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#37-Student Response System

March 01, 2004


A Student Response System (SRS) provides students with a wireless hand-held response pad that allows them to electronically reply to classroom questions and receive immediate feedback. Faculty can thereby engage students in course material through interactive question and answer sessions.

LTA Credits

Barbara A. Frey, D.Ed
Senior Instructional Designer
University of Pittsburgh

Daniel H. Wilson
Instructional Technologist
University of Pittsburgh

The SRS software quickly polls students, tabulates the results, and graphically presents the findings. The types of questions programmed into the SRS are multiple choice, true/false, and rank order items.

How Does the Student Response System Work?

Like most technology, student polling systems are made up of two general parts, hardware and software. The software components of these tools tend to have similar capabilities and modest learning curves. In the case of Turningpoint®, the software producers have integrated their tool with PowerPoint® to make the curve less steep. The hardware for these types of devices can vary greatly. For the purpose of this article we will look at two main categories: infrared (IR) and radio-frequency (RF). From the user/student perspective, these types of devices are easy to use, being similar to a television remote control.

When presented with a question, the student presses a button on a hand-held transmitter, which sends either the infrared or radio signal to a receiver attached to a computer. The computer records and/or displays the response per the instructor’s preference. From the perspective of administrator and instructor, one must consider which type, IR or RF, is more appropriate to the specific classroom setting. The reason for this comes from the limitation of IR technologies. Infrared transmitters have a smaller range (optimal less than 45 feet) and require a line of sight between the transmitter and the receiver. This means that in classrooms with obstructed views or significant distances between the transmitters and receiver a classroom response system using IR transmitters may perform poorly. The RF transmitters do not have these same limitations; however, they are more expensive.

How Can an SRS Help Faculty Achieve Course Goals?

You can achieve the following goals by using an SRS:

  1. Engage students in course material through survey, pretest, practice, or review questions. The resultant interactive classroom encourages students to come to class prepared. However, to achieve this interaction and maintain learners’ attention, your questions must be challenging, thought provoking, and/or stimulating.
  2. Promote collaboration with group exercises that require students to discuss and come to a consensus, or with quiz questions that create a healthy competition.
  3. Provide instant feedback to students regarding an issue, question, or calculation. Consider using Gagne’s learning theory, which incorporates guidance, practice, and feedback into structured lessons.
  4. Increase communication by discussing the answers and opinions revealed in the SRS results. The SRS provides all students with an equal opportunity to respond, and you can take advantage of their responses to generate dialogue. Because the system can allow for anonymous responses, it is effective for sensitive questions, such as ethical, legal, and moral issues.
  5. Collect data for research or formative/summative evaluation. The SRS can be used for classroom assessments to measure students’ preparation, understanding and/or satisfaction. Some instructors administer pre- and post- tests.

What are Faculty Saying About the SRS?

At the University of Pittsburgh, Associate Professor Ellen Cohn in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences says, “I find that the Student Response System engages the most reticent of students. It introduces an element of personal responsibility and interactivity that is otherwise difficult to achieve within a large class.” In one graduate course, Cohn uses the SRS for a needs assessment inventory. The results quickly alert her to unprepared students and, more important, she notes the SRS “provides a wake-up call to these students.”

In the Department of Chemistry, Associate Professor Joseph Grabowski uses the SRS in large lecture classrooms. He values “the ability to get 100% of the students to respond to a question; the distribution of answers gives me a good handle on where the class is at that moment.” Grabowski believes that students like the activity because it “gives them immediate feedback, in a non-threatening manner, about their current level of understanding.” Students recognize when they are learning the material or when they need to work a little harder.

At the Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education, Associate Director of Instructional Technology Nick Laudato states that he is “most excited about the pretest/posttest applications. The pretest can help students assess their entry knowledge of course topics and motivate them to resolve any deficiencies it identifies. It also helps the instructor adjust where to place emphasis or additional examples. The posttest can reinforce that students effectively mastered course content or alert the instructor that additional work may be required.”

Instructional Technologist Dan Wilson in the Faculty Instructional Development Lab trains faculty to use the response system. He advises that faculty practice using the system prior to deploying it in the classroom. Like any new technology, there is a learning curve to effectively implementing the system. For example, some faculty have encountered transmission problems. Therefore, Wilson suggests caution if using the system for attendance or grading.

What are Limitations of SRS?

The University of Pittsburgh Media Services Department offers six sets of 32 hand held key pad units, six receiver units, and the SRS software for classroom use. It is possible to connect four units together, serving a maximum of 128 students. Faculty can request the system be set up prior to class time, which takes about 30 minutes. One receiver is required for every 32 key pads. Associate Director of Media Services Michael Arenth explains “a concentrator box is required to bridge the receivers and improve the transmission performance of the response system.” He recommends that the receiver units be permanently installed in the classroom. Arenth also recommends extra receivers when a large number of students with keypads will be transmitting responses. In other words, to support 128 keypads, one would deploy five or six receivers instead of the usual four.

Distributing and collecting the hand held keypad units are challenges for busy classroom instructors. Therefore, most faculty find it beneficial to have teaching or graduate assistants help manage the system. In order to lessen the responsibility of instructors, institutions can permanently install the keypad response units or require students to purchase them (about $25 each). Some textbooks are packaged with an SRS, in which case the instructor will want to ensure that the hand held key pads and the classroom receivers and software are compatible.

Faculty integrate the SRS into their teaching at various levels. At the most basic level, faculty deliver the response question orally or in a PowerPoint® presentation and view a summary of the students responses. At the more advanced level, the software can be used to show response histograms or charts and to calculate statistical analyses. It is also possible to export the response data to an Excel spreadsheet.

How Much Does a SRS Cost?

Due to the maturity of the technology and the simplicity of the systems, the average price for student response systems is relatively low. With most vendors the cost of a portable IR system is about $3,900. This price includes 32 response pads, a receiver, and the poll creation/administration software. RF systems are more expensive, costing approximately $6,000 for 32 transmitters, receiver, and software. These prices typically include the right to freely distribute required software for poll creation and collection. The two vendors used at the University of Pittsburgh are TurningPoint® and eInstruction®.



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