Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Q&A tools for schools & universities

If you’re looking for a different way to gather questions from your students, a digital feedback or response tool may do the trick. There are heaps of free tools available that have Q&A features, so in this blog post we recommend four we think are best for schools and universities.

Why would you use a digital Q&A tool? 

- They can encourage participation by students who are normally too shy to speak up. You can make this even easier for them by choosing a tool that provides anonymity.
- They are very useful when dealing with large groups of students (eg. in packed lecture theatres). To start with, they allow you to capture many more questions than the traditional hands-up method. Some tools allow students to vote on questions, letting you prioritise which ones to answer. Even if you don’t get to all the questions, you can review them after class to identify and address gaps in understanding.
- They provide an easy place to track questions. Students don’t need to sit with their hand in the air waiting while you help someone else. They can simply post their question or request for help in the Q&A tool, and you’ll have a ‘queue’ to work through. Again, if you don’t get to everyone during class you’ll know exactly who still needs help.

All of the tools below work on both desktop and mobile devices. All tools have free versions and do not require students to create an account or login.


TodaysMeet is a very simple yet effective tool for sharing messages of up to 140 characters within a private ‘room’. Both teachers and students can use TodaysMeet without signing up. However, it is recommended that teachers and lectures do sign in to get access to the additional room management options.

TodaysMeet is great for collecting questions from a large group of students. It requires minimal setup and has an easy-to-use interface suitable for those with even basic technology skills. Students can choose to use their real name or an anonymous handle. You can moderate content if needed.

A TodaysMeet room can also be embedded into web sites (including Google Sites), blogs and learning management systems (including Blackboard, Moodle, Schoology and Haiku).

You can learn more about TodaysMeet in their help files and this YouTube video.

Note: TodaysMeet Q&A room tool is completely free. They now have an additional paid service called Teacher Tools, however this is not required to use TodaysMeet.


PollEverwhere was one of the first audience participation tools. It supports responses from the web (desktop or mobile) SMS or Twitter. Both teachers and students can use PollEverywhere without signing up. However, it is recommended that teachers and lectures do sign in to get access to additional features (including the ability for students to respond by SMS or Twitter).

To start using PollEverywhere, the teacher/lecturer creates a poll. This poll can be a true/false or multiple choice question, a clickable image or a Q&A/brainstorming session. We’ll focus on the Q&A feature here, but the other question types are also very powerful.

Once questions or responses have been submitted to a Q&A /brainstorming session, students can vote on them. All students remain anonymous unless they choose to sign-in to PollEverywhere. There are a variety of customisation options that allow you to change the look and features of your poll.

PollEverywhere polls can be embedded in a web page or your PowerPoint slides, with the responses shown in real time. Results can also be published on Twitter, on a web page or sent via email.

PollEverywhere is a feature-rich tool, however it does require more effort to setup and use than TodaysMeet. The main limitation of PollEverywhere is that the free education version only allows a maximum of 40 responses per poll (you must select the ‘educator’ option when signing-up to access this plan). This makes it most suitable for smaller groups of students.

You can learn more about PollEverywhere in their user guide and video guide.


GoSoapBox has a variety of features for collecting student feedback and gauging comprehension of material. This includes polls, quizzes, discussions, a ‘Confusion Barometer’ and ‘Social Q&A’. We’ll be focussing on the Q&A feature here, but you might like to check out the other tools too.

GoSoapBox’s Social Q&A lets students submit a question and vote on questions submitted by others. They can also easily reply to other people’s questions, allowing students to help each other. When a student enters a question, they are shown similar questions that have already been asked. This prompts them to vote on a similar question already submitted, rather than create a duplicate.

Teachers and lecturers do need to sign-up to GoSoapBox in order to create an event (a space for a class). Students can participate without signing up. They can choose to use their own name or remain anonymous.

GoSoapBox is free for educators to use with up to 30 students, making it most suitable for smaller classes. Upgrade plans are available for larger cohorts.

You can learn more about GoSoapBox in their help articles, this YouTube video and our blog post.


Padlet is a virtual whiteboard/wall for sharing, brainstorming and Q&A. Students post questions or responses using virtual sticky notes. Images, files and web links can also be posted to a Padlet Wall. Both teachers and students can use Padlet without signing up. However, again, sign-up is recommended for teachers/lecturers. Doing so lets you customise the names of your walls, access extra features and view recent activity across all your walls. 

Compared to tools such as TodaysMeet and GoSoapBox, Padlet is quite unstructured. However, this does give it a more fun and collaborative feel. You can choose to display posts in a free-form view (they’re posted where the student clicks), or in a grid or stream-view. The student’s name is not automatically added to their post.  If you require this, you’ll need to ask them to add it to each post.

Padlets can be made public, private or available via a hidden link. You can customise the look and feel of your Padlet Wall and choose to moderate posts if needed. Padlet posts can be shared with a range of social networks, and walls can be embedded on websites, blogs and in learning management systems.

An unlimited number of people can post to a Padlet Wall simultaneously. The free version of the product has a range of powerful features that will be sufficient for most educators. If greater functionality is required, a paid education edition is now available.

You can learn more about Padlet in their help articles and in this YouTube video.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Schedule time with students using Google Calendar appointment slots

If you often have students visiting your office outside of class time, you’ve probably noticed things can get a bit hectic. Whether it be students queuing in the hallway to ask a question before an assessment, or rushing in while your mid-way through your lunch to get worked signed-off, the timing can often be inconvenient to all involved. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get students to schedule a time with your first? Better yet, one that you have pre-determined to be OK?

The appointment slots feature in Google Calendar can deliver both these things. It lets you nominate specific times in your schedule that other people (such as students or colleagues) can book. Asking students to use this method can eliminate the queues outside your door and make sure you get to eat your lunch uninterrupted.

Appointment slots are also a great way for school and university services to schedule appointments with students. For example, use them to book one-on-one career or course counselling sessions.


Appointment slots are only available to schools or universities who are using G Suite for Education. The slots must be created with a G Suite account, however any Google account can be used to book them.

Create appointment slots

1. Open your Google Calendar.

2. Click in a time slot, or click and drag to select multiple hours. The new event box will open. Click the Appointment slots link.

3. Click Get started with appointment slots.

4. Enter the details of the appointment slots. Use the image below to guide you. Click Save when you’re done.

5. The appointment slots will be scheduled in your calendar as a chunk of time.

Share the booking link

Now that you have created your appointment slots, you need to let your students know how to book an appointment with you. To do this, give your students the link to the calendar’s appointment page. You can find this link by opening the appointment slot in your calendar.


The appointment page shows all your appointment slots. Students can click on their desired time to make a booking.

Here’s a few ideas for sharing the calendar appointment page link with your students:
- Send it via email
- Post it in your class learning management system 
- Include it in a course guide or unit outline
- Stick it on your office door
- Display it during class.

Tip: If the link is going to be displayed on your door, in class or printed in a course guide, you’ll want to shorten the long URL to something easier to type. Use a URL shortener such as or to produce a short URL.

View your bookings

When one of your appointment slots is booked, an individual event for that slot is created in your calendar. It is displayed on-top of the bulk appointment time.

Open the event to view details of the booking, including who has booked it and any notes they have made.

You can edit or cancel the booking just like any other calendar event. This will send an email update to the person who booked the appointment.

Tip: Ask your students to add a note about their reason for wanting to meet with you when they book an appointment slot.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Broaden student research with Google Books

Do you wish your students would broaden their research beyond a Google search? Perhaps visit the library and see what insight books have to offer? It’s easy to understand why many students avoid books. The effort required to consult an index and manually scan pages for relevant information seems like a waste of time compared to the ease of keyword digital searching.

Google Books removes these time consuming hurdles, making the wonderful world of books a searchable resource. This lets students find book titles that feature their keyword(s), view information about that book and in many cases see a snippet or preview of the information within the book. While they usually won’t be able to read a book in its entirety (unless it is out of copyright), then can often read quite a few pages of text. This may be enough to satisfy the student’s research requirement. If not, they can then seek out the book (from a library or online store), confident that it does indeed contain the information they need.

Accessing Google Books

You can find Google Books at You can also find a Books link at the top of Google search results.

Note: You do not need a Google account to access and use Google Books.

Searching for books

1. Enter a search term in the Researching a topic box and click Search Books. A list of search results will be displayed.

2. Click on a search result to see information about the book and a preview (if available).

3. If the book preview is available, use the search box to the left to search for keywords within the book.

Advanced searching

You can filter Google Books search results to only include books with a preview or full text. You can also limit results to a specific century and filter out magazine results.

To filter results:
1. Perform your search.
2. Click the Search tools button at the top of the search results. The different filter options will appear below.

3. To show only books that have a preview or full text, click the Any view button and select Preview and full view.

4. To show only books from a specific century, click the Any time button and select the desired time period.

5. To filter out magazine results, click the Any document button and select Books.

We hope Google Books helps your students broaden their research to the world of books! You now might like to learn more about the Google Books Library Project or visit the Google Books help centre.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Increase feedback with Google Docs suggesting mode

Google Docs are a powerful tool for working together and sharing feedback. The suggesting mode is a great way to enhance this collaboration and feedback process by empowering author(s) of content to accept or reject changes to their work.  This is particularly helpful when collaborating with colleagues who are sensitive about their content. It’s also an excellent way for students to move beyond commenting on others work and into co-creation of material.

About modes

Google Docs has three different modes - editing, suggesting and viewing. By default, a document shared with other editors opens in editing mode. A document shared with viewers opens in viewing mode.

You can switch between the different modes by clicking the button in the top-right corner of the screen. 

Note: Switching modes only applies to your view of the document. If you want everyone in the document to switch modes, you need to ask them to do it individually.

Using suggesting mode

1. Click the Editing button in the top-right corner of the screen.
2. Select Suggesting.
3. Add, edit or remove text in the document. Notice how your changes are presented as suggestions.
4. If required, add a comment to the Reply box to provide explanation for your changes.

Other authors can now review and approve/reject your suggestions. You can also approve, reject or delete your own suggestions. All suggestions are recorded in the Comments stream in Docs.

Tip: If you want all document editors to use suggesting mode, don’t forgot to ask them to switch modes before they start editing.

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