Online Student Response Systems compared

Introduction and context

The University has been using the TurningPoint SRS (Student Response System) since 2008, and there are now around 2000 handsets in use, mostly in faculties but also 240 available via short loan from the Library.

SRS enables in-class voting, and provides instant feedback to tutors and students via multiple-choice questions. Voting is anonymous which thus encourages all students to participate, and the technology can be used for many kinds of engaging pedagogies, such as Professor Eric Mazur’s ‘peer learning’ technique. Short-answer questions enable answers, ideas and comments to be gathered anonymously and shared with the class to facilitate debate.

The disadvantages of the handsets are numbers and management. Although some faculties have around 250 handsets each, that is still insufficient for their largest cohorts and limits concurrent use. In addition, tutors must book the handsets, collect them from the faculty office and carry them to the lecture room, distribute them to the students at the start of the session, collect them at the end and then return them to the faculty office. The larger the cohort, the greater the physical effort needed to use them.

There is therefore a good deal of interest in online SRS that takes advantage of the excellent Wi-Fi available in teaching rooms and the fact that most students now have a suitable mobile device.

Integration with PowerPoint vs. cloud-based systems

Turning Point software is installed on the PCs in all CLS teaching rooms, and can be freely installed on academics’ office or personal PCs. Typically, an academic would create the questions when preparing their slides so they were integrated into the presentation and saved as part of the PowerPoint file. Turning Point was configured so that the voting data is saved to a folder in their My Documents filestore.

This approach can be contrasted with the cloud-based approach used by the other SRS described. Tutors log in to their account to create, manage and run polls and quizzes, and all of the voting data is also stored online. Some systems do have PowerPoint plug-ins, but these only embed a web page within the presentation. Unless tutors are using their own laptop with the plug-in installed, they will need to switch between their slides and the SRS at relevant points during their lecture.

Tracking individual student responses

Many SRS just require students to enter an event code to connect to a poll and vote, so voting is anonymous. Some also ask students to enter their name and this may be used to identify their contributions. This enables the results to provide the tutor with feedback on individual student performance and also discourages inappropriate responses to short-answer text questions. Note that a short-answer question could ask for the student ID, and that would enable the voting data to be used in more formal assessment, with the caveat that SRS is not designed or suitable for high-stakes summative assessments. Potential uses include peer review of presentations.

Two of the systems, ResponseWare and Poll Everywhere, can require students to create and use an individual account so they can log in to verify their identity when taking part in a poll.

Advantages of online SRS

No reliance on PowerPoint. It enables other presentation tools such as Keynote, Prezi or Haiku Deck to be used; it means that that tutors can present using a tablet instead of a PC and it does away with any reliance on connection to the institutional filestore.

Short answer questions. Clickers only support multiple-choice questions, but most online SRS also enable students to type a response to a question. Some systems allow responses to be moderated by the tutor before being displayed, while others enable them to be easily deleted. A couple of systems also enable students to vote on the responses, so you can gather ideas and see which are the most popular – a very powerful educational technique.

Support for large cohorts and concurrent use. Many systems support unlimited voters, but require individual academics to pay for a licence. Some offer a site licence based on the number of students. But online SRS would eliminate the practical difficulties associated with finding and physically managing sufficient clickers for large cohorts or wider usage.

Limitations of online SRS

Text only questions and answers. Support for images and equations is usually missing, and the number of characters available for the question and answer options is also frequently constrained. An easy way around this is to show longer questions, answers, images and equations as a slide and then get students to vote on a simplified version of the question e.g. “Q: The correct answer is: Equation A, Equation B or Equation C”

Students viewing the tutor’s screen. The tutor’s screen may show a live summary of voting, which could influence student’s choices. It is possible to blank the projector, but a better solution (especially if students need to refer to a slide with long text, images or equations) would be for the tutor to use a second device (phone or tablet) to control the presentation. If the device is connected via an HDMI cable, its screen can easily be shared at the appropriate moment with the class.

Students who do not own a suitable device. These students will not be able to take part in voting activities. However, the cost of tablets has dropped to less than £50 and there could be a requirement for students to own a Wi-Fi device that is able to support their studies.

Systems

Click the name of a system to see a more detailed summary of its features.

SRS Summary
ResponseWare Multiple-choice and short answer questions. Works with familiar Turning Point add-in for PowerPoint and integrates with clickers. $13 per student/year.
Poll Everywhere Multiple-choice, short answer and clickable image questions. Good control over visual design. PowerPoint, Keynote and Google Slides plug-ins available. Free for 40 responses with limited functionality, $649 for annual tutor licence for 400 responses.
Mentimeter Multiple-choice, short answer, 1-5 scales, prioritisation and two-axis questions. Free unlimited responses for 2 questions, $60 for annual tutor licence.
Socrative Multiple choice, true/false and short answer questions. Good for classroom interaction with quick questions and competing teams. Students can submit text responses, then view and vote on. Free, but limited to 50 responses.
sli.do Multiple-choice, multiple response, star rating and open text questions. Students can submit text responses, then view and vote on. Students can also tweet comments. Free for unlimited responses with limited functionality, £72 for annual tutor licence.
Participoll Multiple-choice questions. Requires PowerPoint plug-in. Students can post comments to a text wall. Free for unlimited responses with limited functionality, licence is $10/month or $100/year.
Microsoft Bing Pulse Multiple-choice polls and quizzes. Core feature is real-time tracking of ‘student sentiment’. Can display messages posted to a Twitter account or hashtag, a Yammer group/user/topic or Facebook page. Free.
MeeToo Multiple-choice and multiple-response polls. Strong messaging features. Good PowerPoint add-in. Free for up to 100 students.
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