By Teachers, For Teachers
Want to know what your students are thinking during class? Now, there's an app for that!
The new web-based application GoSoapBox allows teachers to gauge student understanding or confusion levels throughout a lesson, poll students and track the data for future reference. It can be used on laptops, tablets and smart phones, which sets it apart from some other clicker/student response systems.
John Pytel, GoSoapBox’s founder, shared the inside scoop on this new ed tech tool in this exclusive TeachHUB interview.
How did the idea for GoSoapBox come about?
GoSoapBox stemmed from our personal experiences in going through the education system. Participation can lack in the classroom for many reasons. It can be stressful for students to speak in front of their peers or to publicly admit they don’t know something. Interrupting the class to participate or ask a question can be awkward.
This is a big problem because participation is an integral part of learning, and it can be frustrating for teachers to hear from the same three students every time. On the flipside though, if every student asked every single question that they had, teachers would never be able to make it through all of the material.
We wanted to develop a way to break down those participation barriers and build a platform for student communication, but in a very controlled way.
What do you think is the most innovative feature of the GoSoapBox app?
I think most people would say that the Confusion Barometer is the most innovative feature. Students can indicate when they are confused with the click of a button, and the teacher sees a graphical representation, showing the trend in the number of confused students over time.
But I think the most innovative part of GoSoapBox is the overall user experience. We’ve placed a lot of focus and importance on creating a very simple, intuitive product. We know that teachers are very busy and don’t have time to devote hours to learning a new technology. We truly believe that a teacher can learn and begin using GoSoapBox in 15 minutes.
How does GoSoapBox help teachers both in the classroom and tracking performance after class?
During class, GoSoapBox is a great way to assess comprehension on an aggregate level. Voting for questions allows teachers to see the most pressing issues, the confusion barometer displays confusion among the entire class, and polls can be used to quickly assess comprehension on a class-wide level. GoSoapBox is a great way to gather all of this data, and because teachers have limited time with each class, the data can be used to make quick decisions in terms of overall comprehension.
Outside of class, GoSoapBox allows teachers to export a spreadsheet containing all of the data from the interaction during class. Each section of the spreadsheet is organized by individual student, so teachers can narrow in on assessing comprehension on an individual level and better understand where each of their students are performing well or struggling.
Do teachers ever find it distracting to their teaching?
Our users have not mentioned that it’s been distracting. However, we understand that some teachers may find it distracting to see questions popping up as they are trying to teach material. That’s why we’ve made every feature on GoSoapBox customizable so that teachers have the ability to control when their student can and cannot interact with each feature.
In terms of it being distracting to students... using GoSoapBox during class requires that the students have access to some sort of technology that can connect them to the internet. There are many people who believe that giving students access to technology during class only increases the potential for distraction. We believe, and have heard from many of our users that what actually happens is quite the opposite. Most students become disengaged or distracted out of confusion and not keeping up with the material, but those participation barriers keep them from raising their hand. So instead they end up daydreaming, doodling, or disengaging in some other way.
With GoSoapBox, students tend to stay engaged in the material because they’re consistently contributing, and their questions are getting answered.
Is anyone on staff a K-12 educator? How did you get teachers involved in the app’s development?
Neither of us is a K-12 educator, but teachers played a huge role in developing the product from day one. We were very candid, and still are, about how important user feedback is to us. Our beta users were awesome and provided a ton of great feedback and suggestions for improvement, and we made many of the improvements they asked for.
Because neither one of us has expertise as an educator, we placed a lot of importance on user feedback and data rather than making assumptions ourselves.
In your free trial, what were some of the responses – both good and bad – from teachers?
Most of the feedback we heard during our beta test was really good. We quickly learned that our product was effective at improving engagement and breaking down those barriers, and we found that students really enjoy using it.
The story that we really enjoy telling is that we received a few different emails telling us that after using GoSoapBox a few times, physical participation actually improved in classrooms. Once students started realizing that they weren’t the only ones who were confused, or saw that a question they submitted was popular among other students, it would start to build confidence, and they were more comfortable speaking up or raising their hand.
Most of the negative feedback we heard was derived from teachers who signed up without really understanding what the product was designed for. Early on, we realized that some users were having trouble learning how to use the product, so we integrated a better “Help” section and things like how-to guides.
How did you find the 1300 teachers for the beta program? Were they mostly from 1:1 schools or affluent areas?
The first week when we opened our beta, we did a bit of free online marketing and got posted on a couple sites. That first week we had 180 beta accounts (teachers) sign up. After that first week we really didn’t initiate any marketing pushes. We were able to acquire an additional 1,300 beta accounts over the next three months, and they were 99 percent referral driven. Users would pass along the information to their colleagues or share it through their own blogs and social media sites. This was really exciting for us to see, and it quickly became clear that we had built something useful.
Among our K-12 users, it was pretty evenly split between 1:1 and bring-your-own-technology. We also had cases where the teacher or classroom had a set of, for example, 15 iPads for 30 students to share. So teachers would have two students pair up per device and still got a lot of value out of GoSoapBox.
Video of an example (created by one of our users)
How is GoSoapBox different than other clicker and student response systems?
What differentiates GoSoapBox is the custom level of engagement that can be achieved, combined with ease of adoption. Clickers and other competitive products seem to focus on teachers engaging students with questions, and while GoSoapBox accomplishes polls and quizzes just as well, it also promotes students engaging the teacher with questions. It’s nice to see how well students can answer the questions that you ask them, but it’s often times more effective to see the questions they’re asking you.
And unlike many of our competitors, teachers don’t have to re-design their curriculum to best fit GoSoapBox – they can customize GoSoapBox to best fit their style of teaching. There are competitors who have a simple adoption process, but they lack the value that GoSoapBox can deliver in terms of assessment. Other competitors offer even more features than GoSoapBox but are time consuming to learn and often require re-designing an entire curriculum around them.
What are the technology requirements to use GoSoapBox?
The requirements all depend on what you want to use GoSoapBox for. In terms of using GoSoapBox during class, the requirements are....
Teacher: Access to a device that connects to the Internet
Student: Access to a device that connects to the Internet
School: Wi-Fi (unless students are all using smartphone data plans, 3G, etc.)
What about schools that can’t depend on students and teachers with individual smart phones/tablets/laptops?
GoSoapBox can still provide a lot of value if students are sharing devices, so complete 1:1 is not required.
GoSoapBox is accessible 24/7, so teachers in schools that lack technology in the classroom can still have their students use GoSoapBox asynchronously, outside of the classroom. We built and designed GoSoapBox for use during class, and the asynchronous ability is generally an added benefit to our users, but it has the potential to provide value on an entirely asynchronous basis.
How do you think GoSoapBox can be successful despite the challenges of available technology, especially with schools’ shrinking budgets?
We know that there are obstacles for any education-related product, especially one that depends on technology in the classroom. However, the trend of 1:1 and BYOT is growing stronger every day.
Eventually 1:1 technology is going to be the norm in education. Until then, we believe that there is a large enough market to support a product like GoSoapBox, as the rest of the schools are able to adopt tech.
Do you think GoSoapBox would work in your classroom? What other apps do you use to teach? Share in the comments section!