Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Using Socrative in university courses: practical aspects

What is Socrative?
Socrative is a free student response system (or "web-clicker") that allows you to collect answers from students using the web.  I use it in all my courses at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, which I teach using the peer instruction approach.

The two features I use in Socrative are "Multiple Choice" and "Short Answer".  The video above gives a short introduction on how to do this.

Getting started
* You just make a free account and you get a room number assigned.

* You can easily try it out in your office, as I show in the video, before using it in class

Is Socrative right for you?
* Socrative is limited to 50 responses (actually 60-70 in practice) but you can use it in larger courses because you just need representative feedback to help you decide whether to move on to a different topic or not. The top students tend to vote first and correctly, so if the first 40 votes are from top students you might get the wrong impression that the majority understands the question. However, since "top students" are a minority, most students vote in pairs and not everyone bothers to vote, you can certainly use Socrative in courses where 300 students show up to lecture.

* Students need to bring a laptop or smartphone to vote.  Since many students vote in pairs and you only need representative feedback this is rarely a problem.  At the beginning of each course I send out an email to students telling them to bring a laptop or smartphone and to make sure that it can connect to the campus WiFi.

* Your classroom needs to be equipped with WiFi that can handle the load. Network problems resulting from overload is frustrating to the students. Maybe check with your IT support on this first.

In class
* As I mention in the video, when I ask multiple choice questions I control Socrative from my iPhone using the Socrative Teacher App.

* I don't show the result of the vote. If it's near unanimous there is no point and if it's split it will bias the re-vote.

* When I ask short answer questions I control Socrative on my laptop that is hooked up to the projector, because I eventually want to project the results of the vote and discuss it.  This means I have to flip back and forth between Powerpoint (where the question is stated) and the browser with Socrative.

* While the students discuss and vote walk among them (don't just stand in front of the class) as much as your classroom allows.  This way they can ask you questions and you get a feel for how many students have answered, which is especially important for short answer where you can't follow the progress on your iPhone.

Pacing: better too fast than too slow
* The main complaint about in class voting I have had from students is that it is too slow.

* Multiple choice: When ca 2/3 of the class have voted tell them "one more minute", make your way to the front of the class, tell them "last chance", then stop the vote.

* Multiple choice: If most got the right answer, don't spend a lot of time on explaining the answer.  I usually ask who wants to explain what they have voted for.

* Short Answer: don't wait for everyone to type an answer. You just need 5-10 answers to vote one.

* Short Answer: go through the top 1-3 answers and point out any errors.  If you happen to spot something very wrong in the remaining answers point it out nicely and explain why it's wrong.

* On average I get through about five multiple choice questions and one short answer question in a 45 minute lecture period.

Alternatives to Socrative
There are several alternatives to Socrative such as Shakespeak, Polleverywhere, and Learning Catalytics.  All of these alternatives can be used to collect more than 50 votes but they are not free.

I use Socrative because it is free and easy to use.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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