Text walls are a relatively recent phenomenon in education. They are a way to engage students without interrupting the flow of the class. Text walls are interactive, real-time “walls” in which students can post questions, answers, feedback, and so forth, using their smartphones. Ask a question to check comprehension. Students can all text their answers and you can see who does or doesn’t understand. Students can send questions during lectures. Students can give examples via the text wall. Students can post highlights or thoughts from group discussions. All of these things can be fed directly back into class, making the learning and teaching experience much more interactive and dynamic.
There are many text wall services that can be found on the internet. A number of them are paid services, but there are some free ones as well. Socrative is an excellent example of a free student response system that goes beyond the basic text wall. They offer exit tickets, quizzes, and even games. These can all be done in the classroom, via student smartphones.
For simple text wall uses, Google Forms is an excellent choice. All you have to do is set up a simple form, point students to it, and open up the Google Spreadsheet. The forms can be as simple or as complex as you want. For simple text walls, a single paragraph input box would suffice. You can require names, make it anonymous, or even semi-anonymous (meaning you can hide the “names” column on the spread sheet so only you can see them). You can set up voting and add simple functions in the spreadsheet to calculate percentages. You could even set up live quizzes that are self-grading, but that may be a bit more complicated.
To point students to your live text wall form, you could add a link on your website, or display a QR code that brings students directly to the Google Form. If you will use the text wall consistently, you could have them bookmark it as well.
Response will appear in real time in the Google Spreadsheet. You can choose to display it or keep it hidden. If you choose to display it, you can hide any unnecessary columns, such as the timestamp or names column. You can give feedback directly in the spreadsheet, and even share it back to the students for future reference.
In reality, there are many different possibilities for using Google Forms as a live text wall. I will give an example of how I plan to use it next semester in my composition classes.
I will have a single paragraph input form that will be linked to the course page. I often have students writing practice sentences using whatever technique or grammar point being discussed. Let’s say I am teaching subordinating conjunctions. In particular, I am teaching the nuances of concession connectors such as “nonetheless” or “nevertheless”. After explaining the different functions and showing examples, I can have students make their own examples using exercises in the textbook or their own ideas. Students draft their examples in their books and on their smartphones. On the screen is the Google Spreadsheet ready to receive their responses. After an appropriate amount of time, I direct students’ attention to the spreadsheet and begin discussing their sentences. I comment on good sentences, have the class fix mistakes, and do any editing or notes in a column next to the originals. After class, I copy the spreadsheet and share it back to the students so they can review how to use subordinating conjunctions of concession.
This is a single, simple idea, but one which is easily executed and would be very effective in enhancing the students’ learning experiences. Using Google Forms as a text wall or student response tool is limited only to our imaginations! Can you think of any other uses? Let me know in the comments.