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The Sea in Single Drops: Connecting with Students Using Classroom Response Systems

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Clickers.” If you’re not already using them, you might have heard about them from colleagues or students. Or you might know them by product names like iClicker—which uses its own handheld device—or web-based products like Squarecap, Poll Everywhere, and Top Hat that can be used on any mobile device. They all belong to a type of technology known as “classroom response system” (CRS). This type of technology has been used at UT since the early 2000s, and continue to grow in popularity. In fact, many instructors that we work with in the FIC are finding the CRS to be an increasingly necessary tool for creating meaningful learning experiences for their students.

As class sizes continue to increase, instructors and TAs are looking to leverage technology to efficiently manage administrative tasks like taking attendance, as well as enhance instruction through interactivity and engagement of students that would otherwise be impossible. But how exactly are these products being used for these purposes?

In January of 2016, a review team of instructional designers, instructional technology specialists, and IT unit directors from across UT convened to review the landscape of CRS products being used at our institution and collect data that would provide some answers to these questions:

  1. How many instructors are using a CRS at UT and how are they using it?
  2. How many students are using a CRS at UT and how are they using it?

Student comments from this sample suggest that classroom response systems are often being used primarily to record attendance, which can be frustrating, especially for those who have to purchase multiple systems. Students feel they are being charged a fee just so they can say they were in class.

How many instructors are using a CRS at UT and how are they using it?

We combined our database of known CRS users with instructor user lists provided to us by the vendors of CRS products. Based on this information, we estimate usage on our campus to be between 10-15% of the 3,000+ instructors at UT.

The majority of faculty who responded to our most recent Fall 2016 survey reported that their top three uses were:

[28%]  To ask ungraded questions that stimulate group discussion.
[22%]  To ask ungraded questions that gauge comprehension and misconceptions.
[18%]  To ask general, ungraded questions that translate as a participation score.

How many students are using a CRS at UT and how are they using it?

In April 2016, we surveyed all UT undergraduate and graduate students about their usage of classroom response systems. Of the 4300 students who responded to our survey, 71% of students had used iClicker and 86% of students had used a mobile based CRS during their academic career at UT.

Student comments from this sample suggest that classroom response systems are often being used primarily to record attendance, which can be frustrating, especially for those who have to purchase multiple systems. Students feel they are being charged a fee just so they can say they were in class.

Whether you’ve already been using a CRS or are interested in starting, consider these recommendations.

Best Practices for Using a CRS
  1. More than attendance.
    Classroom Response Systems were designed to increase interaction, communication, and engagement. Use them that way! There’s really no reason to even take attendance separately anymore. If your students are there, you’ll know it through their participation in meaningful exchanges using this technology.
  2. Multiple chances to respond.
    Distributing CRS usage throughout class time will help motivate students to get to class and give them reasons to stay until the end. Front-loading all of your polling questions or pop quizzes into the first few minutes of class misses the opportunity to check for understanding at strategic points during the lesson. It can also be challenging to students who might be legitimately hustling to get to your class from the other side of campus.
  3. The utility & elegance of slices.
    Like a pizza, a lecture is a formidable amount of information to consume whole, without pause. A CRS used at just the right moments during a lecture can help break up the material into more manageable bites and get students involved more closely with the topics at hand. Opinion polls, think-pair-share, or comprehension questions can be just the pause needed to help everyone in the room refresh their focus before grabbing another slice.
  4. Connection. Connection.
    A CRS can create individual learning opportunities in a sea of students, and invite each person in your class to be more connected to the content, to you, and to their peers. For example, if you show the results after a live polling question or the range of misconceptions when students predict an outcome, students gain insight. They get to see evidence of their thinking that otherwise would have remained invisible.

What have you found to be helpful when using a CRS? Continue the discussion below.

Update: Want to know more about the CRS Review Project? Check out our CRS Review Final Report.

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Noah Stroehle
Instructional Technology Specialist, Faculty Innovation Center

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