Ideas and Strategies for Using Classroom Response Systems

Classroom response systems are a set of tools that can be useful to help facilitate active learning and increased interaction in face to face classes. They provide an automated way for the instructor to ask a question to the entire class and then immediately collect and view responses. While classroom response systems can be used as a way to efficiently take attendance or administer short quizzes, they are most effective when used to facilitate active engagement with key course concepts and encourage interactions between students and with the instructor. Some tools, such as iClickers are limited to multiple choice questions, but others such as Learning Catalytics or PulsePress allow for a wide range of responses. They can be used in large classes to promote learning by giving students the opportunity to check their knowledge and get real time feedback and are often used in compliment with strategies such as peer instruction to engage students in active learning.

How do Classroom Response Activities work?

Classroom Response Systems (CRS) are a category of tools that allow students in class to submit responses to instructor questions through a handheld or mobile device and have their submissions be instantaneously collected and presented to the class.

CRS typically work like this:

 

Pose a question or idea

Pose a question or idea.

Questions can be projected on an overhead screen or to students’ computers or handheld devices. All CRS systems allow multiple choice responses; some allow a much wider range of numerical, algebraic, text, and graphical input.

Students respond with an electronic device

Students respond with an electronic device.

Students use a dedicated hardware or own computers or devices to respond individually to the question.

See and record results instantly

See and record results instantly!

Individual student responses are collected, either through a web application or through software on an instructor’s computer, and the results are instantaneously presented in summarized form to the class on the overhead screen.

Display results to promote discussion and activity

Display results to promote discussion and activity.

The instructor can then show the various answers, discuss the thinking that leads to correct answer, and allow the students to discuss the results with partners or small groups. Some CRS systems facilitate the grouping of students for peer discussion.

How Are UBC Arts Instructors Using CRS?

How can CRS help improve student learning?

Studies have shown that use of Classroom Response Systems in lecture classes can improve learning by:

  • increasing opportunities for instructors and students to get prompt feedback on how well important concepts are being understood
  • facilitating increased interaction between instructors and students and encouraging peer discussion
  • facilitating the shift in instruction to more active learning strategies

In classes where these systems have been introduced attendance often increases and students typically report higher levels of attention and engagement. Classroom Response Systems also provide opportunities for instructors to customize their lessons for each learning group based on the feedback from question results.

Like any technology or teaching approach, the success of classroom response activities depend on the way the instructor designs and implements them and the degree to which they are integrated in the overall course design and assessment strategies. To help achieve the greatest benefit, instructors must learn to write effective questions that are connected to key learning outcomes and incorporate opportunities for discussion and student activities to generate responses through techniques such as peer instruction.

Ideas for Using Classroom Response Systems

Instructors have employed Classroom Response Systems for many reasons, including:

Attendance: The CRS can be used simply to take attendance. Or, because it collects information on individual student responses, it tracks attendance and engagement automatically and this data can be used to assign grades. Often, instructors will give a participation mark that is part of a student’s overall grade based on their participation in these activities. Studies show that including a participation grade of 5% was sufficient to generate significant improvements in attendance.

Quizzes: At UBC, the individual student answers can be linked to to the gradebook in Connect. Instructors sometimes use a series of CRS questions to administer a short quiz at the beginning of class to check if students did the assigned reading or watched the flipped class videos.

Discussion Prompt: CRS are most-used to prompt thinking and discussion. After students have been given time to think individually about a question and then commit to an answer, they are more likely to participate in discussions where reasons for those answers can be articulated. Questions that don’t have a clear right answer or that bring to the surface common misconceptions can be effective for triggering discussion. A diversity of responses creates a sense of curiosity and promotes an increased desire to discuss the issue or listen to an explanation.

Determine the Distribution of Student Views: CRS can be use to take a quick poll to get a sense of students’ views on a particular topic or find out what the general experience is with a certain topic. This enables instructors to tailor their delivery and lesson plan on the fly to better suit students existing views and understanding.

Conceptual Understanding: CRS questions can be used to target areas within a particular domain that are known to cause student difficulty in understanding. These activities can help students to acknowledge their own misconceptions and allow instructors to assess whether there are continuing gaps in understanding so they can be addressed.

Gauge in-class learning: Instructors can use response systems to gauge students’ understanding of concepts at the beginning of class and then again at the end of class to understand how much their understanding has improved over the course of a lesson and where there are still gaps. This strategy can be extended to the evaluation of learning over a full unit or course.

Peer Instruction: CRS are often associated with a non-traditional pedagogy emphasizing peer instruction. Proponents of peer instruction maintain that students learn better when they are forced to discover solutions in small groups on their own. A typical pattern is: a) first, students are presented with a question and respond individually, b) after responding, students discuss the question in small groups and defend their answer, and c) finally, students answer the question again. The hope is that more students will submit the correct answer the second time around after they have had a chance to listen to each others’ reasons for different answers. Depending on the results, the instructor can then lead a larger class discussion or provide further explanation or iterate the peer instruction again.

Tools

iClicker: Clickers are wireless handheld devices that students bring to class and use to answer multiple choice questions that the instructor displays on a PowerPoint presentation.

Learning Catalytics: Learning Catalytics is a web based classroom response system, owned by Pearson, that allows for a wide range of response types such as numerical, algebraic, textual, graphical or multiple-choice.

PulsePress: PulsePress is a system custom-built at UBC for twitter-like student responses. It is a WordPress theme running on UBC blogs that allows for real time posting, threaded responses, and tagging. Students can use it from any device.

Top Hat: Top Hat replaces so-called “clickers” — the remote-control response systems used in classrooms — with web-based applications that work on students’ smartphones, feature phones, tablets and laptops.

Google Docs: Google Docs and other collaborative editing platforms allow students to create, edit, share and store documents, spreadsheets and presentations in real time and asynchronously. Documents can be shared, opened, and edited by multiple users simultaneously and users are able to see character-by-character changes as other collaborators make edits.

Tips for using CRS activities in your class

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  • Identify key learning objectives for the class and design CRS questions and activities that align with those objectives. This will help focus the class on the most important concepts and highlight for students which concepts deserve particular attention. Aligning the objectives and CRS questions to course assessments will further help to encourage student participation and the perceived importance of the activity.
  • Use the CRS consistently or even continuously. One way to do this is to break your class session up into 10-15 minute sections. At each 15 minute interval add a space for classroom response questions. This will help to focus student attention during the class and provides an opportunity for both you and your students to understand how well they’ve understood the concepts being discussed before moving on to the next topic.
  • Design the class session so that where possible, classroom response questions are coupled with peer activities. Utilize peer instruction techniques by first asking a question for students to answer individually. Then, have students discuss their answers in small groups before having them answer the question again. This can then lead into instructor review if a large number of students are still missing the question. This technique is especially helpful in addressing key misconceptions students have about course material.
  • Use CRS questions at the start of the class to check and see if students understand material from previous classes or class readings. Use the response feedback to provide a more focused review at the start of class before moving on.
  • Use CRS activities to stimulate class discussion by posing questions that elicit a difference of opinion.
  • Try to use CRS activites to facilitate low stakes formative assessment that increases opportunities for regular feedback and interactions. While tying CRS activity to a percentage of the total grade has shown to increase participation and attendance, studies indicate that students respond unfavorably to having CRS questions tied too heavily to marks (particularly when graded on correct responses for individual questions) and extensive use of CRS for external rewards may negatively impact the creation of a positive learning environment.
  • Writing effective questions to engage students in more than low-level learning is a key component of an effective use of CRS in classrooms. See Derekbruff and http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk

Challenges

CR systems are a relatively new tool and their effective use present a number of challenges that must be taken into account by instructors.

  • Access. Ensuring students buy and bring the devices to class can be a challenge.
  • Time. Time and technical training is required to learn the system, as student satisfaction is tied to a smooth process (particularly when marks are involved).
  • Instructor Workload. Integrating CRS particularly initially is time consuming.Time for design and preparation: writing good questions, reorganizing class activities, and attending technical training are all important considerations.
  • Curriculum Coverage. Instructors report that after integrating CRS activities they had difficulty covering the necessary material in class or were required to compress their presentation too much. When implementing any type of active learning in class there is always a trade off between the amount of material covered and depth of understanding.  Try adopting a blended or flipped approach with online materials and activities being used to support the classroom activities as a way to offset some coverage issues.  Focus CRS activities on key learning outcomes or real world application of concepts to make sure that time in class is focused on the most important material.
  • Adaptive teaching. Adapting instruction on the fly based on question responses can be an effective strategy, but may be difficult for inexperienced instructors and may require more preparation time. There is also the potential for the class to go off-topic.
  • Student attitude and workload. Use of CRS is a new method of learning for students and some may respond negatively simply because the rules of learning have changed. Students may experience stress and frustration and exhibit resistance. Care must be taken as well not to overburden students with too much out-of-class preparation (such as watching 2 hours of videos) in addition to assigned readings.

Additional Resources

  • Clickers in the Classroom: An Active Learning Approach – 2007 Educause Quarterly
  • Bruff, D. (2010). Multiple-choice questions you wouldn’t put on a test: Promoting deep learning using clickers. Essays on Teaching Excellence, 21(3).
  • CWSEI, Clicker Guide – Comprehensive guide that describes reasons for using clickers, case-studies, and best practices for using in the classroom.
  • Draper, S. (2008). Pedagogical format for using questions and voting, Retrieved October 19, 2014, from http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk
  • Immerwahr, J. (2009). Engaging the Thumb Generation with Clickers. Teaching Philosophy 32:3, September 2009
  • Kay, R. H., & LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature. Computers & Education, 53(3), 819-827. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.05.001
  • Salemi, M. K. (2008). Clickenomics: Using a classroom response system to increase student engagement in a large-enrollment principles of economics course. Accessed March 5, 2009.
  • Elliott, C. (2003). Using a personal response system in economics teaching. International Review of Economics Education, 1(1), 80-86.
  • Mayer, R. E., Stull, A., DeLeeuw, K., Almeroth, K., Bimber, B., Chun, D., Bulger, M., Campbell, J., Knight, A., & Zhang, H. (2009). Clickers in college classrooms: Fostering learning with questioning methods in large lecture classes. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34, 51-57.
  • Mollborn, S., & Hoekstra, A. (2010). “A meeting of minds”: Using clickers for critical thinking and discussion in large sociology classes. Teaching Sociology, 38(1), 18-27.