So you might be asking yourself, what the heck is a Nearpod. And I have to admit, I was asking myself the same thing a few months ago when I attended the South Carolina Science Council conference back in October. As usual, I’m always in attendance for a technology related session at one of these conferences, and I was hoping to score some cool new ideas. I walked in the room, and the teacher had a pretty small projection going on at the front of the room against a pretty small screen in a decently sized lecture hall. Of course, the only seats available by the time I got there were at the back against the wall, and I had pretty much written myself off as not gathering anything useful from this particular session. (Hey, it happens, right?)
The first part of the session she sent us all to a webpage called Nearpod to log in with a code on the screen projected at the front of the room, and my screen magically turned into a presentation device which she controlled. I saw every slide on my iPad screen just as it was on the board, was able to participate in a polling session with the rest of the group and able to answer questions about the topics she was discussing with the group. I pretty much forgot everything else she presented during the session and ran back to my home school and signed up for a free account.
Nearpod’s biggest feature is the ability to screencast from the teacher’s device to the students’ devices through a simple interface, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The most attractive part of the entire site for me has been, and continues to be, the ability to assess students during the middle of a lesson. You have two options when assigning assessments in a Nearpod presentation. If you’re a plan-ahead type of person, questions are easy to imbed in the presentation. You have a choice of question types including open-ended, poll, quiz (multiple choice), drawing, fill in the blank, and a memory test (card matching). There is also a new feature called “Collaborate” where students can send in text and a photo about a topic, meant for brainstorming about a lesson. The fill in the blank and memory test options are available with a Gold membership only. The platform also offers the ability to ask questions during the middle of a presentation, giving you the choices of open-ended question, draw it, and true/false, though the last two are reserved for Gold members as well.
One of the nicer features of the service is that is is able to link up with an existing Office 365 account. It can import Sway presentations and imbed them in a Nearpod slide show. It can also convert existing PowerPoint presentations into Nearpod slide shows which you can then embed questions into. The platform can also embed YouTube videos, videos imported from your computer, audio, .pdf files, live Twitter streams, and VR from the Nearpod site which work with Google Cardboard devices.
Once your lesson is setup, it can be shared with students via email, social media, copied link or Google Classroom accounts. You can also share a lesson live in class with a code given out to students. There are options for student-paced presentations that can be assigned to be completed on student’s own time and live lessons for a classroom lecture.
I’ve had students try this service on various devices, everything from iPhones and iPads to laptop computers and Android devices. It has worked pretty much seamlessly on every device I’ve attempted it on, including my Windows and Mac computers. There is an iPad/iPhone app that’s available, but it is only for viewing Nearpod presentations. Creating presentations must be done directly on the Nearpod website that is accessible in any browser. I’ve tried it in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge.
One of the appealing things for me and some fellow teachers was the ability to see which students are logged into the presentation and which students have left the presentation window to look at other windows on their device. I’m sure it’s going to be no surprise to many of you that students will look at things on their iPads/phones/laptops in class that perhaps aren’t teacher approved. This helps notify you in case that happens. There is a status bar at the bottom of the screen that changes to red if anyone who was logged in to the presentation leaves it, even temporarily.
I’ve found that Nearpod has improved student attention and time on task, as well as given me a chance to ensure that all students are participating and paying attention in class with the whole class response system that’s built into the platform. It’s also a great option for flipped classroom, where videos or powerpoints along with audio can be loaded into the system and students can be quizzed after viewing with multiple choice or extended response questions. The system also offers auto-grading for multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, freeing up some of the time you may have spent grading formative assessments in the past. The results of each lesson are downloadable at the end of the presentation or any time you’d like with student-paced presentations.
Some of the downsides, I have on a few occasions had problems with lag between my device and the students, or question sets not appearing on a few student’s devices. The problem has been super rare, however, and usually reloading the page on the student’s browser has solved the problem. This platform also seems to be for older students, though the person who showed it to me originally was using it with upper elementary aged children (4th-6th grades). It’s a good tool for lecturing and formative assessments as well as flipping the classroom, and the VR field trips included in the site are a great option for schools with VR headsets. Some of the better features are locked for only Gold users. The storage space available to a free account is also highly limited, along with a limit on total file size for free users, which means you may be forced to delete some of your lessons to make room for new ones after a time. The slide editor on the site is also a little clunky, making slides that look amateurish and are hard to edit. I prefer uploading pre-made PowerPoints to the site.
Accounts on the site are free, only requiring an email address to sign up. You are also given a one month free trial of the Gold features, as well as an option to extend the trial to a second month when you fill out a survey that’s emailed to you near the end of the first month with the service. After that Gold is available at a cost of $10.oo per month, billed annually, which amounts to $120.00 for 12 months of the service. There are also school and district level options for Gold membership that vary in price depending on the size of your school and district and come with some other benefits like an increase in storage space and professional development at your site.
The option also exists to buy pre-made lessons from their catalog of presentations. The topics are pretty wide ranging, though they aren’t comprehensive at the moment, and the catalog is growing with new lessons being created by experts and uploaded every day.
Overall, I really like the site, and I’ve been trying to lobby for my school to purchase a subscription for all our teachers when we can. I highly recommend it. The interface is pretty intuitive and easy to learn, and there are several video tutorials available on YouTube. The staff are friendly and helpful and readily available through the chat option on the site should you encounter any difficulties, and the $10.00 a month price tag isn’t outrageous if you have to shell out for the site yourself, though I haven’t yet. I’m still chugging along on the free account quite happily.
Feel free to let me know what you think in comments or through email, and keep your eyes peeled for a future video tutorial on creating a Nearpod presentation from yours truly on my YouTube channel.
Keep working smart,