Tech Trumps Friday focus: Plickers - Real-time student assessment without devices

This Friday the Tech Trumps® focus is on an app that it is a little unusual, in that it's the only one where your students don't actually need any technology themselves - Plickers. As such it's ideally suited for those just starting out with using digital technologies to enhance their teaching practice.

What is Plickers?

Plickers helps you run formative assessment sessions in your class. It's a combination of a website and a smartphone app for the teacher, together with individual laminated cards for your students which each show a different graphic.

The basic idea is that you ask a question, and then students hold up their cards in one of four different orientations in order to show their answer. You use the camera on your smartphone to scan the room, and it automatically analyses all the cards and sends that data to the website in real time, so you and your students can see the results instantly.

There's quite a lot of preparation to do before hand, including:
  1. Creating the cards for your students;
  2. Adding classes to the website;
  3. Preparing questions to ask;
  4. Adding questions to a queue for a specific class.
Getting all these steps done ahead of time though means that running things in the class itself is very straightforward - just what every teacher wants! You make sure the Plickers website is showing on the whiteboard, then simply pick a class and a question from your smartphone app and it magically appears on screen.

How can you use it in education?

Unlike some of the other Tech Trumps®, Plickers is obviously aimed directly at education and specifically at formative assessment, so if this is an area you want to explore more Plickers is an ideal start to digitally enhancing your practice.

Let's explore them in a bit more depth, but to give a little more rigour to the process I'm going to use the RAT model to explain what Plickers can do for you. The RAT model, which stands for Replacement, Amplification and Transformation, is a useful way of analysing digital technologies, and can help you to understand whether or not they're something worth pursuing. 

Plickers in action, showing students holding their cards

First off Plickers might seem like a simple Replacement for asking for hands up or something similar, so you might wonder why you'd bother going through all the set-up when you can just ask students a question.

To a certain extent that's true, but it's also acting as Amplification, for example it's now giving students four different options to answer rather than just a yes or no, plus it does all the analysis of answers automatically rather than you having to count them up.

Finally there are elements of Transformation, as the results are now stored online for you,so you have a personal record of every students understanding. If you were trying to same process using a paper based approach it would be extremely difficult to transfer, say, a 10 question mini-quiz, each with four possible answers, for a class of 30 students into a digital record.

From a practical perspective Plickers is ideal for creating a peer instruction session, as defined by Eric Mazur from Harvard University. The cycle of concept - question - quiz - peer discussion - quiz can generate significant learning gains for your students. If you're interested in this technique there's a free PDF describing how to run a peer instruction session available online. Peer instruction has come from Higher Education, but the basic premise of using knowledgeable peers to help others learn comes straight from social constructivism, so is applicable at all levels.

One more tip I picked up from a teacher using Plickers is to sellotape or glue the cards to the students exercise books or planners, that way they've always got their cards with them. You can always keep spares in your classroom for the (inevitable) times when they've lost their planners!

Do you have any ideas for using Plickers that you'd like to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

Would you like your own set of Tech Trumps?

Do head over to the Tech Trumps® to see Plickers and a host of other apps for teachers, all coded up against the key things you're working on as teachers yourselves. There's an interactive version of the Tech Trumps® to explore, plus a download version for offline use if you wish. 

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