Discussions are synonymous with English classrooms. Whether discussing opinions on current event articles or a class novel, students are expected to share their ideas with their classmates. It might be hard to imagine how technology could possibly fit into such an important face-to-face element in the classroom. However, Verso, an online application, is a great way to mix up class discussions with technology. It allows teachers to create opportunities for class discussions with both anonymity and accountability. Verso allows a teacher to post a question and allows students to respond to it while appearing as anonymous to their peers. At the same time, it requires the student make a post themselves before they can view the responses of their classmates.
Verso can be accessed by both students and teachers through the website on any device. For Chromebooks, it can also be downloaded as an app from the Chrome Web Store (Chrome apps can now only be downloaded to Chromebooks). It allows for the ability to sign up with a Google account, Microsoft account, or another email. Once a teacher makes an account, different virtual classrooms can be created. Since Verso is “freemium,” offering both free and premium options, one classroom is the limit for the free account. Classrooms can be created by selecting “Classes” on the left sidebar and then choosing “+ Add Class” from the next page. Teachers are offered the chance to name their class, indicate their number of students, grade level, and subject. If the class status is labeled as green and “Open”, it means that students can continue to join that class.
Once a teacher has saved their class, they will notice it appears on their “Classes” tab, which is accessible through the left sidebar of the website. Along with the title of their class, a short code will appear. When students reach the Verso website, they are prompted to select if they are a student or teacher. Selecting student allows them the place to input a class code. The teacher would provide this code, similar to how students join Google Classroom, so they can be part of the Verso class.
By clicking the class, a teacher can create an activity for students to complete. Activities could simply be a discussion question to answer or could involve embedding other media elements for viewing, such as Drive files, recordings, and links. A title for the activity must be provided and teachers can provide further directions in the “Instructions and Questions” box. Before creating the assignment, the teacher must decide how many posts a student would be required to make before they can see the responses of their peers.
On the student end, the question, directions, and any corresponding resources can be viewed. They will receive a box to write their response. Students are limited to 500 characters for their response. Once they select the blue button to post their writing, they can see anything their peers have said before them. Instead of seeing their names, they will only see the word “Respondent” and a connecting number. They are free to make comments on their classmates’ work or “like” it to show their approval.
On the teacher end, all of the student names can be seen next to the posts and comments for accountability and monitoring. All student responses can be viewed on one screen. Data is also provided at the top of the screen. There is a number indicating what percent of students enrolled in the class completed the task, as well as the number of comments and “likes.” The number of students completed and students waiting for completion are also seen on the top of the task. Teachers can sort the responses by time, rating, and alphabetical order of student names.
In order to stop students from continuing to work on the assignment, the teacher would have to select the pencil icon in the top right corner of the activity screen. Scrolling down to the bottom of the editing page, the teacher would find the section titled “Activity Status” and switch the button to read “Closed.” Once saved, the activity would no longer receive submissions from students.
I have used this app in the past as a way for my quiet or anxious students to participate in class discussions. It gave them a voice that they didn’t feel comfortable using in face-to-face situations and allowed their commentary to be heard. For my classes that love to share their ideas, it gave them the opportunity to voice their thoughts without sacrificing class time going around the room to each person. For my students who jump at the chance to participate but often need to stop and think before sharing, it gave them a reflection period to consider their words before posting. The anonymity allowed authentic conversations to occur without worrying about judgment for their opinions.
My students just recently used this app as a pre-assessment for narrative writing. Each Verso activity was a different writing prompt. They were given five minutes to finish each prompt. It gave students the chance to not only write anonymously but to appreciate the writing styles and ideas of their classmates. Other uses could include discussions on articles read in class, reflections on a novel or short story, or a way to practice for a debate. Verso really offers a world of possibilities inside a humanities classroom and serves as a nice alternative to mix up traditional class discussions or ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English