a new application for the iPhone lets a roomful of students beam in answers that can be quietly displayed on a screen to allow instant group feedback.
The application was developed by programmers at Abilene Christian University, which handed out free iPhones and iPod Touch devices to all first-year students this year. The university was the first to do such a large-scale iPhone handout, and officials there have been experimenting with ways to use the gadgets in the classroom.
The application lets professors set up instant polls in various formats. They can ask true-or-false questions or multiple-choice questions, and they can allow for free-form responses. The software can quickly sort and display the answers so that a professor can view responses privately or share them with the class by projecting them on a screen. For open-ended questions, the software can display answers in “cloud” format, showing frequently-repeated answers in large fonts and less-frequent answers in smaller ones.
Because students rely on their phones for all kinds of communication, they usually keep the devices on hand. The university calls its iPhone software NANOtools — NANO stands for No Advanced Notice, emphasizing how easy the system is for students and professors to use. “We see it as a kind of super-clicker,” he says.
Some companies that make clickers, such as TurningPoint, are starting to sell similar software to turn smartphones into student feedback systems as well.