Shakespeak, a BYOD Classroom Response System

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) class response systems seem to be popping up left and right these days. BYOD systems are ones in which students respond to instructor questions using some kind of mobile device (cell phone, smart phone, laptop, tablet) that they bring with them to the classroom. As I mentioned in my interview on the Tech Therapy podcast last month, I see a big future for these kinds of systems, although there are significant roadblocks to their widespread adoption among college and university faculty.

I just finished a webinar with one BYOD response system vendor, the Dutch company Shakespeak, and I thought I would share my initial impressions. I’ll focus more on the technology than the pedagogy here, since the teaching strategies for BYOD response systems and clicker-based response systems are basically the same. A few BYOD systems provide options that open up new kinds of teaching strategies, and I hope to review those systems here on the blog at some point in the future, too.

Instructors using Shakespeak first download an add-on to PowerPoint (or, in the future, Keynote or Prezi) that lets them set up multiple-choice or free-response questions. If they’re expecting fewer than 20 responses per question, Shakespeak is free to use. If more than 20 responses are needed, instructors set up accounts on the Shakespeak website where they can purchase credits. Each credit allows one person to respond to unlimited questions in a single session. So if you’re teaching MWF, you’ll probably need three credits per student per week.

Credits appear to cost about a nickel (US) each, so for a class of, say, 75 students (like my current stats course), that’s about $11 per week or $170 per semester. There’s not a way to charge students directly for using the system (one that would parallel the common practice of having students purchase their own clickers), but it’s easy to set things up so that a group of instructors draw on a shared pool of credits. I can see university IT departments using this feature to support multiple instructors.

One downside of the credit system is that some instructors might be hesitant to use the system for just a couple of questions in a given class session, since that costs just as much as using for many questions in a class session. I wonder if Shakespeak might open up a per-semester payment plan that would deal with this issue.

What Shakespeak really has going for it is that students can respond to questions in any one of three ways: text messaging, Web, or Twitter. Shakespeak doesn’t have a native app for iOS or Android, but since any device with a Web connection will do, there’s no need for an app. In that respect, it’s similar to Poll Everywhere, which also offers SMS, Web, and Twitter response options.

One difference between Shakespeak and Poll Everywhere is that Shakespeak doesn’t have any tools for tracking individual student responses. You can have students include their name in responses to open-ended questions, but that’s about it. That means that you can’t use Shakespeak for quizzing or even class participation scores, which will be a roadblock for many instructors.

When I asked the Shakespeak rep about this, he noted that many students are hesitant to speak up in class when they can be identified by their instructor. Shakespeak is intended to address this problem, and so it provides only anonymous response options. I see his point, but I know that many instructors using clickers find it helpful to put a few points on the line to motivate students to participate. High-stakes grading schemes are usually counterproductive, but having the option to use a low-stakes scheme would be helpful.

Something I liked about Shakespeak was the ability to keep multiple questions open for responses at once. I could pose a general open-ended question (like “Any questions?”) that stays open through a class session, while also asking time-limited, multiple-choice questions as class moves along. In that respect, Shakespeak functions as a backchannel tool, allowing students to initiate (or at least, request to initiate) an interaction with the instructor whenever they like. This is a nice complement to instructor-initiated clicker-style questions.

Shakespeak is used in several universities in the Netherlands, but I don’t think they’ve broken into the US market yet in a significant way. If you’ve used Shakespeak, I would welcome your thoughts on the tool in the comment section.

Image: “What’s in My Backpack,” Thomas, Flickr (CC) – I’m going for the BYOD angle here…

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