Faculty Guest Post: Nearpod as an alternative to PowerPoint

This month’s faculty blogger is Heidi Collins, who is Adjunct Faculty of French in the Department of  French-Francophone-Italian Studies.

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Looking to shake up lectures from the typical Powerpoint and searching for a vehicle that better integrated student response in the presentation, I experimented with Nearpod during the Spring 2016 semester. This app allows an instructor to create a presentation and then push a slide show out to a student’s personal device. Perhaps more importantly, it features built-in activities and quizzes that require the students to interact with the presentation. Student responses from these exercises are available for the teacher to view and subsequently share with the class if they wish. The answers can also be saved and viewed later by the instructor for grading purposes or more in-depth evaluation.

The free version of the application gives you access to the basic features while purchasing the next level opens up more student activity modules. The Nearpod website allows you to create your presentation but the design capabilities are limited. It is easier to create the look you want by creating your slides in Powerpoint, saving them as images, and them placing them in your Nearpod presentation. You can also add activities like open-ended questions, free-draw, and quizzes to your slides. There are numerous Nearpod lessons available for free or a small fee. However, most of these are geared towards secondary school students.

Once you have created and published your presentation, you are ready to use it in class. When you run the presentation, the students will use the code provided to logon to the presentation and will see the individual slides on their own computers or tablets. You can open the application on the classroom computer, but I found it worked better to run the presentation from my iPad and log the classroom computer into the presentation as the students do. This allowed me to project on the big screen what the students were also seeing on their own screens and reference it as we worked.

The first time I used Nearpod with my classes, I requested students bring a laptop, iPad, or other tablet to class with them. While it is possible to view the presentations on a cellphone, the small screen size limits the students’ ability to complete activities. Unfortunately, for a class of 20 students, I only had 4-6 students bring devices with them. This meant that groups of 3-4 students were working together which ultimately led to one or two students being less engaged in the activity. Luckily, TLT allows instructors to check out iPads for classroom use on a short-term basis. Doing this allowed us to have 1-2 students per device which led to greater student participation.

One of the downfalls of the application is that the whole class must stay together. This can be difficult if the students are working on an activity at different rates. In particular, if a student hasn’t submitted a response to a question, once the instructor pushes the next slide, half-finished responses will be lost. To alleviate this problem, I asked students to submit any partial responses when we were ready to move on.

One of the great things about Nearpod is that you can view the students’ responses and choose which ones to show to the entire class. This could allow you to highlight a particularly interesting response or perhaps a response with a common error that you wish to address. When working with grammar, I often prefer to have an incorrect response given instead of a correct one because it creates a teaching moment. However, students often only want to volunteer a response when they are sure it is the correct answer. With Nearpod, every student submits an answer, and I get to decide which ones we should look at together. I’m also able to quickly judge if many students are making the same mistakes.

The free draw activity also lends itself well to the language classroom. I created a lesson in Nearpod on prepositions of location. Using the free draw activity, I gave my students simple commands for drawing a picture. (Draw a girl. Draw a flower next to the girl. Draw a boy behind the flower. Etc.) Everyone was able to draw and then we were able to easily view the students’ drawings as a class and discuss them further in the target language.

Overall, Nearpod worked well to increase active student participation and provided a different way of doing things that helped engage the students. It also forced me to slow down a bit and gave me a better idea of how well the students were keeping up. Additionally, the premium features include being able to assign the presentations as homework which would be interesting to try as part of an online course.