Monday, 28 July 2014

Student Response Systems (Part 1)

What to look for in a student response system – or the questions to ask?

Many educational contexts now make use of student response devices - devices, which allow a student or group of students to send a response to a question back to a tutor in a classroom or lecture theatre. There is a wide array of devices and it can be very hard to choose which one you would like. This blog post is Part 1 of 2. In this post, I will look at the features that response systems can have. In the second part, I will look at some specific systems and highlight their best features.

BYOD or a device supplied by the University
One of the first considerations should be about which type of device you will use. There are two choices here:
  •  A supplied device: Some of the student response systems can use a proprietary device (e.g. Turning Point, Promethean). This has some advantages in that you can test the technology, you know that it works, you know that everyone will have one. In some cases, departments supply these on loan or the students buy them. In other cases, they are given out session by session.  There is a cost implication per device to this solution
  • BYOD (Bring your own device): Many students now own and carry a personal device. This could be a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop computer. The main consideration here is whether every student has one and which type they are using. Ideally, you would want to look for a solution which caters for all types of devices (iOS-Apple, Android and Windows). If a response system works through an Internet browser window then it can be used by all types of devices.
How many students?
This is an important question because it will influence some of the other answers. If you have a group of 40 students who all have their own device, then a BYOD solution would work well. If you have 400 in a lecture theatre where 10 do not have their own devices and there is limited wifi, you may be better to use ‘clickers’- devices which work on radio frequency and use a receiver in the tutor’s computer. You should speak to the IT department where you work about the wifi capacity of any venue where you are thinking of using a response system. (In general one access point will cope with 40-50 users -

How will my students give their answers?
Some of the response software allows for different ways to respond. Let’s look at the options:
  • Hand-held proprietary devices  Type in a response on a clicker. One of the limitations of clickers can be that they are restricted to multiple-choice questions: A,B,C,D etc. or 1,2,3,4. Some clickers are a little more sophisticated and do have a small screen to allow for some alphanumeric entry as well. Some clickers allow users to register so that the tutor knows who they are. This can be important if you want to be able to use them for attendance-monitoring or targeted support for students who are struggling.
  • Browser: Some student response systems allow responses through a web browser. This means that any device that has a browser and an Internet connection can send a response. Typically, students would key in a web address and a ‘code’ and this would open the response area. Responses could be of any type. These sites do not generally require a log-in, although some do give the option of adding your name.
  • App-based: Some systems require users to install an app. This works through the Internet and students start the app to receive the questions. You are sometimes asked to enter your name to log-in. Apps will often work on tablets and mobile phones, but sometimes not on laptops. You will need to ensure that the app is available on all operating systems (iOS, Android and Windows)
  • Text message: In some cases, users can text in a response from their mobile telephone, which will appear on screen alongside ones that have been added by an app or browser. This allows for participation from users who only have an older phone.
  • Twitter: Some systems allow users to tweet replies.
Question types
There are several types of questions that can be asked and you will need to consider which of these are important to the teaching you want to do.
  • Multiple choice: How many options are available for your multiple choice? If the system does marking, does it allow for more than one correct answer? (e.g. If you want to ask, ‘Tick the three possibilities for this scenario’)
  • Yes/No, True/False: Essentially these are variants on multiple-choice, but with just the two options. Sometimes you can set these up yourself or sometimes they already exist as options
  • Likert scale: Also a variant on multiple choice, as you are asking a student to choose from a number of options e.g. ‘How do you feel about this subject on a scale of 1-6 where 1 = I don’t care at all and 6 = I care very deeply?’ Again, you can set this up yourself on a multiple-choice question, but some software will offer you ready-made Likert response scale
  • Sort in order: This often allows the user to express a series of events in an order. So they may be given six events, labelled A-F, and then generate an answer that reflects the correct order: C,E,A,B,F,D
  • Free text entry: Students can enter text freely based on a stimulus question. Students may be asked for a single-word answer or may be able to type a phrase. It is a good idea to keep responses short, especially in large numbers are involved. What is interesting here is to look at how the software handles text responses. Does it scatter them across a page or stack-them up? Can the responses be moved and sorted on the page they appear on. Some software will create a Wordle from the responses it receives.
  • Free numerical entry: Enter numbers freely. With whole numbers, this is quite straight-forward, but you should look at the level of sophistication available for equations, fractions or specialist mathematical symbols. If the mathematics is complex, an option is to ask the students to write it on paper, take a photograph of the finished version and then save the photo as a shared photo or email it to a specific address
  • Annotate a picture: There are now options available for students to annotate a picture. This could involve adding labels, putting a cross on a certain point on a chart or picking out key parts of an image.
How do you set up the questions
In looking at the different types of software available, it is worth considering where the questions will be placed. Some software offers integration with PowerPoint, meaning that a tutor could prepare a lecture and fully integrate the questions, so that when they reach that slide, they can trigger the question.
If the questions are browser or app-based, how user-friendly is the software for putting the questions together and how easy is it to move from the presentation to the place where your questions are stored? There is the potential to waste a lot of precious teaching time by not being able to move fluidly from one application to another.

How are the results given and shared?
When using the software, how does it handle the responses from the students? Does it know who has sent in which response? Do the responses have to be saved? Does the software generate a ‘mark’ for the student based on their participation and ability?

What can you do with the feedback?
One aspect of using a student response system is to improve engagement by providing challenge in a lecture. However, the other side is that if the students’ responses are saved, they can be used to analyse a student’s progress and help to identify students who may need extra support. Good student analytics can help a tutor to spot a student who may fail much earlier than waiting for an assignment or test in a module.

You also need to think about how to use the response system during the lecture. Simply asking the question and getting correct responses does not really improve the learning process. Getting an explanation of the right answer and maybe, depending on how the questions are structured, understanding why wrong answers have been selected or put forward, is crucial to getting the most from the questioning process.

Some resources do allow students to work through papers and give responses in their own time. This can be useful, although it is difficult to restrict access to other applications, such as the Internet, which could be used for cheating if the test is an assessed piece of work.

At a distance
It is also worth bearing in mind that the devices which work over a browser or app can be used at a distance. You may be delivering a lecture which is being simultaneously broadcast or a webinar with participants in different locations. The actual location of a student is irrelevant if they use a browser and this can really help distance learners to feel like they are involved in the session.

So, there are a lot of choices, but having a clear idea of what you are looking for will help you to make the most appropriate choice.

Part 2 looks at some of the systems available and highlights the features that they have.

Further Reading: If you would like to learn more about this topic, you may find the following papers of interest:

Lukoff, B., Mazur, E., & Schell, J. (2013). Catalyzing Learner Engagement using Cutting-Edge Classroom Response Systems in Higher Education. In C. Wankel, & P. Blessinger, Increasing Student Engagement and Retention Using Classroom Technologies: Classroom Response Systems and Mediated Discourse Technologies (Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6) (pp. 233-261). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Stowell, J. R., & Nelson, J. (2007). Benefits of Electronic Audience Response Systems on Student Participation, Learning, and Emotion, Teaching of Psychology, 253-258.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much, Ros. This is a very interesting topic. Well done!



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