Monday, November 21, 2011


Questions, while very important, can kill the flow of a presentation. One question can often cause an avalanche of many and cause confusion and loss of engagement.  On the other hand, the audience, whether child or adult, needs time to process what they are being given. Inquiry is essential to learning.

How do you reconcile both?

Conventions, in recent years, have taken to setting up "back-channels" through Twitter where participants can comment or ask questions without disrupting the presenter. Often times, other participants will be the source of the answer or clarification...or deeper inquiry. This is certainly a good example of 21st Century Learning. And while I was really excited to see this and anxious to implement it in my school, my brain quickly brought me down to the reality where social networking is met with great skepticism and caution.

Understandably so. We do need to protect our kids.

Put the social phobia of social networking aside (my district supported Twitter use) and look at how Twitter operates: Hashtags and Mentions, and Tweets...Oh My! It can get confusing. I have offered Twitter training and I am a Twitter-atic myself (I have three accounts...I'm getting help for it), but it seemed to participants of my trainings to be a bit more of a hassle than they wanted.

What to do?

One morning, as I was checking my email (what else does one do in the morning?) and I had a message from one of the other Instructional Coaches in our district. Julie had heard about a cool Web 2.0 tool:


GoSoapBox is a tool that allows participants to stay engaged in a presentation, through a variety of means, using a mobile device connected to the Internet. Here is a short list:

1. Ask Questions: Students can post a question at any time to the SoapBox. Since all questions are anonymous, students can feel more comfortable in using their voice. How many of us have not asked a question because you didn't want to be the only one with that question? Safety is one of our basic needs.

2. Answer Questions: The teacher isn't the only one who can answer questions. Participants can offer answers and clarifications to any posted question at any time. Since the SoapBox is online, it is accessible 24/7.

3. Confusion Barometer. This is really cool because it is so simple. At any time during the presentation, students can click a button saying "I Am Getting It" or "I'm Confused" so that the teacher will know how the class is feeling about the information. They will know if they can move on, re-teach, or jump-ship.

4. Vote on Questions. Students can vote on questions and the ones with the most votes will move up the queue. This will tell the teacher what the most pressing item is at the time.

5. Poll. Teachers can create polls to check for understanding throughout the lecture.

Here is a video from the website. I'm sure it will explain better than me:

Good Points

• It's anonymous. Kids often don't get involved because they don't feel safe.

• No student account is needed. The teacher just gives an entrance code.

• It's a closed environment. Creepers stay out! No code, no entrance.

• It's simple and intuitive.

• It's accessible on any device with an internet connection. I tried it on my former Blackberry with success...and that is saying something.


• It's anonymous so there is no accountability. I think it is important for people to own their words.

• It's a closed environment. The power of Twitter is that you can collaborate globally and your insight might benefit someone else a half a world away.

• It's simple and limited. I'm sure there are things I will wish it could do. However, they are rolling out updates as we speak.

It isn't a silver bullet, but I have had some teachers very excited about it. The ones who were a bit overwhelmed by Twitter were pumped about GoSoapBox. The best review I had was an unsolicited one from a student. I was talking to another teacher about GoSoapBox and this student overheard us and said "We used that the other day in English! It was awesome!" 

Again, not a silver bullet, but it does provide teachers and students with a simple way of creating an interactive environment during a presentation. Yes, a good teacher can get the students engaged and get them what they need without the technology, but using GoSoapBox also teaches how to use technology properly, which is another necessity of 21st Century Learning.

Have a happy day!

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