Student response systems are objects, programs, or devices that enable students to respond to questions posed in class. SRS encourage students to engage and provide a means of assessment. The key advantage of SRS is instantaneous feedback for instructors and students, which allows for more efficient and effective classroom management. SRS typically require electronic devices for responses, such as special remotes or devices that can run a web application or browser. SRS can be used for assessment or simply to promote active learning.
There are many options for SRS. For engaging students without a graded assessment, free, web-based options like Kahoot or text-based options like Poll Everywhere can be used to conduct polls and display results. For graded assessment, specialized software such as iClicker and TopHat provide options for polling, quizzes, text submission, and assignments and integrate with learning management systems (LMS) such as TCU Online.
I adopted iClicker because it permits instant assessment and feedback, gives students practice for exams, and integrates with several LMS including TCU Online. The semester I adopted iClicker, exam scores increased by 10 percent, attendance improved, and student evaluations since then have overwhelmingly described clickers as useful and fun. Simply adopting clickers or other SRS does not guarantee it will be transformative, however. In the following, I will explain some of the most effective ways to use SRS, including specific examples of how I use them in my own classroom.
Efficient assessment and classroom management
SRS are most valuable for their ability to provide assessment with instant feedback for both the instructor and learner. An instructor can choose whether to use SRS just for engagement or to record grades, and the grading process is quite efficient. I grade my clicker responses to keep students accountable, but the point values are low enough to let them make their first mistakes with low penalties.
The instant feedback also makes class time more efficient. With iClicker, I can privately observe students’ aggregate responses on the receiver or computer screen as they come in; if most got it right, we move on, and if not, we will spend more time on the topic. Students also benefit from immediate assessment; if they miss a question, they can make a note to spend additional time studying that topic or ask for further clarification. Spacing out the questions also helps to break a lecture into more manageable chunks, maintaining student focus and facilitating learning.
Students often learn best in collaboration, and SRS may be used for group assignments and team-based games. For example, one colleague uses iClicker’s self-paced polling feature to have groups of students answer questions based on activities at a series of stations around the classroom. Even when assigning individual points, SRS create opportunities for students to interact with each other. In my classroom, if the proportion of students with correct answers is lower than my threshold for moving on, I will start the poll again, then ask them to discuss with someone nearby and answer the question a second time. It is a variation on think-pair-share that gets them to talk to and teach each other; it also gives me a chance to listen to their explanations and clear up overheard misconceptions (including those resulting from poorly worded questions!).
A key benefit of many SRS is that students may participate confidentially or anonymously. Students who are uncomfortable speaking up during class have a way to venture guesses and contribute to discussion without social pressure. I also occasionally use clickers in anonymous mode to initiate conversations on controversial subjects. The students know they will not be judged by me or their peers, and may have more confidence to share their reasoning after seeing the aggregated results.
Gathering student feedback
Anonymity has also been useful for gathering feedback and questions for the next class meeting. At the end of each class, I open an anonymous and optional poll asking students to provide either something that they would like to discuss further in the next class or some feedback about the class or assignments. Getting daily, immediate feedback helps me clarify points of confusion more efficiently and alter my approaches if needed.
Challenges for using SRS
There are some challenges to using SRS. First, spending 1-3 minutes per question slows the class down and may require cutting some material. This is a minor concern, since sacrificing breadth for depth is often desirable for promoting learning and engagement anyway. Second, getting students registered to enable grade synchronization to the LMS requires some additional effort, though this effort is likely offset by the streamlined grading process. Third, technological SRS may glitch from time to time, which is mainly a problem if the assessment is graded. I occasionally must wait for a student to refresh a frozen iClicker app so they will not lose points. However, glitches are rare enough that it is still worth it to have the assessment capability and LMS integration.
It is important to remember that as with any tool, SRS must be used properly to be effective. Poor implementation of an SRS, such as using questions that do not effectively assess the desired skills or knowledge, will undermine learning while wasting both the instructor’s and students’ time. A solid foundation in pedagogical techniques and assessment strategies will support the transition to SRS and their effective implementation in the classroom.