Day 16: Forms, etc.

28 09 2009

Today we tried another new solution for paperless quizzes. As I shared with you last Monday, our experience with surveygizmo (surveygizmo.com) was outstanding, a massive improvement over the Blackboard interface. Today we tried a unique product, Exzact. Exzact’s product consists of a small client package you download to your iPhone (the Lite version, which we used, is free), and a form which asks the questions and collects the data.

Exzact’s product was originally created for firms which need to collect data in the field and have it uploaded whenever a connection is available. To accomplish this, the product actually runs a “client” on the device, which simply means that it can do more than just display questions and let you submit answers. In practical terms, it means that as soon as a student syncs his phone with their server, the entire quiz is downloaded, but he can’t open it until I provide a passcode. Further, once the quiz is complete, the client stores it until it gets a solid connection, then uploads to the server.

The biggest plus of this system is that it allows users to have a very smooth test-taking experience even if network connectivity is spotty. The forms can be set up to look however you want, including check boxes, scrolling wheels, radio buttons, or text input responses. Exzact worked with me to get this set up, and they hope to create a higher ed-specific app which makes the quiz creation and administration process seamless.

In practice, I would say the package worked well but not perfectly. Several students experienced long download times for the quiz form (up to two minutes). One student found herself in the download twilight zone: her iPhone showed a blank quiz form (no words or logo on it) which we could not delete or re-download. She never did manage to make it work. Also the final question could not be read by anyone, as the teacher (me) formatted it wrong. Oops.

Despite these hiccups, the rest of the process worked exactly as advertised; after class I went to the company’s website and generated a report showing my students’ responses. A bit of manipulation in Excel yielded scores. Very smooth.

Not so smooth is the attendance process (I think I’ve told you about this before). I continue to get emails from students who say “I was there that day but I’m marked absent.” I have to dig into this further because it’s frustrating me no end (and my students don’t like it either). Ironically, I expected attendance checking via email to be one of the simplest things we would do, and it’s turned out to be one of the biggest hassles.

In case you’re wondering, I do actually teach in my classes (at least occasionally). In today’s class we spent about half the class period discussing corporations, sole proprietorships, and the other forms which business can take; we spent the second half using responseware to play a mock game show which allowed me to ask questions and discuss the answers with them. Did they learn anything? I think so; I know it was more effective than me yacking at them for the entire time.

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