Over the last 2 years Luke and myself have built up a great reputation for our remote presentations using Nearpod. This retrospective piece looks back at how the idea came together and tells the story behind our first remote session from Dubai to a group of teachers with Sabba over in Los Angeles.
Like everything we do here at iPad Educators, these sessions are completely free of charge. If you read the feature and think you'd like us to deliver remote CPD to your institution, then please do get in touch!
In late 2013, we decided to test a new idea: how viable would it be to deliver professional development from a remote location—like the other side of the world? As students and faculty at the Physician Assistant program at KSOM prepared to go 1:1 with iPads, Sabba wondered why she should simply inform them when she could have them undergo the process for themselves. Instead of talking about redefining learning, why not model it? We began to devise a plan to present from Dubai to Los Angeles. There would be a twelve hour time difference and we would be 8331 miles from our audience. Could it work?
The subject matter coalesced into the use of mobile technology as a learning tool. It was through this same medium that the entire session would be delivered. In fact, in a moment of intercontinental synchronicity, we hit upon the answer to both the presentation’s subject matter and the logistical delivery method: Nearpod.
Originally developed in Miami in 2011 by entrepreneurs Guido Kovalskys and Felipe Sommer alongside Emiliano Abramzon (photo credit: Miami Herald), Nearpod was a labour of love that harnessed their background developing engineering and production services to the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon, Leapfrog and Barnes and Noble. Using local schools that were early adopters of mobile technology as a testing ground, they were able to refine the platform through to its initial launch in the App Store in May 2012.
Since its launch, Nearpod has built an excellent reputation in the educational technology community. As a unique hybrid of presentation and assessment tools, it allows for the synchronized use of devices to access content. Educators are able to share a presentation via a pin code, which then allows access to the content. Students can utilize this cross-platform tool from iOS or Android devices as well as via the web tool at nearpod.com, meaning that all one needed was an internet-enabled device and that all students would stand on the same leveled field.
Once access has been gained, the flow of information is controlled by the teacher. Nearpod allows for the participant devices to cede some control to the presenter; when they wish to move the presentation forward they can. If a slideshow of images is shared, the participants can peruse the set but not move on to further content. Also, participants can access embedded links without venturing off to other sites, becoming distracted by off-topic sites, and ultimately becoming lost in an internet fueled ADD wasteland.
The Master Plan
Once it was decided that Nearpod would be the primary delivery method a plan was developed to harness two parallel connections. The first would be running Nearpod that would allow Luke and I to deploy and deliver the presentation. This would connect our iPad to the thirty educators’ devices in Los Angeles and allow us to control the devices remotely throughout the session. A moment of technological magic wowed the LA staff as the presentation commenced.
Educators often talk of ‘wow’ moments in the classroom—those priceless, monumental discoveries in a day’s lesson when fresh ground is broken in students’ learning—yet these earth-shaking, knowledge-affirming days almost never occur when the tables are turned and teachers become the learners. PD sessions have unfortunately stagnated a great deal in the last decade with the over-reliance on passive, text-heavy, and disengaging PowerPoint presentations. Delivering remotely using Nearpod may have started as a geographical necessity, but it clearly proved itself to be a captivating lesson from the opening bell. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but this was more a case of distance making the focus stronger.
The second connection was to run the video conferencing software FaceTime. Apple’s alternative to the widely known Skype was chosen as it proved more stable when connecting internationally from the UAE. This would allow our two groups to see each other as the Los Angeles device would be connected to a projector. This tiny detail proved to be crucial to our success. Being able to see our host allowed for a more personable connection during the training.
Traditional webinars do not offer this luxury as they tend to utilize a shared screen interface wherein the attendees can only hear the presenter throughout the set of passive slides. Although sometimes they may offer the ability for the audience to see the speaker, then the speaker cannot see them, which is not ideal. We have found that visually connecting with the audience can exponentially heighten engagement levels. Simple details such as seeing individuals respond to a prompt or being able to judge focus levels around a room are fundamentals that a great speaker will pick up on and intuitively use to shape the pace, direction, and style of the presentation. With this setup, the audience finds itself transported to shared space with the speaker as the technology evaporates the physical gap between them.
The presentation was taking shape and various ideas for an overarching theme were discussed before Steve coined the term Digital Inception. A huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s movies, I posited that there were links to be made to the science fiction concept of inception: the act of inserting ideas into someone’s head.
For those that haven't seen the movie, one of my favourite scenes:
Modern students have been labelled Digital Natives due to their immersion in the technology-enhanced world from birth. They never knew a time before the world wide web, cell phones with cameras, and many other similarly modern marvels. As such the challenge with a lot of staff is to help them catch up and keep up. Many older teachers will rebuff the use of technology as an unnecessary evil that adds nothing to their practice. This mindset is fundamentally flawed as it is blinkered to the simple fact that they see the world in a different way to their own students. Staff need to be educated in such a way that the use of technology such as tablet computers become inherently simple rather than monstrously foreign. That’s digital inception.
The Power of Nearpod
Nearpod includes a wide array of interactive features that can be inserted into a traditional, passive presentation to facilitate higher engagement levels, deeper learning, and even assessment opportunities:
Polls: These are great for capturing the opinions of an entire audience quickly, anonymously, and without exception. One of the most powerful functions that Nearpod offers is the ability to instantly assess a room. Careful deployment of the polling tool can quickly help an educator collate valuable self-assessment data from students. This can then inform not only the flow of the lesson itself but the teaching sequence within a unit and the time spent on each element. Once canvassed, the opinions of the group can be shared back to them en masse in the form of a pie chart. This incredibly powerful tool can generate everything from debate to statistical analysis.
Open-Ended Questions: The open-ended-question tool harnesses the power of anonymity to remove the fear factor from those traditionally reticent learners, hiding and bypassing opportunities to respond in front of their peers. The presenter receives the answers to this tool in real time, and as with the polling feature, it can be shared back to students, although in a slightly different way. Individual responses can be instantly deployed to the every device connected to the session. This is a remarkably valuable feature as specific responses can be used as the stimulus for discussion. Since the name of the respondee is not shared, the validity of the reply can be discussed more freely and without negative attention to the student.
Drawing and Annotation activities: Whether it be the annotation of a sample image, the completion of a partial diagram, or the outlining of a procedure, this tool is an excellent way for students to show what they know. Again, individual responses can be shared to the whole group without revealing the author. The anonymity here is again crucial since it means an incorrect response can be discussed or analyzed without shaming the student who provided it. The presenter can also deploy this effectively to compare and contrast varying approaches to the same task, such as the methodology in solving a mathematical problem.
Quizzes: The scope for quizzes in the classroom itself is practically limitless, and the positive impact of the inclusion of game-type structures has been proven by one of leading thinkers, Professor Karl Kapp. What Nearpod offers is the ability to craft a range of question types, varying from a simple true-or-false task to a longer text-based answer for a single question.
How We Harnessed It
Using the presentation in Los Angeles as a means to share the full potential for Nearpod meant trying to incorporate a full array of these elements in one single presentation. Naturally, some of the tools were harnessed as direct demonstrations: using the Draw-It tool to tackle a math problem, sharing a slideshow of images, and demonstrating the forced weblink capability. However, some aspects were more specifically tailored to the PD itself.
At the very beginning of the presentation, the Draw-It tool was employed to assess the prior knowledge and confidence with mobile technology of the group in LA. We used an image called the Blob Bridge, one of hundreds of similar images available from Blob Tree (www.blobtree.com)
A brilliantly simple concept, Blob Tree images allow for students to employ logic and a little more creative thought as they complete a self assessment task. Each Blob person represents a different state of confidence and the variety moves well beyond a simple three tiered traffic light or smiley face system to incorporate ideas such as self restraint (chained-up Blob), reliance on teamwork (arm in arm Blobs), or confusion (puzzled looking Blob.) Students must decide what Blob best represents them and shade it. This activity is not only engaging and easy to complete but allows for much deeper contemplation on the student’s part. Returning to it at the end of a teaching sequence, or indeed periodically throughout it, is also an effective choice.
In this case, we provided the teachers with the Blob Bridge via Nearpod and asked them to use the Draw-It tool to highlight their confidence. With the responses collated instantly, we were able to assess the pace that they needed to adopt to meet the needs of the group. It also worked well as a digital ice-breaker when they shared some of the examples. When a topic initially intimidates you, you can find strength in numbers: it’s good seeing that you aren’t the only person in the room who doesn’t “get it” at first.
Halfway through the presentation, we re-assessed the group’s feelings through a poll. This allowed us intermittently to judge the success of our presentation, to reevaluate the pace, and adjust the level of detail if required. As with an actual lesson, one of the worst steps we as educators can take is the giant stride with nary a look behind us as our intended audience dwindles in the distance. We need to be cognizant of the needs and feelings of the audience, so being able to adapt the informational flow is a critical skill. We can skip slides and drop elements; we can’t ignore the audience.
Toward the end we included a full quiz feature. This quiz was actually focused on the content from the presentation itself, allowing them to demonstrate both their learning and our effectiveness. However, we prefaced the quiz from the start and incentivized it with a prize for the winner, which Nearpod graciously granted as they had heard about our transatlantic ambition and kindly provided us with some free subscription codes. Our aim in making this clear from the beginning was to instill a sense of purpose to the proceedings. Students who know expectations from the onset generally focus and show more diligence.
At the conclusion of the presentation, our final slide was an open-ended question interactive that asked the staff to offer either feedback or questions. The feedback allowed us to reflect, refine, and restructure the training for future deployment. Allowing the teachers to ask questions via the app proved important too as it gave the session the type of valuable Q+A time that is often used at the end of traditional training. By using the app’s question feature, it allowed every person further connection to the content and the presenters, leaving a more lasting impression. Consequently, we then arranged for contact outside the session for more extensive discussion.
One Last Twist
Having that ‘wow’ moment at the start of the remote presentation ensured immediate engagement. To cement the Digital Inception analogy for the LA audience and create a memorable conclusion, I planned a little something special for the final moment.
In Christopher Nolan’s movie each character possesses a small object, a totem, that they use to identify the real world and the dream state. Leonardo Dicaprio’s character Dom Cobb uses a small metal dreidel, which only spins and then falls in the real world. At the end of the film, the audience witnesses a spinning, faltering dreidel, but the film cuts to the credits before revealing the answer. Being a former film student and avid movie buff, I own an actual replica of the dreidel from the movie.
Before the event, Sabba was asked not to shut down the FaceTime connection but rather to allow Luke and I to do this. At the very end of the presentation and without the audience knowing that it was going to happen, we reminded the audience of the concept of inception and asked them if they felt that they had accomplished this. Then we maneuvered the iPad towards the table and spun the dreidel.
As it danced across the tabletop, it eventually began to wobble.