Friday, September 26, 2008

tt4t_056 Google Forms, a free alternative to clickers in the classroom?

It’s Friday, September 26th, 2008 and welcome to episode 56 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. The incredible fast pace of technological change continues and I am still on my quest to find affordable technologies that the average school can implement easily. I keep finding myself returning to tools that I have used before and finding new methods for their use. At the beginning of this semester I setup a Google Form to collect some information from my students about their technological abilities that I had typically used as a paper form in the past.

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Although I have used traditional clickers in the past to collect this information the clicker technology is still not as convenient as paper. There is still a bit of a hassle factor in setting up the clicker questions and getting them to work in the classroom. The paper method of collecting this information has worked great for me in the past as I have had a small number of students in each class. The data from the completed paper forms can be entered into a spreadsheet with just a little effort. Yes, it is a pain to enter the data but if the numbers are small it is easily doable. If the numbers are larger then you might want to go the clicker route. The biggest advantage of the paper method of collecting this information is that it is 100 percent reliable and easy to do, something that technological solutions sometimes have a problem with.

So at what point do the advantages of using technologies trump the old-fashioned tried and true methods? That is a question every teacher must answer for themselves. The end result is what is important and there are often many paths to get there, however, some are more efficient than others. The average teacher will not select a technological solution unless there is a high degree of probability of success AND the technology must be readily available AND easy to use AND only if there are advantages to the technological solution. All four conditions must be met before the technology solution becomes common practice, otherwise why bother?

I was recently watching a Common Craft video called, Twitter in Plain English, that reminded me of a story that illustrates this point. Way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth I was teaching a high school class and was developing a newsletter for Thanksgiving. If I am not mistaken I think I was using a program called Print Shop from Broderbund to create this newsletter and believe it or not this program is still around after all these years. I was limited with the tool of choice but was determined to use it. I was looking for a graphic image of a turkey and the graphical selections at the time for 8-bit graphics were pretty poor. I should have found a nice line drawing of a turkey and used the copy machine to make a copy and then used scissors to cut it out to glue it on my newsletter the old-fashioned way but I did not.

At the time I created this newsletter getting out the scissors and glue actually did cross my mind but I elected to go the all technology route and used one of the included images that came with Print Shop, even if the 8-bit turkey graphic looked like a square blob. It really did not look that good but I was using technology in the classroom even if the technological result was not up to par with the real world. I was proud that I created a newsletter and that I used a computer to do it. The irony was that I ended up and used the copier anyway to make copies from my computer generated newsletter.

Back then desktop publishing on a Personal Computer was new and exciting for the average teacher. Using a desktop publishing system freed us from the previous technological limitations at the time, in this case an IBM Selectric Typewriter. Suddenly we could change the font type and size, add graphics, and produce materials just like newspapers and magazines did even if the finished results were not completely up to professional standards. It was new and fun. Over time the technology evolved and today we do not even give a second thought about desktop publishing because it is so common place.

Now back to the Common Craft Plain English series of videos that started this reminiscence. A trademark of the Common Craft series is that they use hand-drawn cut-outs to tell a story using video. The Plain English series does not lose sight of the end result for the purpose of the video which is to explain a complicated concept in a clear and concise way. They do so very effectively by combining old-fashioned cut and paste (and I literally mean cut and paste) with You Tube style video productions that have been viewed by millions of people. Lee LeFever and the gang at Common Craft can do this on a popcorn budget yet use the technology components to their advantage. Too often we educators try to kill flies with sledge hammers in trying to solve a problem. The Common Craft videos offer a simple and elegant solution that meet the end objective effectively and efficiently.

Which brings me to the use of Google Forms as a substitute for clickers in the classroom. First let’s begin with the end in mind. The purpose of clicker technology is to collect information from students quickly and easily. What you do with the information collected varies depending upon the learning objectives. Clickers do excel in collecting multiple-choice type data and are efficient in displaying aggregate data. Individual results can also be analyzed if the teacher decides to do so.

Google Forms can also be used to collect information from students as an alternative to clickers. Two means to an end, so which should you choose? The answer of course depends upon the end result you want to achieve. In many cases having students simply raise their hand to questions will suffice but there are also advantages to technological solutions. The advantages of the technological solutions will never be grasped by the teacher unless they know about and consider them.

There are many good companies making clickers for classroom use but there is a cost associated with using clicker technology. You have the initial cost of the clickers themselves, you typically have to install client software, teachers often need training in how to use the software, and there is also a technology staff component that adds to support costs. All of this adds up to time, money, and energy to implement.

Clickers do make a lot of sense when you are trying to provide a low-cost device for each student to “vote” in real-time. The other advantage to clickers is that they can be assigned to individual students and the clicker results to questions can be analyzed for each student, often in real-time. Many clicker manufacturers offer the ability to project an aggregate response chart immediately after individual “voting”. This aggregate data can often surprise even the most seasoned teacher and offer the sobering reality that the students do not “get it” when used as a check for understanding is used after teaching a concept. This aggregate data can also offer some valuable data for classroom discussions but pedagogical choices are often the most important component in directing these discussions, something that is often over-looked even when using clickers. So be sure to match pedagogy with the technology, the technology does not substitute for the pedagogy.

Some clicker systems do have the ability to enter text information but most are simple keypads that offer the student a choice of A, B, C, or D for multiple-choice style questions. When used in this synchronous mode all students are doing the same thing at the same time. Some clicker manufacturers offer a clicker unit that allows the student to take the clicker home and enter their choices for homework assignments but most are designed to be used in real-time. Many clicker systems also allow you the ability to give a quiz and have it automatically graded. If the teacher chooses to tie a clicker identification number to a particular student this could be used for attendance tracking as well as automatically grading quizzes.

So let’s take a look at how Google Forms can help a teacher with similar needs for gathering information from students. I have used Google Forms in a synchronous mode but I admit that I have had the luxury of teaching in a computer lab that has Internet access and this has worked well for me so far. You could also use a laptop from a wireless mobile computer cart if your school is lucky enough to have access to one that can be checked out like the ITC has available here at EIU.

I have also used Google Forms asynchronously with great success. Instead of having students all respond to the same question at the same time why not assign a homework assignment and have students complete a Google Form on their own time? This stretches the walls of the classroom and the teacher still has the benefit of collecting the data and having it automatically entered into a spreadsheet through Google Forms for later analysis. This asynchronous ability is a major benefit over most of the products from many clicker manufacturers today.

Here are two other advantages that I have found with Google Forms as a clicker substitute so far. First, currently the people you are sending the form to do not have to have a gmail account to participate. I can email my students, many of which do not have gmail accounts, using their existing EIU email accounts so they can participate, all I do is share the URL for the appropriate Google Form in the email I send them. Secondly, Google Forms supports text fields so this frees you to collect information beyond the standard A, B, C, and D multiple-choice type questions that most clicker systems use. Once the person you sent the form to answers all the questions and presses the Submit button their information is automatically entered into a Google spreadsheet with all the information along with a date and timestamp entry. Google Forms make it easy to create multiple-choice questions by using a pull-down menu system so you can have the best of both worlds, oh and did I mention all of this is free from Google Forms!

For the audience participation part of this show I have provided an embedded Google Form in this episodes show notes, episode 56, so you can see an example Google Form in action. Please feel free to answer the questions to the TechTalk4Teachers Poll. Note that this will most likely be temporary and will probably be deactivated in the future so give it a try now. This example gives you multiple-choice, pull-down menus, and a free text box for entering data. You will not see the data as this embedded form is just for data collection, but if the creator of the Google Form chooses to they can share the completed spreadsheet with others once “voting” is over. Actually if you share the spreadsheet data you can do so in real-time and others can see up-to-the-minute results as people complete the form. So sharing the results is possible but this is a choice for the creator of the form.

In addition to Google Forms there are other choices that can be substituted for traditional clicker systems. Poll Everywhere is a Web 2.0 service that can take advantage of the texting capabilities of cell phones. Checkout the Technology Pick of the Week for episode 44 of TechTalk4Teachers if you are interested in using your cell phones texting capability as a substitute for clickers. A link is in the show notes for more info about Polleverywhere.

Poll Everywhere

The only caveat, as with all Web 2.0 tools, is that you follow the Terms of Service and administrative policies and rules for your organization when using these types of technologies. Sometimes Web 2.0 services may be blocked at school and you will need administrative approval and possibly help from your technology department to implement once approved.

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I have selected the Common Craft Plain English series of videos as my Technology Pick of the week. I have used selected videos in the past in the TechTalk4Teachers blog and Lee and Sachi LeFever do a great job in explaining complicated technology concepts in a clear and concise way using their own easily identifiable presentation style. A link is provided in the show notes to the Common Craft website as this weeks Technology Pick of the Week.

Common Craft Videos

I have also provided an embedded video of Twitter in Plain English in the TechTalk4Teachers blog if you would like to get an overview of Twitter. Since I have mentioned Twitter several times in recent episodes be sure to check it out and see what all the hype is about. If you so choose to create a Twitter account be sure to follow me at

As a bonus Technology Pick of the Week I would like to mention a brand new product now in beta testing. Google released a beta version of a new tool this week that is related to our clicker topic today and offers another method for teachers and others needing a way for people to “vote” on a question. This may have more administrative applications right now but I also foresee educational uses. The name of the application is called Google Moderator and a link is provided in the show notes.

Google Moderator Beta

Google Blog article on Moderator

I have just begun to explore this tool and the one thing I do not like so far is that it appears that you must have a Google account to use this tool. This is not a problem if everyone in your organization has a Google account but most do not. Beyond that restriction Google Moderator looks like it will be a hit for users wanting a quick way to tally votes on a question accessible from anywhere in the world.

That wraps it up for episode 56 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. To leave a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, September 19, 2008

tt4t_055 You don’t need an iPod to listen to my show

It’s Friday, September 19th, 2008 and welcome to episode 55 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week I have been having a conversation with some of the folks in my Twitter network that has got me to reflect on the current state of podcasting for educational use. What started this reflection was a statistic I saw from my Twitter network that stated only 18 percent of Americans have ever listened to a podcast. More dejecting was the statistic that 63 percent of Americans have never heard of podcasting. How can this be with over 100 million iPods sold?

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The answer may have something to do with the unfortunate naming of the term podcasting itself that is wrongly synonymous with many people thinking they have to have an iPod in order to listen to a podcast. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, 71 percent of people that listen to a podcast today listen using their desktop/laptop computer according to a recent study. That’s nearly 3 out of every 4 people that listen to a podcast listen using their computer and not an iPod.

Being an educator I wanted to find a reliable source to backup this claim rather than repeat statistics that may or may not be true. Companies often spin statistics for their own benefit and things can easily get lost and misrepresented in the marketing hype.

If you are interested in this study a link is provided in the show notes to a report from Edison Media Research called The Podcast Consumer Revealed - 2008 that was released in April of this year.

The report gives, in my opinion, a dim view on the progress that podcasting has made over the past three years. In 2005, the term podcast was named Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary and the future looked bright.

Podcast - Word of the Year, 2005

So why haven’t podcasts made more progress? I think there are several reasons.

Contrary to popular opinion you do not need an iPod to listen to a podcast. The smart listeners of TechTalk4Teachers already know this but the general public seems to still have this misperception. While the term podcast has been a great marketing tool for Apple the facts are that less than 20 percent of Americans have ever listened to a podcast. I have found this statistic is also unfortunately true for many college students that I have informally polled. Podcasting educators are trying to change this statistic for our students by promoting educational uses for podcasts like TechTalk4Teachers but given a choice many college students still prefer to use their iPods and MP3 players to listen to music instead of listening to educational podcasts, imagine that.

Since most podcasts are free there has been little promotion by the media and corporations to raise awareness of the general public. In fact, free podcasts often compete with products from the major media companies.

So it appears we educators have a lot of work ahead of us in using podcasts as an educational tool for our students. In 2006 the musical group called Uncle Seth put together a catchy tune titled, "You Don’t Need an iPod” that they have generously licensed under the Creative Commons license. There is an embedded You Tube video to the music video for this song in the TechTalk4Teachers blog if you would like to watch.

I have also provided a link to the website where you can download this song for free as an MP3 file and I have provided the attribution information in the show notes as well. This band made this song podcaster friendly back in the days when podcasting was on a less commercial trajectory. Uncle Seth got a lot of publicity from this song by podcasters and now the band also offers other songs for sale. This arrangement was a win-win for the podcasting community and the band. So let’s take a listen to a Public Service Announcement from the Canadian band Uncle Seth, here is You Don’t Need an iPod to Listen to My Show.

Uncle Seth Podcast Public Service Announcement Attribution:
• Credit to the band Uncle Seth
• John C. Havens of the Guide To Podcasting as co-writer,

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I would like to do something a little bit different and link to an article from a recent PC Magazine article called Ten MP3 players – All under $150, a link is provided in the show notes.

Ten MP3 players – All under $150,2817,2329508,00.asp

This article gives you an overview of some of the MP3 player choices out there with the lowest cost being the $39.00 Samsung Pebble. I have also purchased other low cost USB Flash drives with MP3 playback abilities in the past for under $20.00 One nice thing about the low-cost MP3 players is that you do not need to worry so much about losing or breaking the device but the quality does vary from brand to another. You also can make your budget dollars go further and students can have more opportunity to take home an inexpensive device without the teacher worrying about loss of breakage as much.

I am now trying out the Kanguru 2GB flash drive with a built-in MP3 player and have seen these players advertised for under $30.00 The nice thing about a combo unit like this is that you can store your data files and MP3 files all on one device. One negative is that many of the cheaper models use a AAA battery that usually only last about a one day of playing time so investing in some rechargeable batteries is a must.

One reason I have kept the TechTalk4Teachers show in a mostly audio format is that I began listening to podcasts before they were even called podcasts. In the 1990’s streaming media was the technology du jour and there were online radio style shows for all subject areas. That heritage led to podcasting as the technology evolved. The biggest benefit to the audio format is that I can listen to podcasts and do other things at the same time. I typically listen to podcasts while I am driving, exercising, or doing other things so the multi-tasking component helps make me more productive throughout the day. I love to learn new things and by being selective in the podcasts that I listen to I am constantly updating my knowledge and skills in an effort to keep up the hyper-change we all experience as citizens of the 21st Century.

So if you do not have an iPod do not let that stop you from listening to podcasts, as Uncle Seth says 68% listen to podcasts from their computers in 2006. Today that has not changed that much with Edison Media Research reporting that 71% listen from their computers in 2008.

That wraps it up for episode 55 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. To leave a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

tt4t_054 Web 2.0 and Deeper Meaning

It’s Saturday, September 13th, 2008 and welcome to episode 54 of TechTalk4Teachers I’m Tom Grissom. Last week I mentioned the Web 2.0 application called Wordle as my Technology Pick of the Week. Many times we teachers get excited to find new tools that offer something a little different for the classroom.

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Wordle is one of those applications that is really neat on the surface but teachers need to go beyond the novelty and cool factor to address instructional objectives in the curriculum. Since this is an election year I thought it would be interesting to see how Wordle interpreted word clouds for the recent convention speeches of Presidential candidates Barak Obama and John McCain.


I am sure some enterprising social studies teachers have already tried this out but I found the results intriguing. Teachers are often criticized for asking low-level recall questions of students. Having students either create their own word cloud from the Presidential candidate speeches or having students make their own interpretations of the actual Wordle word cloud results could offer a wonderful lesson in using higher order thinking skills. This would require the introduction of Wordle and a few examples to setup this learning activity but this use of Wordle will actively engage students studying the US Presidential election.

A similar activity could be designed for any subject area. Getting students to think and dig a little deeper into the meaning of a subject area is a goal of every teacher. Using Web 2.0 applications can help us with this goal but only if appropriate learning activities are designed on the front end to be used in conjunction with the tools that addresses the needs of the curricula.

I have posted pictures of the results of the Wordle word cloud translation in the TechTalk4Teachers blog of the acceptance speeches from the Republican and Democratic conventions recently held in the U.S. See if you can guess which Wordle picture is from Barak Obama’s speech and which picture is from John McCain’s speech. I think you will be surprised by the results.

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I would like to challenge users of digital photo editors with a computer application that simulates the creative process for making collages from a group of pictures. Computers are becoming more and more powerful and while they have easily handled straight forward mathematical calculations since their invention the algorithms are getting more and more sophisticated and are now heavily treading on the creative processes of humans. So much so that it is getting difficult to determine computer generated creativity from human generated creativity.

The Microsoft Research Lab has been very busy this past year churning out several impressive applications. From the Worldwide telescope project earlier this year to the recent Photosynth and Sphere projects Microsoft Labs have been busy applying technologies in new and innovative ways.

Worldwide Telescope


Microsoft Sphere Multi-touch Display

This week I would like to introduce you to an application that provides a method to automatically create a photo collage from a group of pictures. This application has a free 30 day trial version for download but does have a cost of $19.95 if you would like to purchase it. The name of the application is AutoCollage and a link is provided in the show notes.


Many times I have found the need to make a collage from several photographs for use on a website. While I can create collages using Photoshop, the process can be time intensive and tedious, enter AutoCollage. I have an example posted in the TechTalk4Teachers blog of an AutoCollage image using this application from several photographs I took this spring of flowers. Creating this collage is literally as easy as selecting the photos and clicking on the Create AutoCollage button. Pretty impressive and as easy as clicking a button.

There are many Web 2.0 applications that are beginning to make creative decisions to produce a final product without human intervention. Services such as Animoto that will automatically make a movie for you complete with a sound track and custom transitions. There are also many other examples where computers are increasingly making the creative process easier for humans.


The question is can we still call this creativity if the machine is making the decisions for us? This is an interesting question as 21st Century learning standards are placing an emphasis on creativity. I do worry that our students are becoming the victims of a lot of techno-flash with little substance. Cutting through the hype to get to the substance is increasingly a challenge. So the next time you begin that multimedia project be sure to ask yourself what the instructional objectives are first. Is it to produce a cool multimedia extravaganza with all kinds of bells and whistles worthy of MTV, or is there actually some content and deeper meaning behind the designed activities? Teachers should always favor the latter even though students often favor the former.

That wraps it up for episode 54 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. To leave a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

tt4t_053 The Mini Laptop Competition Heats Up

It’s Saturday, September 6th, 2008 and welcome to Episode 53 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week has witnessed more news on the mini laptop / netbook front as Dell has now entered this arena with its own entry. The Dell mini 9 netbook comes in three versions and all are under $500. There are also rumors that Michael Dell may have something in the works that will offer a subsidized deal on netbooks in the future that could also offer broadband Internet access in a package deal. Several links are provided in the show notes to more information about the Dell mini 9 netbook. The Dell netbook will definitely be competition to the ASUS eee PC’s and other netbook competitors as this category of laptops is getting crowded.

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Dell Inspiron mini 9

The first article in the show notes is about a european story where the Dell mini has built in wireless and 3G access with service provider Vodaphone.

A similar rumor here in the United States from an updated Gizmodo article states that the Dell mini is described as having built-in 3G wireless. The models pricing ranges from $349 to $449 and models are currently available in either white or black and offered with a choice of Linux or Windows XP Home operating systems.

To make matters even more exciting there is a special deal going on until September 9, 2008 according to an article that cites Dell’s own blog as the source, where you can get a Dell mini netbook for only $99 if you buy another Dell Studio 15, XPS M1530 or XPS M1330 laptop from Dell. A link to this article is also provided in the show notes.

Michael Dell has also been in the blog rumor mill with a possible subsidized netbook similar to the European Vodaphone deal coming to the states.

Reading between the lines I think it is possible that we may see a subsidized version of the Dell netbook in the near future. This would be great as I am currently in the market for a wireless broadband card from my carrier, Verizon, but just haven’t been able to pull the trigger and buy a two year contract, especially since there is a 5GB bandwidth cap. If Dell’s netbook is subsidized by Verizon and say the cost of the mini laptop goes down to less than $100 for the netbook itself then I will really be tempted buy an offer like that. Of course Verizon would also win because they would get the revenue from a two year data service contract. Who knows if any of this speculation will come true but I do think that having broadband Internet access on a netbook makes a lot of sense. I just hope it can be affordable.

One trend that I do not like in the Internet Service Provider area is that of capping bandwidth usage and limiting bandwidth availability. The Internet has been a great equalizer in many cases but there seems to be a recent trend of capping bandwidth usage. A 5GB monthly bandwidth limit may not seem like a lot but for a family with three or four Internet users this could be regularly reached. Comcast has also recently set a 250GB monthly bandwidth cap for users of its high-speed Internet service.

If bandwidth becomes a pay-as-you-go model then the digital divide will certainly increase. I am really getting worried about this new business model that seems to be on the rise. It will certainly have educational implications for schools that can consume massive amounts of bandwidth.

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

I have a couple of entries for my Technology Pick of the Week this week. My first pick is a fun little Web 2.0 application called Wordle. This application has been around for some time now but I ran across it again the other day and many teachers are crazy over this application. Wordle allows you to paste a block of text and the Wordle application will analyze the text and make a Web 2.0ish word cloud out of it.


I used Wordle to make a word cloud from the transcript text of last week’s TechTalk4Teachers Episode 52. I have a couple pictures of the results in this episodes TechTalk4Teachers blog entry so be sure to check it out.

The second pick of the week is a revisit of Google Docs applications. At the beginning of the semester I usually poll my students about their knowledge on tech ability and applications. Rather than use a piece of paper this week I used the Google Forms feature of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. The form was very easy to setup and once I had the form created I emailed my students the link to the form. Since I teach a computer lab class I had my students use this form in class. I have to admit I was a little skeptical that is would work because I had approximately 20 students using this form all at the same time. Much to my amazement it worked and best of all the students answers were automatically inserted into a Google Spreadsheet. A link is provided in the show notes to an article from Google’s blog about Google Forms.

I would not recommend collecting or placing confidential or proprietary data into the Google Docs family of applications or other Web 2.0 services just yet but for many tasks Google Forms may be a legitimate option for collecting information.

That wraps it up for this anniversary episode 53 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. To leave a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.