Voting systems for Interactive Whiteboards have been around for a few years. I remember testing one out back in 2004 and playing an educational version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and being mightily impressed. The voting system had 9 numbers and an “Enter” button and by giving multiple choice questions, a group of people could vote on their answer.
Feedback was instant and the audience (i.e. the pupils) could see who voted for what. I was given a lend of these machines for two weeks and my class, (1st class at the time), enjoyed using them. I didn’t buy the set in the end as the cost was around €3,500 €2,750 (price change) for the set.
Five years on, Promethean are really pushing their latest system – the ActivExpression, which integrates with their new ActivInspire software, (although you can use them without). This system is much more advanced than the ones I tried back then.
To me, the ActivExpression looks like a mobile phone and it’s not far off it for its functionality. This device is astoundingly powerful! Not only can you vote using a combination of either number keys or sidebar keys, you can also text your opinions, choose to vote in letters, numbers, roman numeral, etc. You can set the number of options that can be chosen. For example, in the old system I used – no matter how many options you allowed in a multiple choice quiz, you could still pick any of the 9 numbers as your answer. In ActivExpression, if there are 5 options, you only have the option of clicking on one of the 5, thus getting more accurate data. The other great thing about the ActivExpression is that you’re not restricted to closed multiple-choice questions. As I said before, because of the texting options, you can ask open-ended questions – so “What’s your favourite colour?” can have much more variety in answer than before.
I was given a trial run of a class-set by Promethean for a couple of months. My current 2nd and 3rd class were the guinea pigs and I decided that I would use the ActivExpression for two things.
- Testing Gaeilge vocabulary
- Children would create a quiz for each other based on a school trip
I did not try out the texting option as the pupils in my class (surprisingly) has no concept of texting as very few of them owned a mobile phone, and those that did, just use them for either playing computer games or taking calls from important clients 😉
Before I started, I had to link the ActivExpressions up to the computer. This is a time-costly thing to do but well worth it as you can personalise each ActivExpression to every child in your class. This means that they don’t have to remember what number ActivExpression they are using because their name comes up. (This had good and bad results as explained later)
Initially I found it difficult to set up my Gaeilge quiz but after a bit of messing around and rereading the instructions, I came up with a reasonably colourful and entertaining multiple choice quiz on the topic of “Bia”.
We all set off on our quiz journey and the children were very motivated by the novelty of their “mobile phone” as several of them called it. It was great for me because I could see in an instant who knew their torthaí from their glasraí and it was great for the pupils because they were consolidating their vocabulary. The only flaw in my plan was that I had given everybody a personalised ActivExpression and if a child got an answer wrong, we all knew who it was. This inevitably ended in frustration for the weaker pupils in the class.
So how did the children find the actual device? Well, they found it easy to use, which is probably the most important thing. They also loved its resemblance to a mobile phone and its colour. Moreover, they wanted to use them again and again.
Their next task was to create their own quiz after we had a trip to a forest. The children decided to make a multiple choice quiz and after about 10 minutes coaching, they set about a 5 question quiz. I was impressed that the children did not require any help from me after our initial training. Again, the class enjoyed the quiz, especially as they all got the answers right!
Overall, I think the ActivExpression is the ultimate Learning Response System available today. There isn’t really anything it can’t do and it has been well designed and well thought out. I think it’s a system that could be used at any level but I would think that the “texting-generation” would get more out of it than younger children, who may be best suited to a simpler device.
So did I buy it at the end of the trial? Well, at around €3,500 for a class set, I’m afraid, it’s a bit out of my budget. However, if a school were looking for the best learning response system out there, then this is definitely it.