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Exploring Interactive Lesson Platforms: Lumio by SMART vs. Nearpod

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In the ever-evolving landscape of education technology, interactive lesson platforms have become an essential tool for engaging students in physical and virtual classrooms alike. As the owner of New Horizons Academy, a company dedicated to providing online classes and tutoring to middle and high school students across the world, I understand the importance of selecting the right platform to meet both your teaching goals and your students' needs. In this blog post, we'll delve into the comparison of two prominent players in this arena: Lumio by SMART (yes, the SMART Board company) and Nearpod, including why I started with one and left it for the other.

Importing Lessons:

Let's start at the beginning--a novel idea, I know. If you've been teaching for a while or you've had access to other materials, you likely already have some version of the lesson in PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, or PDF files. That's one thing that makes these interactive platforms truly awesome for teachers because you can import what you already have and not have to reinvent the wheel.

In Nearpod, you can import lessons from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive. I've had way better luck importing from Google Drive (as a Google Slides file) than the PowerPoint files, as the PowerPoint files always seem to be off when I upload them. The fonts are different and can be overlapping other text or images, and the other formatting can be missing or askew, as well.

In Lumio, you can import from Google Drive as well, but you can also upload from your computer as a PDF, PowerPoint file, or SMART Notebook file. They do not currently have any sort of integration with Dropbox or OneDrive, but they have just launched a beta program where you can upload editable PowerPoint files!

This is awesome because with either Nearpod or Lumio, it usually just imports a flat screenshot-style image of your slide, so it has to be perfect before uploading, or you'll end up having to go back to your original program, make the change, and re-upload that slide. With the Lumio editable PowerPoint option, you can edit your text right there in Lumio, removing the need to swap back and forth between programs and reupload.

However, you do lose some formatting with the PowerPoint slide upload, still. Fancier fonts are replaced with more basic options, and shapes may be slightly off their placement, which is something to note if you use a checkmark or star to mark correct options on a review slide. If you use the bucket fill tool for a text box, that color will be gone in the Lumio version, as well. All of that may be worth it for the ability to edit on the fly, though!

With Lumio, you also have the option to import individual slides and activities or even whole lesson sets into a new presentation using the "My Library" import option. This is so great to pull in previous slides for review or even set up some slides or activities as templates, then drop them into the lessons as needed and make minor adjustments instead of starting from scratch. Nearpod allows you to copy slides, but you have to exit the one you're working on, find and open the previous lesson, copy the slide, close the old lesson, reopen the new lesson, and paste. It's doable, but definitely more of a hassle.

Keynote file upload is not supported by either platform, but you can either save your Keynote file as a .pptx file or upload it to Google Drive as a Google Slides file and import it from there. Another option would be to save or print it as a PDF and upload the PDF file.

NEW for August 2023: I literally just figured out as I was writing this that you can now upload from Canva directly to your Lumio account, too! To do it, go to your Canva file (a graphic, worksheet, presentation, etc.) and click the Apps icon in the sidebar. Search for Lumio, and connect! Boom! Pretty graphics and interactivity for all!

I believe there's a way to work with Canvas LMS, too, but this is foreign soil for me, as we've never used Canvas as our LMS.


Picture this: the classroom, once a bastion of solemn textbooks and sleepy eyes, has undergone a remarkable transformation. It's like it attended a hip makeover workshop and emerged with a funky new wardrobe. Enter gamification – the secret sauce that's given learning a zesty twist. Remember the days when quizzes were about as exciting as watching paint dry? Well, not anymore! Gamification has swooped in like a caped crusader, turning quizzes into riveting challenges, and polls into nail-biting decisions. It's like the classroom suddenly got a dose of pixie dust and turned into a lively game show where students are the fearless contestants. So, move over monotony – gamification's in town, and it's giving learning a much-needed adrenaline boost!

Both Lumio by SMART and Nearpod recognize the transformative power of gamification in education. With Lumio, you have access to interactive quizzes, polls, and collaborative activities that can elevate engagement levels in your classroom. Nearpod, too, offers gamification elements like quizzes, simulations, and virtual field trips. Both platforms allow you to incorporate interactive challenges that can turn lessons into exciting learning adventures.

Let's dive a bit deeper into this:

Lumio offers Shout It Out! a collaborative posting digital bulletin board similar to the "Collaborate Board" in Nearpod, even with categorization, which was a huge selling point for Nearpod's premium plans. Lumio also offers the option to turn any slide into a "Whole-Class Whiteboard" where all students can write, draw, or drag icons as needed. Honestly, we use the Whole-Class Whiteboard more than the Shout It Out! option simply because we feel like it gives us more flexibility than either the Shout It Out! or Collaborate Board options. However, you can add in a Shout It Out, class whiteboard, or teacher-only whiteboard on the fly at any point in the lesson, which is handy.

Nearpod's flagship to gamification is its Time to Climb game, which even my high schoolers enjoy (though they pretend not to, of course). It's an awesome way to do a quick check-for-understanding activity while also acting like a gamified reward at the end of class. Beyond Time to Climb, they also have polls, fill-in-the-blank questions, memory test (a memory-style matching game), and matching pairs cards.

Lumio by SMART has taken a huge step forward with gamification, as they offer 12 game-based learning activities, including fill-in-the-blanks, Game Show, Match 'Em Up!, Flip Out (flashcards), Label Reveal for an image you upload, Memory Match, Rank Order, Speedup (a racing quiz game), Super Sort where students sort items/words into categories, Word Search (which is great for the initial slide as you wait for all students to log in), Team Quiz a la Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and our favorite, Monster Quiz, where you try to hatch a monster egg the fastest by answering questions correctly with your team. We also use Response quite a bit in Lumio for polls in class, but it can be used for so much more.

Overall, I think Lumio takes the cake in the gamification category.

Quizzes and Tests:

More formal-style quizzing and testing is possible with both platforms, as well. In Nearpod, you have Quiz, which is a multiple-choice quiz activity. Definitely useful. Lumio also offers quizzing and testing options via the Response feature, as well, but expands on the question types.

You can do multiple-choice, but you can also do true or false, multiple-answer, poll/opinion questions, or even short-answer questions. You can mark which option is correct on all options except for the poll/opinion questions which will have no "one right answer" option, and the short answer questions. For these, you can either leave it as "Open Answer" to assess later, or you can provide up to four correct answers that could be provided for automatic grading.

I've also just uploaded pre-existing PDF quizzes into Lumio and told students to use the text or pen tools to mark and type their answers on individual handout mode. Simple, easy, effective. Yes, you'll have to manually grade these later, but Lumio make it super easy to see their work at full size after the fact, which wasn't an option at all when we were using Nearpod.

Slide Markup and Annotation:

Both Nearpod and Lumio offer slide markup options for students and teachers. Let's start with students.

In Nearpod, you can add an activity called "Draw It" that allows students to mark up a blank slide or an image or pdf that you have uploaded. They also have a directions bar at the top for quick reference, and can even draw shapes or upload images, videos, or gifs onto their slides. The one problem I had while using the Draw It option in my lessons was that if I tried to upload an existing PDF worksheet, it was often very small on their screens and hard to read. However, I LOVE the timer option that Nearpod provides. This was so helpful for students who would take their sweet time finding images, changing font colors, etc. and gave them a bit of urgency.

Lumio also offers options for student slide markup. For them, you can take any slide and convert it with two clicks. First, you'll click the magic wand icon in the top corner, and then you choose whether you want the slide to be an individual student handout, a group workspace, or a whole-class whiteboard. Couldn't be simpler. On top of that, the slides or PDFs you upload are full-sized and students can scroll through them and zoom in or out as needed. Students will have the option to add text, adjust colors, fonts, and sizes for the text, draw with a pen or highlighter, or add shapes and images.

In both Nearpod and Lumio, you can access a screen where you see the students' names that are currently working on the drawing activity, but Nearpod gives you an actual preview of each of the students' slides, though it is often too small to be able to make anything out. In Lumio, no preview is provided, but you can click a student name to see their work and offer text/drawing feedback covertly and use the side to side buttons to shuffle between students. You also can ask students to click "Done" in the top corner to add a green checkmark next to their name on your teacher screen. In Lumio, whenever you have a group or individual handout, you'll also have a "teacher handout" button at the bottom of the screen where you can pull it up to go over directions or model an activity without marking on student papers.

Teachers' abilities to mark on the slides is a HUGE differentiation between Nearpod and Lumio! Last we checked, Nearpod only offered teacher marking on slides during a lesson to the top-tier plans, which are quite expensive. However, Lumio offers this to even their free plan users! This was a game-changer for us, and ultimately why we made the switch. If you're in a physical classroom, it would be awesome to have an iPad in hand and mark all over your screen as you present! We used to do this back in the day with Splash Screen? Splash Pad? I honestly don't remember the name of the app, but it was a pain to get set up. This has it built right in. And where we teach online, this is a HUGE benefit so we can still get that in-person feeling by marking up all over the board, throwing in blank whiteboards as needed to add content, or highlight directly on existing slides.

Another side note about slide markup on Lumio -- you have the ability to turn any exisiting slide into a student handout, a group workspace, or a whole-class whiteboard on the fly during a live lesson. This is great if you decide you want to change up the original lesson flow or if you just simply forgot to change it when you were editing the lesson. Two clicks and you're there! It has certainly saved my butt a few times!

Student Abilities:

As an advocate for inclusive education, you understand the importance of accommodating diverse student abilities. Lumio by SMART and Nearpod share this commitment. Lumio's integration of touch gestures, pen input, and voice commands provides an inclusive platform for all students, regardless of their abilities. Nearpod also prioritizes accessibility, ensuring that students with varying needs can actively participate in interactive lessons. Both platforms enable a supportive learning environment where every student can thrive.

While both Nearpod and Lumio allow for teacher audio directions to be added to the slides, I have to give this one to Nearpod for a few reasons:

  1. Nearpod allows teachers to upload existing audio files on the slides, so if you've already done some recording elsewhere and want to add it to the lesson, you're set. Lumio has the option to record directly on the slide for 5 minutes, but there is no option to upload existing media. I've played around with changing microphone inputs around to pick up computer audio, then playing it while recording on Lumio, and while I got it to work, it was a giant hassle. Being able to upload existing audio would be a game-changer for me.

  2. In Nearpod's Open-Ended questions, students can respond with audio. I'm sure we have all had students that have all of the answers up in their heads, but they just really struggle to put it down on paper. We could talk to them one-on-one and they'd nail it, but it just doesn't travel from their brains to their papers very well. This is where audio responses can be so important in lessons, and I've seen many IEPs that actually require that as an option. So, this is a huge score for Nearpod's team to have it so seamlessly integrated into the open-ended questions. There is a workaround for Lumio, though, using another amazing tech tool called Mote. It's an extension that allows you to record short audio and generates a share link automatically for you. Students just download the Mote extension on Chrome or Edge (via the Chrome Webstore) and open the extension when they get to a slide that requires their open-ended response. They record their answer in 30-second snippets and paste in the link via the image/shape/link button in their slides, or if it's a short answer Response question or Shout It Out, they can just paste it in directly. It's an extra step, but it works! Model it a few times and they'll be up and running with it like pros in no time. As teachers, we also use it to give student feedback on their writing! I'll do an episode over Mote soon to go more in detail with why we love it so much.

  3. Nearpod does not have a cap on the recording time as far as I know. While you may have unlimited recording time, audio files are large, and this will eat into your storage limits quite quickly. Lumio DOES NOT have storage limits, but it does have a limit of 5 minutes of audio per slide for teachers recording directions, and if you're going to use the Mote hack for students, they get 30 seconds per recording on the free Mote plan.

Teacher Functionalities:

The role of teachers in shaping the classroom experience cannot be understated. Lumio by SMART and Nearpod provide teachers with essential tools to create engaging lessons effectively. Nearpod's co-teacher features (available only with the school licensing plan) enable multiple educators to contribute simultaneously to a lesson, fostering a dynamic environment for knowledge sharing. Lumio does not currently have the option for co-teaching as of August 2023, but it is something that they have added to their "planned features" list as of October 2022. How soon will it be up and running? I have no idea, but at least it's in the planning phase!

When it comes to presenting lessons, you really can't beat Lumio's interactivity for the teachers and students, especially since it's available in the free versions as well. But what about grading?

Nearpod has done some work on this front since we last used them regularly, but now the reports tab seems to be far more functional than it used to be. You can see by student or by activity reports, and the Draw It! slides are bigger than they used to be, but still seem a bit small if you had uploaded a PDF worksheet and wanted to grade it manually.

While Lumio doesn't offer a report per se, I don't miss it that much. I can re-enter the lesson later, go to the activity/quiz/game or whatever it was, and click the settings gear on the side to get a breakdown of each student's progress or score on the activity. On whiteboards, I can click the "more" arrow to see the name of who contributed (or delete if needed!). No, Lumio doesn't have a way to moderate whiteboard comments like the Nearpod Collaborate boards do, but it's honestly not been an issue with my students after we set the expectations.

One thing I really appreciate about grading manually on Lumio is the ability to leave private student feedback directly on the lesson slide. I mentioned earlier that we use Mote for audio feedback on writing, but we can also use the pen tool for adding proofreading marks or asking questions. Heck, I even upload cheesy memes to pages like a digital version of the stickers we all got in school. Unless they've changed that, I don't see a way to give this type of feedback on Nearpod during a live lesson or during a post-class review.

One last thing I appreciate about Lumio versus Nearpod is the ability to move back and forth seamlessly during a live lesson between teacher-paced and student-paced modes. Let's say we are reading a short passage and the following slide is a group workspace where they answer questions over the passage. They'd need to see the passage, right? Done. Just switch the toggle from "Teacher" to "Student" in the side menu and students can navigate back and forth between the slides as needed. In the same respect, you can turn "Teacher" mode back on whenever needed.

You can share a student-paced link directly from the live presentation for students to continue working where they left off after class, too. Note, they do need to be signed in with their Google or Microsoft-based email account for this function to work. There's a guest mode on Lumio that will allow them to join on the fly by typing in their name, but we always suggest students just log in with their account to save their work easily.

Other Features and Limitations:

It's essential to address the strengths and limitations of each platform honestly. While Lumio by SMART includes the ability to write on presentation slides across all plans, Nearpod requires an upgrade for this functionality. This firsthand experience showcases Lumio's commitment to providing core features without added costs.

Additionally, Lumio does not currently allow you to upload video files directly into your presentation, though the platform does compensate by allowing you to embed existing YouTube videos (set to public access) and include live links for students to interact with during the presentation.

Both platforms offer a lesson and activity library to teachers, and both have PhET simulations and Lumio offers Desmos, but as an ELA teacher, this doesn't affect me too much.

Some things that are offered by Nearpod that I honestly do miss from Lumio include the ability to embed a live website page in the presentation and the VR Fieldtrip. Lumio does not offer either of these, but we have simply pasted the link onto our slides whenever the need arises for one of these so that we can all click on it and go there still.

Plan Costs:

Okay, I've been going on forever and ever, so let's get down to brass tacks.

Nearpod does offer a very limited free plan with 100 MB of storage space, but that will be out the window in no time. If you're set on using this plan, PLEASE create your lessons in Google Slides using the Nearpod add-on. If you do it this way, you don't have to have all of the lessons live on the Nearpod website at the same time to keep them alive. When you're ready to use a lesson, use the Google Slides Nearpod add-on to publish it and make it active. As a point of reference for storage, I created a free account again for research on this week's topic, and after minimal activities, I'm already using over a third of my storage on one skeletal lesson.

Nearpod will quickly ask you to upgrade your plan, and the current pricing as of August 21, 2023 is $159 per teacher per year for Gold, or going to the full school license with Premium Plus. Back when we used Nearpod as our primary interactive lesson platform, I had the Gold plan with 1 GB of storage, and still quickly ran out of space. All of the wonderful gamified activities really eat up your storage. I called and asked about a school license for my then-four teachers and myself, and was quoted $4,000 a year. The only way to get co-teaching, live annotation, live to student-paced, unlimited storage, and more is to have a school license. This just wasn't an option for us, which is why I went on the search that eventually lead me to Lumio by SMART.

Lumio by SMART also offers a free plan with a listed storage limit of 50 MB, but our onboarding specialist said that it's not actually a storage limit, per se, but rather a 10-lesson max at a time in your Lumio Library.

If you decide to upgrade to their "single plan," you will only have to pay $59 per teacher per year for unlimited storage. That is $100 less than Nearpod for the year, and you have all of the features available to you, even in the free plan! The next level up is a "group plan" where you can get licensing for your school or district, but I haven't explored that option with Lumio yet.

Honestly, our current system, and one you could run with your departments, is that I pay for the single plan, so $59 per year, and then I use the "share" feature where it lets you send the link to fellow teachers. We keep a table in a Google Doc for each lesson and paste the Lumio copy/share link there! My teachers all have just the basic plan with 10 free lessons, and at the end of the day, they record anything that needs recorded and clear out their library for the new day. So, yes, I'm running my team of teachers for $59 per year instead of $4,000 a year with Nearpod. No brainer in our case!

Overall, the choice between Lumio by SMART and Nearpod hinges on various factors, including cost, functionality, and the unique needs of your classroom. Some of you may be lucky enough to have your district pay for your Nearpod access. That's huge. However, not all of us are so lucky, and even if we are, Lumio has so much to offer, too. The inclusion of the ability to write on presentation slides, even in the free plan, sets Lumio apart, demonstrating its commitment to providing educators with essential tools. While Lumio may have some limitations in audio and video embedding, and live website integration, its accessible alternatives ensure that interactive learning remains central.

As the educational landscape continues to evolve, platforms like Lumio by SMART and Nearpod empower educators like you to shape the future of virtual learning. Your journey in providing engaging and effective educational experiences to middle and high school students is illuminated by the dynamic capabilities of these platforms.

When you stand at the crossroads of Lumio by SMART and Nearpod, you're not just selecting a tool; you're crafting an enriching educational journey that resonates with your vision and your students' potential.

Remember, the right platform isn't just about features—it's about how those features align with your teaching philosophy and the educational needs of your students.

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