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M. Meyer, T. Müller, A. Niemann

Westphalian University of Applied Sciences (GERMANY)
It has been observed since many years now that “traditional” lectures in the sense that the lecturer is presenting the topic to a mostly passive audience - eventually just interrupted by some questions raised by the very few students actively participating in the class – do not work well as regards teaching performance and learning success. There are simply too many Roberts and too few Susans in most of today’s undergraduate classes, referring to these stereotypes introduced by John Biggs. Thus, we need to activate the many Roberts in our classes to take part in the show previously called a lecture.

Classes need to become more interactive, students need to get invited or activated to take part in the show, to remain or get back in the driver’s seat as regards lecturing speed, feedback on understanding and applying what has been introduced by the lecturer and discussed in class. In earlier studies, we have already observed that, depending on the cultural background, even running team competitions in classroom can serve well for activating students and motivating them to work on the topic discussed.

Since many years, audience-response or interactive voting systems, e.g. small radio-equipped hand-held devices, are on the market that can well serve for the purposes of getting immediate feedback from students about their learning progress, but also for class evaluation (of lectures and lecturers) and even for running team competitions. Beside these dedicated hardware solutions (specific devices, so-called “clickers”), the omnipresence of smartphones in student’s pockets has also led to the development of a diverse number of software solutions (apps or browser-based tools) that promise lower cost and better scalability but lack the trust in a truly anonymous – and thereby hopefully honest – feedback from the students. Also, the integration with standard presentation software like Microsoft Powerpoint® offered only by some hardware-based voting systems can be an issue; however, the flexibility, richness in interaction, scalability and lower cost are still strong pros for the use of software-based solutions.

In this paper, we present an overview and evaluation of various hardware- as well as software-based feedback resp. “clicker” systems.

We first derived a list of evaluation criteria together with lecturers, some of them having used such audience-response systems already in their classes and others with no such experience at all. These criteria range from technical requirements (e.g. required operating systems on client or smartphone) and functionality (e.g. question types or statistical functions) over scalability (e.g. we needed to extend wifi coverage in our main lecture theatre) and integration with presentation software to a rough estimate of their effective cost (TCO) when introducing these tools in classroom. Lecturers‘ requirements also led to assigning weights to the individual criteria reflecting their importance and helping to identify the most promising candidates.

Representatives of each group (hardware- and software-based) have then also been used in classroom and feedback both from lecturers and students has been evaluated to further reveal their pros and cons. As a result of the study, recommendations are derived for different use cases showing that both types have their advantages depending on e.g. whether truly anonymous (and honest) feedback from the audience is needed or its flexibility and richness is on the focus.