I learned about NearPod through a recent Chronicle article reviewing deployments of classroom technology. One tool the article mentioned was NearPod, a web-based application that allows instructors to build interactive learning modules for online or in-class content delivery and assessment. Now, I don’t run out and try every new tool that’s out there, so I’m pretty picky about putting my students through the learning curve of testing a new tool if there doesn’t seem to be a potential benefit. The potential here seemed to be real-time engagement. This time, I’m glad I did.
NearPod is a user-friendly application from the beginning. Pre-created modules are available for review and introduction, and they even offer an intro module with you as learner. When you log in for the first time to create a new module, you’re walked through the options step by step.
What you get…
The free version of the tool offers up to 50MB of storage and up to 20MB per presentation/module. In this version, you can enroll up to 30 students for each live session you launch. There are some additional basic features offered, including pdf download of your presentation, reporting and support options. But for only $10/month, you could upgrade and earn 3G of storage and options for self-paced homework presentations (great for online learning).
It took me a few hours to build my first module. I included PPT slides converted to pdf, the quiz feature, and direct responses. My lesson plan included starting with a 10-question quiz, transitioning into peer review, integrating tip slides, and ending with some new content delivery. In total, my presentation was 42 slides and 3 Mb. I then surveyed my students after the class to determine if we’d use it again.
How it worked…
I created the presentation in my office before class and asked students to download the NearPod app on their phone or tablet before class began. Then, when everyone arrived, I launched the live session and provided the presentation code NearPod generated for me. Students logged in to the session via laptops, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. Everyone was able to get in pretty easily, given we were on our institution’s wifi. Once logged in, I paced the students through the screens by controlling their view from my own device (a Surface Pro 3).
The quiz… was a great one. I was able to see responses come in live as students completed the quiz. We reviewed on the spot how students performed. I emailed them their results after.
The direct response for peer review…provided a way for students to engage in peer review like I’ve never had before. I use peer review in all of my courses like every other writing instructor. It’s a staple in writing pedagogy. But, it’s always a struggle to get students to really engage in the process. With NearPod, I created direct response screens, meaning students could type answers in their presentations, submit them to me, and I could share with everyone. So, I created individual slides with problematic areas I wanted them to find in their classmate’s paper. Then, I asked them to find that issue in the paper they were working on and type it into the slide.
I then selected certain entries that were great examples and shared them across everyone’s screens with just a click. Students really seemed to respond to this. Peer review was an engaging, collaborative process as it’s meant to be. Rather than a complete-the-form, struggle-for-input revision tool.
The content delivery…provided an easy way for me deliver content right to each student’s screen without having to wait for the computer to start, make sure the projector was working, or lose students in the presentation style of delivery. It was much more engaging for everyone.
Quiz score delivery…is clunky. It’s not easy to pull a report from the tool and email to the student. At least not with the free version I have. Maybe with the upgrade.
Anything beyond typing in direct response…is tough. I used direct response to also test an exercise I have where students build visuals using Excel. NearPod support (which I received via live chat) told me students could copy and paste images into the direct response. They did this, but it was an unwieldy process.
This might just mean a difference in the way I construct the exercise.
Classroom infrastructure…was an obstacle. Here is the most basic reason to avoid tech in the classroom: not all college classrooms are ready. I teach in a remote building on campus in a room that only has three wall outlets in far corners of the room. It was difficult to ask my students to interact via their devices when their devices were running out of juice, and there were few outlets to be found. Access to charging is a pretty fundamental barrier for integrating tech into classrooms but not one we readily think about. I’ll have to bring my own cords and strips if I want to ask students to participate.
I emailed my 18 students afterward to ask for their input on using the tool moving forward. I gave them 4 options and open-ended comments. A. we continue using NearPod for all content and quiz delivery. B. we use NearPod for content and exercises but not quizzes. C. we use NearPod for content only. D. we discontinue using NearPod. In the three responses I received, all three said use it completely. One said be careful with the quiz. He didn’t realize he had to scroll down for more answer options.
So that’s it. The good, the bad, and challenges to integrating NearPod into a college-level writing course. It’s definitely a tool I’ll continue to explore with its applications to both online and face-to-face teaching. But, as with all teaching tech, it is not THE solution.
Test it, and let me know your experience.