The answer to interactive lectures with #iPads? Thoughts on @Nearpod. #uoleeds_tech #edtech #elearning #lrnchat

The answer to interactive lectures with #iPads? Thoughts on @Nearpod. #uoleeds_tech #edtech #elearning #lrnchat

Why this may be relevant to you: if you are looking for innovative ways to make the most of the iPads you already have acquired for learning and teaching, or if the one thing holding you back from joining the tablet-using teacher community worldwide is because you’d like your students to use them for more than note-taking, 3D model spinning, or crazy bird throwing, this post will walk you through a very new and extremely cool app – Nearpod – which allows some pretty awesome interactive sessions to happen between you and your students.

Several colleagues at my University have been asking me recently what their options are in terms of using iPads or any other tablets for more engaging face-to-face sessions with their students. While I was going through the options with them, it occurred to me that I’ve seen that questions been thrown about quite often – not always with satisfactory answers -, and therefore I’ve decided it warrants a couple of blog posts: this one on one specific tool (Nearpod), and another one shortly on alternatives. I’ll try and keep this short and relevant, as there’s quite a lot to talk about.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Following the publishing of this post, in true super friendly and speedy Nearpod style, Guido (@GuidoNearpod on Twitter) has been in touch with some clarifications and corrections which I have included in the relevant places below. They are extremely useful and relate to Intellectual Property Rights of content creators, accessibility, and even local hosting of Nearpod (yep, you’ve read it right!) Thanks a lot, Guido!

What is Nearpod?

It’s an iPad app which uses a wireless network (or the Web, to be more precise and I’ll explain why in a minute) to enable teachers to send presentations to their students’ iPads, set interactive tasks and display static content, but also videos. If you have been in education a while, you may remember a tool called NetSupportSchool which is still available and which allows you to take control of computers in labs, for instance, to share your screen, ask questions, share the student’s screens with everyone else in the room, and control what your students are using their machines for.

While Nearpod is not that sophisticated yet (for instance, there is nothing stopping students coming out of the app on their iPad), and the screensharing functionality is not there yet (all that can be shared is the lecturer’s presentation, the students’ answers to questions, and their annotations/drawings over set teaching material), I have to say I found Nearpod to be a very good solution for putting quite a bit of interactivity back into the classroom, as well as not relying on projectors, room speakers, and suitable ambient light to get content across to students.

I tested it with about twelve of our University of Leeds Learning Technologists about three weeks ago (apologies for the delay in getting this to you, I also ran an awesome Fourth European Articulate Conference in the meantime) and this is the story of how it performed.

Personal highlights

For those in a hurry, these things caught my eye and made me stop and give Nearpod a pretty thorough run:

  • the ability to send interactive presentations to one’s students over the Web/wireless network
  • the ability to allow students to draw (yep, you’ve read right!) on their iPads, and for the teacher to see all the drawings the share if appropriate some of these drawings with the rest of the class. Imagine what you can do with this if you are showing diagrams/maps/scans to your students on a regular basis – you can ask them to highlight why they are relevant to the session instead of you building PowerPoint animations to show them (just one idea out of many I have for this most excellent feature).
  • the ability to provide reasonably rich feedback to one’s students in the class
  • the ability to send useful reports to the teacher after the session: Excel files with how the students did during the class (of course, provided there are interactive tasks and quizzes in the session, or the report will be rather short and useless…)

Content authoring

As I’ve said, Nearpod is not strictly speaking a screen-sharing tool. You have to import/build/enhance your content on the Nearpod website if your account allows you to – I was fortunate to have been following the release of the tool for a few weeks and, when it was out, I requested a free upgrade to a content-creator account and the very responsive folks at Nearpod sorted me out very quickly with an upgrade from Basic to Silver. At the time of writing the offer is still on, so be quick!

Personally, I am still working on some alarm bells which started ringing when I saw that I had to build all my content on the Nearpod website, publish it there and keep it there, too (there are no downloads as this solution at the moment is dependent on the connection to the Nearpod cloud). Am I giving up my Intellectual Property Rights? Will institutions (especially European ones, given the copyright/IPR/Safe Harbour Framework discussions) choose to work with Nearpod until such issues are clarified? Not sure, but I wanted to see how capable the tool was before even looking at dealing with the legal bits.

Guido: Important clarification.  you are absolutely not giving any IP rights to anyone. That is very clear in our terms of use. Users are owners (and responsible) for any material they publish in Nearpod. Many cloud authoring tools work like this (Google Docs, Slide Share, Prezi, etc). 

Dragos: apologies, Guido, I should have checked more and thank you so much for the clarification on this really important point.

So: to create your Nearpod presentation, you can import PDF files (which can also be interpreted as uneditable PowerPoint files saved as PDFs) or images from your local machine, or you can add as many of the Nearpod’s own activities as you wish: Polls, Q&A slides, Quizzes (which allow you to combine several question types into one quiz), Videos (as long as they are in .mp4 format and no bigger than 20MB), and Draw It activities where you can choose a canvas (or you can leave it blank) and ask your students to draw over it.

Nearpod web presentation edit - Add slide options

Nearpod web presentation edit – Add slide options

Content delivery and consumption

In order to run a Nearpod interactive session, everyone needs to get the iPads out and work with them. There is no PC-based alternative solution running in parallel: it’s all happening on the tablets.

So some of you will be asking right about now: well, what if we also want these presentations on the projector in the class, not just the students’ iPads (maybe not all of them have one…). If that’s what you want, you have two pretty solid solutions and one experimental one as far as I’m concerned:

  1. one wired, involving connecting your iPad to the projector cable;
  2. one wireless, through the latest Apple TV which will hook up to the projector provided the letter has an HDMI input and will allow you to roam freely in the room presenting to your heart’s content everything you want on your iPad.
  3. the experimental solution is to investigate some of Panasonic’s latest wireless projectors which, through a dedicated iPad app, are said to project not just one iPad in a room, but up to 9 if memory serves me right – more details in the next blog post.

Getting back to Nearpod: users cannot broadcast presentations to students unless they “publish” them on the Nearpod website after editing them (no text editing available, so make sure your PDF of your PowerPoint is faultless). However, once published, these presentations cannot be edited any more – what you can do is duplicate the chosen presentation, edit it, and then publish it again for a different session with slightly different content. Worth bearing in mind as the Silver account free upgrade only allows 10 presentations, so plan your testing carefully.

Session interaction

I, together with the colleagues who were in the room at the time, found the features of Nearpod to be very well thought-out indeed. However, rather than write them all down, I figured a picture is worth a lot of words, so here is an annotated slideshow of my test presentation both from the lecturer’s point of view, and the student’s, too.

Verdict:

  • from an accessibility point of view, neither you nor your students can pinch and zoom, so make sure text is big enough on the slides.

Guido: students can actually pinch and zoom on any image that is not interactive. 

  • from a data protection point of view, only teachers need to create accounts on the Nearpod website and then store their content there; the students can make up whatever login name they want – of course, that’s ok if you don’t want to do any serious tracking of their performance for continuous monitoring purposes… if you do, asking students to create accounts on servers outside of the EU without going through all the legal implications with your institution’s legal advisor would be a bit adventurous.

Guido: as many other cloud companies do, we outsource all of our storage with Amazon Web Services, which is one of the most secure and scalable platforms that exist.  For large institutions that have very strict policies against cloud computing, we can also offer to set up Nearpod running in their local servers, so they’d be responsible for all security and storage.

Dragos: now that is one very, very exciting prospect. Having Nearpod installed locally will attract a lot of interest, I am sure. 

  • some folks got excited about being able to Tweet the PIN to their session, and then others from all over the globe could join in. My reservation is that they would join in indeed, but unless the slides and activities had been designed to be as intuitive and explicit as having the teacher in the same room, using Nearpod for this would be silly (plus, notice the name: Nearpod :))
  • all that being said, when it comes to the actual interaction and tool features, I think Nearpod is one fine app. It is responsive, it offers quite a lot already and I’ve just seen a tweet from Nearpod fan @ProfSMolineux that more features are on their way.

Nearpod doesn’t have many rivals at the moment (although I will talk about it again in my next post in the context of more established online conferencing tools like Adobe Connect Mobile), but at the moment it’s slick enough and has a motivated very team behind that has the potential to take it to some really exciting places from an educational point of view.

I hope this has been a useful taster of what Nearpod has to offer. Let me know what you thought of these ideas, check out Nearpod, get in touch with the team on Twitter… gosh, you’ll have an even busier schedule now 😉

Thanks:  I am really grateful to my colleague @_KirstenT for her patience when working with Nearpod after our successful University of Leeds Learning Technologists evaluation to get all the screen-grabs you have seen in the slideshow.

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