ARS History and Facts
There are many reasons for the use of audience response systems (ARS). The tendency to answer based on crowd psychology is reduced because, unlike hand raising, it is difficult to see which selection others are making. The ARS also allows for faster tabulation of answers for large groups than manual methods. Additionally, many college professors use ARS systems to take attendance or grade answers in large lecture halls, which would be highly time-consuming without the system.
Audience response offers many potential benefits to those who use it in group settings.
Improve attentiveness: In a study done at four University of Wisconsin campuses (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, and University of Wisconsin–Whitewater), faculty members and students in courses using clickers were given a survey that assessed their attitudes about clicker use in Fall 2005 and its effect on teaching and learning. Of the 27 faculty members who responded to the survey, 94 percent either agreed or strongly agreed with the claim "Clickers increased student engagement in the classroom," with the remaining six percent responding that they were neutral about that claim. (None of the faculty respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the claim.) Similarly, 69 percent of the 2,684 student respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the claim "Clickers led me to become engaged in class," with only 13 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with that claim.
Increase knowledge retention: In the same University of Wisconsin study, 74 percent of the faculty respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the claim "Clickers have been beneficial to my students' learning," with the remaining 26 percent choosing a "neutral" response. (No faculty respondent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the claim.) Similarly, 53 percent of the student respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the claim "Clickers have been beneficial to my learning," with only 19 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with that claim. In a different but related study, Catherine Crouch and Eric Mazur more directly measured the results of Peer Instruction and "ConcepTests" on student learning and retention of information at the end of a semester. Faculty members using this "Peer Instruction" pedagogical technique present information to students, then ask the students a question that tests their understanding of a key concept. Students indicate their answer to the instructor using an audience response system, and then they discuss with their fellow students why they chose a particular answer, trying to explain to one another their underlying thinking. The instructor then asks the question again to see the new student results. The study authors used scanned forms and hand-raising for audience response in the initial year of the study, and then they switched to a computer-based audience response system in the following years. The "clicker" use was only part of a multi-pronged attempt to introduce peer instruction, but overall they found that "the students taught with P[eer] I[instruction] (Spring 2000, N = 155) significantly outperformed the students taught traditionally (Spring 1999, N = 178)" on two standard tests – the "Force Concept Inventory and the Mechanics Baseline Test" – and on traditional course exams as well. A Johns Hopkins study on the use of audience response systems in Continuing Medical Education (CME) for physicians and other health personnel found no significant difference in knowledge scores between ARS and non-ARS participants in a clinical round table trial involving 42 programs across the United States.
Poll anonymously: Unlike a show of hands or a raising of cards with letters on them, sending responses by hand-held remotes is much more anonymous. Except perhaps for a student (our audience member) who watches what the person next to him/her submits, the other students (or audience members) can't really see what response his/her fellow audience members are giving, and the software that summarizes the results aggregates the responses, listing what percent of respondents chose a particular answer, but not what individual respondents said. With some audience response systems, the software allows you to ask questions in truly anonymous mode, so that the database (or "gradebook") is not even associating answers with individual respondents.
Track individual responses: The "clickers" that audience members use to send their responses to the receiver (and thus to the presenter's computer) are often registered to a particular user, with some kind of identifying number. When a user sends his/her response, the information is stored in a database (sometimes called the "Gradebook" in academic models of audience response systems) associated with each particular number, and presenters have access to that information after the end of the interactive session. Audience response systems can often be linked to a Learning management system, which increases the ability to keep track of individual student performance in an academic setting.
Display polling results immediately: The audience response system includes software that runs on the presenter's computer that records and tabulates the responses by audience members. Generally, once a question has ended (polling from the audience has ceased), the software displays a bar chart indicating what percent of audience members chose the various possible responses. For questions with right/wrong answers, audience members can get immediate feedback about whether they chose the correct answer, since it can be indicated on the bar chart. For survey-type polling questions, audience members can see from the summary how many other audience members chose the same response, along with how many audience members (or what percent of the audience) chose different responses.
Create an interactive and fun learning environment: Clickers are in many ways novel devices, so the novelty itself can add interest to the learning environment. More important, though, is the interactive nature of audience response systems. Having been asked a particular question about a concept or opinion, students are genuinely interested in seeing the results. They want to learn if they answered the question correctly, and they want to see how their response compares to the responses of their fellow audience members. The increased student engagement cited in the University of Wisconsin study (see footnote 1 below) attests to the ability of audience response systems to improve the learning environment.
Confirm audience understanding of key points immediately: In the University of Wisconsin study previously cited, faculty members were unanimous in their recognition of this key advantage of audience response systems. In other words, 100% of the faculty respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the claim "Clickers allowed me to assess student knowledge on a particular concept.". Students also recognized this benefit for their own self-assessment. 75% of student respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the claim, "Clickers helped me get instant feedback on what I knew and didn't know." In a published article, a member of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Physics Education Research Group (UMPERG)articulated this advantage in more detail, using the term "Classroom Communication System (CCS)" for what we have been calling an audience response system:
By providing feedback to an instructor about students' background knowledge and preconceptions, CCS-based pedagogy can help the instructor design learning and experiences appropriate to student's state of knowledge and explicitly confront and resolve misconceptions. By providing frequent feedback about students' ongoing learning and confusions, it can help an instructor dynamically adjust her teaching to students' real, immediate, changing needs.
Gather data for reporting and analysis: Unlike other forms of audience participation (such as a show of hands or holding up of response cards), audience response systems use software to record audience responses, and those responses are stored in a database. Database entries are linked to a particular user, based on some ID number entered into the handheld remote device or based on a registration between the user and the company that manufactures the handheld device. Answers can be analyzed over time, and the data can be used for educational research or other forms of analysis.
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