NearPod is a multiplatform, blended learning e-learning tool that allows students to engage with each other, and the lecturer, in real time, through an online presentation tool. Asynchronous learning can also be carried out using the Student Self-paced Learning facility. It is available via the Apple App Store and Google Play. Nearpod is also available through most web-browsers.
Watch this 5 min YouTube video for a short demonstration:
The School Edition of Nearpod was used for the project detailed below, which incorporated three teacher licences and the total cost was €400 for one calendar year. In this arrangement, each teacher could have up to 100 simultaneous student log-ons and presentation storage of up to 10Gb. A free version is also available with up to 30 simultaneous student log-ons and a limited 50Mb of presentation storage.
Who am I?
My name is Barry Ryan and I am a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology. For this project, I worked with Undergraduate 1st and 2nd year students on a two year Higher Certificate and a four year honours Bachelor’s Degree in Food and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The Case Study
My rationale for using Nearpod was two-fold; practical implementation of the emergent key trends in higher education and an investigation of the potential of Nearpod to enhance the student learning experience.
Recent NMC Horizon Reports cite the higher education adoption of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and flipped classroom learning is imminent (Johnson et al., 2015). I was interested to see if NearPod could address these two key trends in a simple, cost effective way.
Secondly, as a research project, I wanted to investigate if embedding Nearpod into the learning environment could enhance the student learning experience through student centred interactive learning. I thought that, from a learners perspective, embedding engaging technology into the learning environment could enhance the student learning experience as it would allow me, as the lecturer, to adapt the in-class learning activities to the specific learners style, pace and learning needs. I hoped integrating Nearpod would evolve the learning environment towards a student-orientated, social constructivist space where the student(s) took ownership for their participation in the learning activity. Students would become more responsible for constructing their learning ‘product’; created by the students, for the students and, hence, their learning overall (Harel & Papert, 1991).
In NearPod students interact, engage and participate through facilitated synchronous and asynchronous learning activities created by the academic. These range from slide annotations (the ‘draw it’ function) to quizzes and onto virtual tours supported by the Nearpod technology. In my classes I tended to use the ‘draw it’ function to allow students to annotate prepared slides to, for example, highlighted specific components of biological and chemical molecules. Nearpod quizzes were also used as in class formative assessments. All interactions were collated, in real time, and were shared back to students in class to initiate debate and explore concepts and clarify misconceptions. Each student received a digital copy of all their in-class annotations and quiz responses directly after class to act as a student created learning resource. In my classes students engaged either via the dedicated smartphone app or via the their web browsers. Some students linked their student Google account to their Nearpod account to allow ease of log-in and data storage. Overall, from the academic perspective, the use of Nearpod in class was seamless, presentation files can be easily imported (e.g. from Powerpoint) to act as the Nearpod presentation base and interactive activities can be easily added to the base presentation.
After using Nearpod for one academic year, I used an investigative case study methodology to evaluate the use of NearPod in my teaching practice and was based on best practice and previous publications in this area (Eid & Al-Zuhair, 2015). I focussed on evaluating Nearpod as a constructivist learning tool in terms of student interaction; engagement and participation through NearPod facilitated synchronous and asynchronous learning activities across several years of five programmes grounded in Food and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The investigative evaluation examined the use of NearPod in different learning environments; for example the laboratory, small tutorials and large lecture halls. The evaluation encapsulated a wide variety of student experience and diversity; ranging from large first year classes to smaller, advanced second year modules.
Evaluative data was collected in several forms; anonymous questionnaires of students (n= 30, Yr1; n= 41, Yr2) that experienced NearPod enhanced modules, academic reflective diaries and NearPod data analytics. Qualitative thematic analysis was carried out following Braun and Clarke’s (2006) model and fed into a triangulated data set, ensuring only valid themes emerged.
Overall, the students perceived use of Nearpod and the academics personal reflective writings during the academic year, informed the success of the project. It was noted that the learning environment evolved towards a student-orientated, social constructivist space with four key themes emerging during data reduction;
Positive findings included the ubiquitous positive correlation between the use of Nearpod and student perceived interactive learning. Students noted that they felt like they experienced a one-to-one learning experience, even in a large lecture hall environment. However, some students did struggle with the distractive nature of the technology and staying on task.
An unexpected finding was how battery intensive a Nearpod class was on a typical smartphone or tablet. Students commented that a Nearpod class could leave their device drained of battery, even if the battery was fully charged at the start of class. The teaching spaces used during this study had limited charging stations and as such students were reluctant to engage with Nearpod intensive sessions fully. Wifi accessibility was also problematic with students often forced to use their own smartphone data package to interact. Conversely, student evaluations rated the ease of app use, seamless use across multiple device types (smartphone, tablet and laptop) as a simple way to engage and interact with their classmates and lecturer, as very high.
Impact on Learning
Nearpod was noted, by those that responded to the evaluative survey, as having a positive influence on their learning. For example, 43% (Yr1) and 68% (Yr2) students cited a Nearpod class as being the most engaging and interactive in comparison to a traditional lecture or blended (alternative technology enhanced class and traditional lecture). Furthermore, 47% (Yr1) and 78% (Yr2) noted that Nearpod had a positive impact on their understanding of the module curriculum.
Some students struggled with the use of Nearpod in class, not from a technology point of view, but from a pedagogy aspect. The use of Nearpod moved classroom learning to a student centred, interactive approach. Students had to engage and contribute in order to build their lecture notes. This forced the students to become producers of knowledge, rather than consumers, and many students struggled with this approach. Those that adapted well noted how they felt challenged, but supported, during in-class activities and they felt their contributions to class activities (and associated discussions) were important.
Recommendations for Practice:
Several recommendations for practice emerged over the course of the academic year. These are both student-based (mainly from the investigative case study) and academic derived (based mainly on reflections on practice).
Blended approach: Over-use of any approach in a classroom environment will lead to student indifference. A subtle blend of different teaching approaches and technology adoption will appeal to the wider student populous.
Accessibility: If you are using an app that will run on a smartphone/tablet, ensure that there are sufficient devices within the student group. Not everyone will have a (smart)phone; a suggestion here is to ask students to work in pairs, or small groups, so everyone can engage with the technology.
Connectivity: Internet connectivity is crucial for many apps, including Nearpod. Students may not wish to use their own data plan to engage with the in-class app, so ready access to Wifi is crucial.
Digital Resources: Use the in-class student generated resources as learning and revision resources. These resources can be merged into a class resource, or maintained as individual, personal resources.
Assessment integration: NearPod can, in the correct circumstances, be used as both a summative and formative assessment tool. Integrating assessment into the Nearpod activities will increase the student engagement, however, care must be taken not to exclude students (e.g. those without smartphones).
Pedagogy before Technology: Make sure you use it for the right reason; remember, pedagogy before technology! Additionally, align the activities to the learning outcomes for the module to increase student buy-in.
Test drive with the free licence: If you are interested in using Nearpod in your class, try it out with a small student group initially, using the free licence. This will ensure you are comfortable with the technology and will also iron out some of the inevitable technical issues such as student log-on etc.
Liaise with IT department: Work with your IT department to let them know, in advance, that multiple, simultaneous network log-on attempts will take place during your class. This may put pressure on your institutes network and can result in students being unable to log onto the network.
Engage with the online community: There is a large online community that is very easy to connect with through the dedicated webpage; https://nearpod.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/community. Here you will find like-minded academics and teachers who openly and freely share their Nearpod based teaching and learning practice.
Braun, V. & Clarke V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101.
Eid, N. & Al-Zuhair, S. (2015). Evaluation of the use of iPad in Teaching in General Chemistry Lab to Freshman students. Journal of Engineering Science and Technology, 10(2), 249-257.
Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Software design as a learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 1, 1-30.
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss the use of Nearpod in your teaching practice. If you do try out Nearpod, please tweet about your initial feelings using the hashtag #12appsDIT. Finally, comments, critique, collaborations and suggestions all welcome via the comments section at the bottom of the page!