Batteries not included: the rise of the virtual voting applications

Man with Smartphone
Have you voted using an app yet?

Whether you are teaching a small class or a large co-hort of students or training staff, the ability to know what they have understood is crucial to good teaching or training and allows you to pitch your sessions better in the future. This is why physical clickers several years ago were so beneficial in teaching. Despite being really useful in many situations, they are largely expensive, sometimes difficult to set up and for these reasons the purchase and take up of such devices has not been widespread in many universities.

With the rise of various mobile devices form factors and the culture of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) from students and staff alike, using their smartphones and tablets to access institution systems, the idea of having a virtual voting application (also referred to as ‘audience response system’) that can be accessed on any mobile device becomes increasingly desirable.

Luckily there are several options that are free to try out, these include Socrative and Mentimeter to name two, although others are available in this post. These two platforms are easy to use for simple formative assessments in large group teaching and have a range of integration options with other software and no doubt will have more in the future.

These tools do however have several drawbacks to them over the physical clickers, in that they need a Wi-Fi or 3G connection in order to work, the institution needs sufficient infrastructure to support such an initiative and ultimately students need to have and be willing to use their devices to access the internet. The issue of digital divide, between students who have mobile devices and those that don’t become less relevant if you have them working together.

Looking at the issue from the perspective of the physical clickers, these require maintenance in the form of batteries, making sure they work and issues around the radio frequency in large lecture theatres as well as the weight of carrying around such clickers in their bags and of course the cost of them in the first instance as mentioned earlier; how many do you buy as a department or institution?

For these reasons, unless you want to do something more advanced with voting clickers such as knowing who answered what; the virtual option becomes the simplest and easiest option for technology based formative assessment for in class teaching or training. I have heard some institutions using physical voting clickers for summative assessment too, although this is sometimes a little difficult to set up and administrate.

As the popularity and prevalence of mobile devices continues in our institutions amongst staff and students, one can only hope that voting applications get better, smarter and more advanced and open to customisation, enabling the mobile device to be a multifaceted device in learning, as important as the textbook and laptop! Happy Voting!

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