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.
TodaysMeetTodaysMeet 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.
PollEverywherePollEverwhere 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.
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.