Classroom Response Systems

Classroom Response Systems  allow faculty to poll students with questions during class and receive instant feedback. Several research studies show a positive impact of classroom response systems on student learning and engagement (Chien et al., 2015; Hunsu et al., 2016). Below are some resources and tips on effectively using classroom response systems in your own classroom.

Some classroom response systems are web-based, and thus let students use their own devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops) to respond to questions.  Poll Everywhere is one such tool that Embry-Riddle supports (contact a CTLE staff member for a premium license). Poll Everywhere has a User Guide with information on how to use this tool.   Other classroom response systems use physical remote control-like devices known as clickers, but they are limited to multiple choice questions only and are more expensive.

Pedagogical Tips

Here are a few basic tips on using classroom response systems in the classroom:

  • Don’t let students see answers at first when doing multiple choice questions.  Use the peer instruction or think-pair-share process.  Have them answer individually, and then if there isn’t consensus on one answer, ask students to turn to their neighbor and discuss their answers before sharing with the class.
  • As with any active learning technique, you need to explain why you are using this tool to the students in the beginning of the semester so that they understand their purpose. Explain how the tool will help you get feedback on their understanding and help the students get feedback on their own learning.  You could also explain how research studies have shown that these tools increase student learning and engagement.
  • Use the classroom response system throughout class, not just at the end or beginning.  Our attention spans are very short – take a break from your lecture from time to time to ask the students a question or have them do some activity.
  • Ask some conceptual questions that test students’ understanding, not [only] rote memorization or procedural questions.
  • At the end of class, however, one technique you may find helpful to do occasionally is a ‘muddiest point’ or ‘exit ticket’ activity.  You can ask students questions like “How well did you understand today’s material?” or “What concepts are you still unclear about?” or “What did you learn today?”
  • Don’t [always] count questions for a grade or only use them for taking attendance.  These questions allow you to get feedback about students’ understanding, and also the students get feedback about their own and each others’ understanding.  This is known as formative assessment (assessment to help students’ learning) vs. summative assessment (assessing learning after the fact, as in a quiz or test).

The Clicker Resources page at U. British Columbia has excellent resources on using clickers that apply to any classroom response system.  These resources include an instructor’s guide with great pedagogical advice, several videos, and handouts including tips for successful clicker use and a flow chart of the peer instruction process (think-pair-share) to more effectively utilize clickers and classroom response systems.

See also Teaching with Clickers for tips from the University of Michigan and Writing great clicker questions, a PDF guide from a clicker vendor.

What NOT to do:

Technology Tips

Set aside some time at the beginning of the semester to familiarize your students with the classroom response system.  Perhaps ask some practice questions, or take roll.  After the first or second time using a classroom response system, things should go much more smoothly and quicker.

Which type of classroom response system should you use: a web-based classroom response system like Poll Everywhere, or physical clickers like Turning Technologies (although note that it also supports web-based responses)?  Here are some arguments in favor of web-based options, but with one caveat at the end:

  • Web-based options have the advantage of being free or much lower cost than clickers.  Virtually all college students have a laptop or a cell phone that they can bring to class, or if not they can purchase a device for less than the cost of a typical textbook.  A classroom set of clickers may cost upwards of $1000, or else involve rental costs for each student.
  • Web-based options allow students to type in text answers or even draw responses (with some tools like InfuseLearning), whereas clickers are a more dated technology and mainly only support multiple choice questions.
  • Most students are bringing their cell phones into class anyway, and so why not turn these devices into tools for learning, rather than tools for distraction.  These devices can also be used for other purposes in the classroom, such as calculator tools, conducting research online, taking notes, or collaborating on documents.
  • Web-based classroom response systems work on any device or platform, iPhones, Android phones…any device with a web browser.
  • Physical clickers can get lost, or the batteries can go dead.  Students may forget to bring a clicker with them to class, but rarely would a student forget to bring their cell phone, since they depend on it so much.
  • Banning devices from the classroom is a losing battle, and only engenders bad tech etiquette habits, and misses out on their pedagogical value.  If you are worried about students browsing Facebook or other distractions in the classroom, create a clear class policy for use of devices in the class.  After finishing a poll question for example, ask students to put their cell phones face down, or shut their laptops.  Most importantly, increase the amount of participatory active learning activities in your classroom (group discussions, in-class work on problems, etc.) and reduce time spent lecturing to minimize opportunities for distraction.
  • There are some disadvantages of web-based options.  If your classroom has poor wireless connectivity and poor cell phone reception, that can make these tools a less feasible option.

Non-Technological Alternatives to Clickers, CRS Systems

If you prefer not to use an electronic classroom response system, you can use printed ABCD voting cards, such as this example (pdf).  Have students fold the paper to show their answer, and hold it against their chest when responding so other students can’t see (and potentially change their answer).  It is best to use differently colored alternatives, so you as an instructor can more quickly see how many have chosen which answers.  Another alternative, if you need an accurate count of responses, is Plickers, which involves students holding up specially printed cards that your cell phone scans and counts via the camera.

More resources:

At Embry-Riddle, some faculty using classroom response systems include:


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