – I’ve added a few suggestions here – but I’d love to know what you think – or if you have a found a different or better site for doing this – I don’t get paid by Poll Everywhere, so I’m happy to look at any packages 🙂 .

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