Four Student Response Systems

Class ClickersIf you've got a class set of computers or mobile devices, then you've got a student response system. Response systems sold to schools typically consist of a handheld remote, called a clicker, and software for managing students, questions, and answers. Rather than pay over $1,000 for a set of clickers, a WiFi-equipped classroom that already has iPod touches, iPads, netbooks, etc. (or invited students to bring their own) can turn those devices into a response system for much less.

Google Docs

Google Docs provides a free way to collect responses called Forms. The teacher creates a questionnaire for students to complete. Questions can be multiple choice, true/false, short answer, essay, or a scale. Once the form is completed, Google provides a very long URL that is much to long for anyone to manually type. So, forms can be linked from or embedded in a class web page. Alternatively, a URL shortener like,, or can be used to create a shorter web address that redirects to the obnoxiously long one. This way students can simply type the short URL in their device's browser to access the questions.

Google Form

The responses are collected in a spreadsheet the teacher accesses online. Google makes it easy to see responses in graphs by simply choosing Show summary of responses from the Form menu. With a Google Form, students are not required to respond at the same time. The questionnaire is online and ready for them any time they ready. For more information about using Google Docs as a student response system, view Radford University's video on YouTube.

Poll Everywhere

Another service that can be used as a student response system is Poll Everywhere. They have a nice Web interface that looks great on a laptop or mobile device. Poll Everywhere can also take responses through text messages. Students text in their answers to the teacher's question using identifying codes. Be aware that Poll Everywhere and Google Docs do not provide feedback to students since there is no way to indicate correct and incorrect answers. While there is a free Poll Everywhere plan for K-12 classrooms, the $50 per year plan gives teachers the ability to see individual student responses and to approve text-based responses before they appear for the whole class to see. Read more about Poll Everywhere.

Poll Everywhere


QuestionPress (formerly QuickieQ) is a 100% web-based audience and classroom response/assessment tool. This means that QuestionPress is accessible on any Internet connected device. Students can easily find and bookmark their teacher's QuestionPress URL. Alan Degener, QuestionPress' developer, writes more about the service:

QuestionPress is one of the few response web sites that allows you to offer a fully live session where you can control which questions are asked, when they are asked, in what order they are asked, and when and how results are sent to the responders’ screens. Questions can also be served at the responder’s pace with options that allow for the scores and correct answers being displayed upon completion.

Question Press Questions

You can use a prepared question set and/or create questions on-the-fly. Points can be assigned to all questions and QuestionPress can auto-score multiple choice, true/false, yes/no, short answer, fill in the blank, sorting, numeric, “images as answers”, and “check all that apply” problems. Other question types include essay, ranking, and file uploads. Dynamic questions with images can be created using a simple yet powerful WYSIWYG editor, which includes a math equation editor and grapher. Questions can be edited on-the-fly and questions created in a live session can be imported into question sets or used directly in future session. Question sets can be stored, organized and shared with others. Session results can be organized into folders and sessions can be reopened to help consolidate data.

Question Press Session

There are no responder accounts with QuestionPress, so students do not need to remember yet another login and password. Students can use student ids or other codes to protect privacy.

A standard QuestionPress license starts at 35-responders per session. Polling mode increases that limit 10 fold, allowing you to put polls up on your classroom web site. You can also use QuestionPress for homework since it is web-based and can run asynchronously. The email feature allows you to email results to responders when they finish the question set or you can add comments and annotations and send out emails later.

QuestionPress starts at just $24 for an annual 35-responder license. Larger license and multiple session licenses are optional. Group accounts are also available. For more information, a complete list of features, and to sign up for a free trial account go to

eClicker Host

eClicker HostAn option for iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch using teachers is the eClicker Host app. Priced at $9.99, it's a very affordable solution because no subscription is required. Only the teacher needs the app; students can use any web browser or the free eClicker iOS app. Student devices need to be on the same WiFi network as the teacher's iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The app provides a URL for students to type into their browsers. Devices running the optional and free eClicker app automatically detect the teacher's device on the network running eClicker Host. If eClicker Host is running on iPad, up 64 responders can connect. For iPhone and iPod touch, the maximum is 32 responders.

Like QuestionPress, the teacher can control what question is displayed on students' screens. When the teacher moves to the next question, everyone's screens change at the same time to display the next question.

Teachers can compose multiple choice or true false questions on their mobile device or at Sadly, eClicker does not support short answer or open-ended responses. I don't mind composing the questions on my iPad. I can even include images from my Photo Library or draw one within the app. Alternatively, questions can be edited on a computer at by first creating an account within the eClicker Host app. When done editing, syncing your account updates the on your device. Teachers can even share question sets with one another via Bluetooth.

eClicker on iPad

eClicker has worked well for me for informal assessment. However, it does not have a management system where I can track students over time. It's not a quiz or evaluation tool. If you use eClicker, you'll notice that each question has a timer. I have not found a way to turn off the timer, which can be a distraction. eClicker Host lacks options, especially compared to QuestionPress. But, with fewer features, eClicker Host is streamlined and simplistic. Find out more about eClicker.

Response systems can improve attentiveness, increase knowledge retention, inform instruction, and provide immediate feedback. It's nice to have affordable choices. I've only highlighted on the four systems I've used myself. There are certainly many more. Which one to choose? Fortunately Google Docs and Poll Everywhere can be used for free, and QuestionPress has a free trial. There is no free version or trial for the eClicker Host app. If you have a favorite, please tell us about it in the comments.

Four Student Response Systems

Classroom clicker photo licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr user Kentucky Country Day.

Netbooks in Texas Schools

Student with NetbookThe Dallas Morning News published the article Dallas-Fort Worth School District Calculates Different Ways to Use Netbook in Classes. The newspaper tells about the Irving School District's decision to replace older, larger laptops with 4,600 ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbooks. Netbooks are those small notebook computers with screens smaller than 10 inches, no CD drives, and keyboards that are 90% the standard size.

The article mentions the following benefits of and comments about netbooks:

  • cost (The district paid $487 per unit, including warranty and software. Previously they paid $1,000 per laptop.)
  • easier to carry
  • fits on a desk along with a textbook
  • it has a camera
  • battery life
  • the 10 inch screen size is not an issue
  • students save work to flash or network drives
  • they're cute

Here's more from The Dallas Morning News story:

The smaller computers are more closely related to cellphones, which many students are familiar with. They're also not the best option for advanced video production capabilities.

But educators say they are ideal for basic functions as more schools get wireless access and move textbooks and lessons online.

I think stating that netbooks are "more closely related to cellphones" is inaccurate. I'm guessing the aging Dell laptops in the Irving School District probably have less processing power and memory than the netbooks that are replacing them. Most netbooks run Windows XP and can handle most Windows software. It sure seems to me that netbooks are related to laptop computers much more closely than cellphones. Yes, mobile phones are becoming more and more computer-like. But, when trying to get others to understand what a netbook is, I think it's misleading to say they are so similar to cellphones.

Then, there's a new term being tossed around--Smartbooks. It's hard to keep up with what tech companies decide to call things...

Photo by Pete Prodoehl on Flickr.

Soft Reset #20: Netbooks in Fort Smith

Soft Reset LogoIt's a pet peeve of mine when podcasters note how long it's been since their last episode. Though, in this case, I think it is worth noting that after two years, there's finally a new episode of Soft Reset! Episode #20 is features a discussion with teachers who are putting the latest technology trend to work in their classrooms: netbooks. Netbooks are small and affordable notebook computers that have screens between 7 and 10 inches in size. While they don't have a CD drive, they do have Wi-Fi, USB ports, batteries, display ports--really everything you'd expect in a laptop.

Fort Smith Public Schools has nearly 20 classrooms using Eee PC netbooks. George Lieux, technology professional development specialist, gathered up nine classroom teachers to talk with me about their use of the mini laptops. I speak with these elementary, middle, and high school teachers who all share valuable classroom management tips as well as great curriculum integration ideas. If you are thinking about getting class sets of netbooks, you have got to listen to this episode!


Show Notes:

  • These Fort Smith teachers are all using class sets of Eee PC 1000HAs.
  • Their netbooks have 6-cell batteries, which last for an entire school day.
  • Instead of purchasing Microsoft Office, they are using OpenOffice, free software.
  • Besides OpenOffice, a Web browser was the most used application by students.
  • Third graders had to pass tests about Internet safety and copyright before using the netbooks.
  • It's useful to have all students face their desks in the same direction so the teacher can see everyone's computer screens at once.
  • Headphones get all tangled when stored each day. One teacher finally placed numbered hooks on the wall, one for each headset. No more tangles!
  • Where the netbooks are being used by more than one student it is help to create a Windows XP account for each of those students.
  • The greatest challenge for these teachers is managing a classroom with so many different computer skill levels.
  • We used GoToMeeting to connect and record. Unfortunately there are some audio issues, but you should be able to hear most everything just fine.
Enjoy the show! Click an icon below to listen or subscribe.

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Netbooks vs. iPod touch

iPod touch vs. NetbooksI've spent a lot of time on this blog sharing information about using iPod touch in teaching and learning. As you can tell, I believe it's a fantastic tool for educators and students.

But, is there a better tool for the classroom?

I've also written about netbooks--those low-cost notebook computers with screens between 7 and 10 inches in size. Netbooks are becoming cheaper everyday and are in high demand. I've been using an ASUS 1000HA Eee PC that runs Windows XP, has a 120GB hard drive, a 10.2 inch screen, a keyboard that is 92% the size of a standard keyboard, and a 1.6 Mhz processor. I love using my Eee PC and it really could replace my trusty MacBook.

Let's compare netbooks like the Eee PC 1000HA to iPod touch.

Both iPod touch and netbooks:

  • seem to hold up to being dropped
  • have Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet
  • are small enough to fit on a desk along with a book or paper
  • can play podcasts and media from iTunes U
  • support voice recording
  • hold a charge longer than a laptop computer
  • excite student to use them

iPod touch:

  • requires very little technical support
  • gets no viruses
  • is used in conjunction with a desktop computer
  • is backed up each time synced
  • has slightly longer battery life
  • easily fits in a pocket or backpack
  • has a very fast reboot time
  • is priced at $230


  • have a real life keyboard
  • play Flash videos and interactive Flash content
  • often have a built-in webcam and microphone
  • support the use of USB devices, including flash drives
  • play a variety of video formats (not just mpeg-4)
  • can print to USB and networked printers
  • make it easier to work with full sized websites because of the larger screen
  • can use the full desktop iTunes version (if it's a netbook with Windows)
  • connect to file servers
  • do not require a credit card on file to download software
  • appear more serious and less gimmicky
  • are manufactured by a variety of companies in a variety of configurations
  • are price at $300+

If I were given the choice in what kind of devices to get for my classroom, it would be an easy one. Since I'd want my students to blog, contribute to a wiki, create podcasts, and edit video, my choice would have to be netbooks. But, I'd want netbooks with plenty of memory and a larger screen. The current netbooks that are priced similarly to the iPod touch are underpowered and their 7 inch screen makes them annoying to use.

If it wasn't important to have my students type with a real keyboard and I wasn't planning on sending them to interactive sites with Flash content, then iPod touch deserves a second look. iPod touch would be perfect for specific center or station activities and I know that the library of educational apps is only going to expand. All in all, I'd like to choose both. I'd love to have students use the netbooks to make content for iPod touch. As a teacher, I'd certainly be thrilled to have either netbooks or iPod touch in the hands of my students.

We had a similar discussion to this one two years on this blog before the term netbook was coined and before the iPod touch was released. Like two years ago, feel free to share your thoughts in a comment.

12 Days of iPod touch concludes tomorrow with my best tips for Safari, text entry, and the Home screen.

Web Apps & Netbooks

Web Apps & NetbooksTwo trends in the world of technology are making a big splash in education: web applications and netbooks. These trends excite me because I'm all about easy, free, and cheap.

There are many tasks that used to require software that you can now do from inside of your Web browser. These sites and services are called web applications. They are sometimes called webware because they are like software but stored on the Internet instead of on a computer's hard drive. Web apps are great for students and teachers because they are usually free and do not require software to be installed. Because they run in a web browser, web apps are cross-platform, so it doesn't matter if you are running Windows, Macintosh, or Linux operating systems. Because Web apps and their data are stored online, students and teachers can access the apps and data from anywhere (this is called cloud computing). Teachers and students can access web apps on any school computer and also their computers at home. Some web apps even give access on mobile devices. Another bonus: web apps tend to facilitate online sharing and collaboration.

Simple Spark, a directory for web applications, has over 9,600 web apps listed. Here are some popular web apps for education:

Since web applications don't require a specific operating system, most all of them work perfectly fine on ultra-compact and inexpensive laptops like ASUS's Eee PC. The Eee PC 2G Surf model has a 7 inch screen, 3 USB ports, SD slot, 900 megahertz processor, Wi-Fi, 2 gigabytes of storage, and 512 megabytes of RAM. It uses flash memory, making for a 20 second boot-up time. It also has a VGA port for connecting a monitor or projector (super useful for showing the screen to a group of students).

The Eee PCs specifications aren't impressive, but its $299 price tag is. That's the entry level 2G Surf model's retail price. One way ASUS is able to keep costs down is that the notebook doesn't run Microsoft Windows. Instead, it runs a version of Linux, a free and open-source operating system. I have found learning to use the Eee PC really is easy. It's similar enough to Windows and Macintosh that I had no problem figuring out how to launch programs and save and open files. In fact, ASUS says the Es stand for "Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play." By the way, Eee PC is pronounced with just one E (think E-P-C).

The Eee PC was a top-selling item for Amazon last Christmas. Its popularity has inspired other companies to come out with little notebook computers. Some of these include the HP Mini-Note, Everex CloudBook, and MSI Wind. See a chart comparing models. So far my favorite is the Eee PC because it has the lowest price. Anything above $300 has to get you wondering if your money should go to a full-sized laptop. Dell sells 15-inch laptops for less than $500.

The Intel company has coined the term netbook to describe small low-cost notebook computers with Wi-Fi. I like that term as these computers don't have lots of storage space or memory--but they don't need because their focus is on using the 'net and basic functions like word processing. (Laptop is not a fitting term because my Eee PC would fall between my legs if I tried to place it on my lap!)

Advantages to using netbooks in schools is that they are about the size of a hardcover book, easily fitting into a backpack. Would-be thieves can't tell a netbook is in a bag, unlike when students tote around laptop bags. Because netbooks are so small, they can have a place on a desk along with a textbook. Additionally, netbooks tend to have quick boot-up times, taking just 20 seconds to power on. Also, being relatively inexpensive, schools may be able to charge fines for broken or missing netbooks. Schools or parents may be able to take out insurance policies on netbooks too. Unlike handheld computers, netbooks look familiar to administrators, school board members, and the community. It's easier to convince those who control funds to purchase netbooks for students because they look like laptops.

There are a few disadvantages. For me, a 7-inch screen is useable, but I'd really rather have something larger. Netbooks do come with larger screens, but those pass the magical $300 price point. However, I don't think students will have the issues with the small screen as much as adults. Similarly, adults may have problems with the smallish keyboard but students, particularly younger ones with small hands, do not have any issues with it. Another disadvantage is battery life. I was able to get 2 hrs and 17 minutes of continuous Wi-Fi use out of my Eee PC. Though, more expensive netbooks have better battery life. I see classrooms that use netbooks needing lots of power strips to keep their computers charged. Also note that Netbooks are so small that they don't have CD drives.

A disadvantage that may actually be an advantage is that it may be hard for schools to decide which netbook to buy. The technology is continuously getting better and cheaper. What's important to me is a low price and wireless Internet access because I want to access web apps. When its time to replace or add more netbooks, it really doesn't matter much if the same exact model is available. Focusing on web apps means that any computer with a browser should work the same as what you already have.

In the fall I'm helping some schools use web apps and netbooks with students. Not only will you be reading more about these trends from me, but these are trends in consumer electronics and in education that you'll be seeing lots of in the coming year.