Alternatives to Physical Clickers in the Classroom

ClickersClickers are a great tool to help you engage your students, receive instant feedback from your students about understanding concepts you are teaching, and to get an overall feel for your student audience. The one hurdle that is attached to the physical Clicker technology is all the bulky hardware. Clickers involve setting a  receiver, setting the code for the physical instructor clicker with the software, and making sure each student has a workable physical Clicker. What happens when a Clicker breaks in the middle of a presentation? What happens if the batteries run out right before the lecture? These are questions and issues that are faced when faculty use the physical Clicker technology to teach. How can you get all the benefits of teaching with physical Clickers but use something more software based? Why not use technology that the students already own (like laptops or cell phones)? We decided to evaluate alternatives to physical Clickers.

The one solution we found was using Google Docs Forms. Instructors can send the students a link to the form they created in Google Forms. The instructor will need a Google account to create this form. Students can use their laptops to access the form (with no need to create an account or log into a site). As the students submit their answers, the instructor can view their responses in a chart visualization, created by Google Docs. One would need to keep refreshing the window with the chart display to show updates as responses come in from the student audience. Also, the responses are tracked in a spreadsheet inside Google Docs. If you know JSON, you can possibly set the chart visualization to automatically refresh as responses come in from the audience. What’s also great about Google Docs is that if students would like to do the same thing during a presentation during their class, as long as they have a free Google account, they can set up their own form and gather response feedback from the student audience too. Google Docs Forms is good for synchronous and asynchronous audience response and polling. The learning curve is low for this tool, which made it one of our top recommendations for an alternative to physical Clickers.

Another tool we evaluated was Piazza. Piazza is more than just an audience response tool, it’s basically a CMS (Content Management System). Instructors and students need to create accounts with Piazza to use the web based interface. Students can use their laptops or mobile devices (iPhone or Android app) to access their class and answer the questions being asked by the instructor. Instructors can also track course statistics in Piazza. The learning curve is much higher for this tool than for Google Docs Forms. Piazza is FERPA compliant (since student information is being stored on a server not on your campus). Piazza is good for synchronous and asynchronous audience response and polling.

Pinnion is a great tool if an instructor is looking for a synchronous audience response tool. It is free (instructors will need to sign up for an account). Instructors can analyze data coming in from the student audience using free Pinnion tools. A Pinnion user can ask as many questions as they want, there isn’t a limit to how many questions and answers a session can have in Pinnion. The display in a mobile device and laptop is clean (a free mobile app for Pinnion available). Results can be viewed in real time and results can be exported as an Excel/CSV file. If an instructor uses WordPress, Pinnion has developed a WordPress plug-in to use Pinnion and Pinnion questions can also be distributed by email, Facebook, Twitter, and embedded into the instructor’s website. This tool does not work for asynchronous polling because the instructor has to release each question to the student audience (basically activate and close each response session with their students). The learning curve was slightly higher than Google Doc Forms, but lower than Piazza.

The last tool we would like to recommend is PollDaddy. PollDaddy is a simple interface that works well in a browser and on a mobile device (including iPhone and iPad). PollDaddy’s main function is the conduct polling. It’s a great tool for synchronous and asynchronous polling, and PollDaddy keeps basic reports of the responses an instructor receives from their polls. The free account (which you would need to sign up for to get the benefits of basic reports) allows only 200 survey responses a month. There are other plans where an instructor can receive more responses per a month, so it’s up to the instruction how often they want to use this tool and how many students they have in their class. The students answering the instructor’s poll do not need an account. The instructor can set close dates for polls. The learning curve for PollDaddy is low and easy to use.

Here’s a complete list of software we surveyed (in case one of these options fits in with your style of teaching):

Learning Catalytics:
TurningTechnologies ResponseWare:
Google Forms:
Top Hat Monocle:
iClicker Web Clicker:
ClickerSchool Virtual Clicker by Eduware:
SodaHead Polls-WP plug-in:

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