Poll ‘Em Everywhere

Do you ever look out at your class and see students checking email, text messaging, or simply sleeping?  Let’s be honest, library instruction has the potential to be a bit boring.  Why not spice it up and make it more interactive with Poll Everywhere?  Give your students a fun option for in-class participation using their own cell phones.  Poll Everywhere has two main types of polls: multiple choice and free text.  The choices in multiple choice polls are set up by the instructor on the Poll Everywhere website and voted on via text message by the students.  Like American Idol, your students can “vote” by simply texting a number or a keyword to a designated phone number.    This type of poll could be used as a quick quiz to gauge student engagement or it could be used to provoke class discussion.  The free text poll allows an instructor to ask a question and for students to text in their free text answers.  This could be a great way to brainstorm keywords or to get feedback or answer questions that students might feel uncomfortable to ask.  This could be especially for encouraging shy students to participate in discussions.  Both poll types update in real time without much of a delay.

Poll Everywhere has a variety of pricing options from free to $1400 a month (http://www.polleverywhere.com/plans).  Their free version includes up to 30 responses per poll which could work for some classroom settings.  For $15 a month you can bring that up to 50 responses.  Both versions require participants to text in a number rather than a keyword, which could get confusing.  For $65 a month, instructors can choose the keywords that students text for their answers.

In general, I think Poll Everywhere could be a great (possibly free) alternative to clickers in the classroom setting.  My only concern would be the cost to students.  While many of our students have unlimited text message plans, some do not.  Poll Everywhere does have one workaround;  students can choose to vote via a website instead.  This would, of course, only work in computer classrooms or for those who have unlimited data plans on their phones.    I think that as long as the activity is not required, it could be a great tool for any kind of classroom or even presentation setting.

Andy Burkhardt at Champlain College wrote on his experience using Poll Everywhere for library instruction back in October on his blog.  Check it out here: http://andyburkhardt.com/2010/10/25/poll-everywhere-in-library-instruction/

Hope to see/ meet many of you at the ACRL conference this week!


“It’s just a modern day communication device…”

With the recent release of the 2009 edition of the Horizon Report, the definition of emerging technologies must be redefined, refocused, or at least re-evaluated. This new report, along with a discussion I attended in Denver, has prompted me to write about a not-so-new technology: cell phones. Or, as the Horizon Report calls them, mobiles. The reason behind this name-change is that these devices are much more than just phones; these devices allow you to “take pictures, record audio and video, store data, music, and movies, and interact with the Internet” from almost anywhere at any point in time.1 So, while the cell phone has been around for awhile, these mobile devices are rather new, but are creeping up on those of us in higher education more quickly than those old cell phones did 10 years ago or so.

“So why should I care if someone’s phone can take pictures and whatnot?”

Well, they could be taking a picture of you, so look your best. But, more importantly, mobile devices are a new and increasingly popular gateway to the world of information that is out there. As a library, it is important for us to make sure that the information we feel is necessary for students is accessible through these devices. This means websites, library catalogs, and tutorials should be built with mobile devices in mind. There is a great article on A List Apart to get you started thinking mobilely. (I think I just created a new adverb!)

“I just put my website up! I’m not going to change it now, so why else should I care?”

Mobile devices, like their legacy predecessors, are used for communication. Phone calls, text messages, and emails are no longer emerging methods of communication, but our methods of dealing with these communication forms have yet to emerge. Reference desks can take advantage of AOL’s integration of text messaging into their instant message interface. Library patrons can send a text to 246246 with “send tucookchat” at the beginning of the message, and it will be received at the reference desk (e.g. “send tucookchat are there any free computers on the 3rd floor”).

Library Tours
Museums have been offering guided audio tours of their collections for years. Why can’t this work for libraries too? Using a service like Guide By Cell, llibraries can provide their patrons with information about the library and offer help for commonly asked questions, like “How does this string of letters and numbers help me find a book?” Dartmouth is offering this service already.

Clickers (student response systems) are all the rage in library instruction right now: active learning and instant feedback – a match made in heaven! An emerging technique is to use mobile devices as a clicker. Students can text their answer, the data is compiled, and instantaneously produced into meaningful results. Platforms for this type of interaction are being developed by researchers like SMSRS Research and companies like Turning Technologies. Of course, if you have a twitter (find out more about twitter) account you can collect feedback from students via their mobile devices right now. To text to someone’s twitter account, simply send a text to 40404 with “@username” at the begninning of the message (e.g. “@mulcahey99 you have the coolest screen name ever!”). Of course, your students will need to have a twitter account too…

This leads me to my caveat for all of this. We sometimes assume that every student who walks through our doors is a user of the latest technologies, has their own cell phone, sends texts to their friends, and knows more about computers than we do. While this may be mostly accurate, it is not always the case, so it is important to consider (especially for instruction) how to involve those who may not be as technologically inclined. Schools like Abilene Christian University are accounting for this by distributing iPhones to all freshmen.

As more universities follow in Abilene Christian’s footsteps, mobile devices will become more and more prevalent on our campuses, not just for communication but in the classroom and in the library.

(And for those who haven’t seen it, the title of this post is a reference to Steve Martin’s “L.A. Story” – best movie ever.)

1 Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Twitter the night away

Everybody always asks me what the point of twitter is, and I rarely have the ability to support its existence. So, I decided to look into it a little more…

For those unaware, twitter is a service/application commonly used for micro-blogging. How does this differ from blog-blogging? Well, like the name suggests, it’s shorter. Rather than long-winded entries (like this one), twitter users give short messages (limited to 140 characters) about what they are doing, thinking, observing, or anything else they’d like to share. These are called “tweets”.

Tell the world what you're doing!

Tell the world what you are doing!

So far, so good? Okay. Tweets can be sent to twitter from your cell phone, PDA, or non-mobile computing device in a variety of different ways. Each “tweeter” (n. one who tweets) can “follow” other tweeters, building a complex network of tweeters tweeting on twitter. Other tweeters may be your friends, politicians, celebrities, random folk, or a group of some sort (hint, hint). Tweets can be directed to an individual or the entire twitterdom. If one so wishes to follow you, they can view your tweets from http://twitter.com, or they can receive your updates as a text message on their cell phone (an opt-in service, so it’s only there if you want it to be).

A list of tweets from my fellow tweeters

A list of tweets from my fellow tweeters

So what can twitter offer to the library world?
Lots of libraries, universities, and corporations are already using twitter to market their services. UIUC’s Undergraduate Library operates under the name “askundergrad“, providing information about campus and library events, services, and resources. In fact, Towson University has a twitter profile and so does The Towerlight. Your tweets can also be connected to your website as I’ve done with my tweets. Twitter is just one more way to broadcast the library’s message to the world.


I think there’s more that it can be used for:

  • reference services – tweeters could ask and librarians could tweet back
  • helpful library status tweets like, “The 3rd floor is packed; try the first floor if you are looking for a computer”
  • promote new materials in your liaison area; then tweet them with your faculty and students
  • promote your new blog posts on twitter using an intermediary service like twitterfeed
  • quickly post messages detailing your whereabouts on your website (use with caution – sometimes being invisible is a good thing)
  • create a twitter account for a class you’re working with, and have them contribute comments about their research experiences
  • use that same account during your library instruction session to get feedback on how things are going (assessment, anyone?)
  • the next time you’re at a conference, see if there’s a twitter account for the conference, and share your experience with other attendees
  • do some x-treme tweeting like Jeff Scott at City of Casa Grande Public Library

Twitter is a pretty simple application; the real power is when you connect it with other tools, applications, and services. Also, take a look at EduCause’s “7 Things You Should Know About Twitter“.

Maybe it’s time for Albert S. Cook to start tweeting…