An Audience Response System (ARS) allows an entire class to respond to multiple choice questions displayed on a screen. After students send in their responses using remote devices, the results are instantly collected, summarised and presented to the class in visual format, usually a histogram.
Responses are always anonymous to peers, but the teacher can associate ARS devices with individual students for testing purposes. With feedback from the class, an instructor is provided with an opportunity to orchestrate peer or classroom discussion about concepts being covered. ARS’s have been used to improve student interaction, engagement, and attention, increase attendance, stimulate peer and class discussion, provide feedback for both students and instructors in order to improve instruction, and improve learning performance.
Benefits to using an Audience Response System
It is self-evident that students need to be focussed and paying attention when content is presented during a lecture. What may not be obvious is that during a lecture, attention may diminish after only 20 minutes. Given that a typical higher education class lasts from 50 min to 3h, it is inevitable that some information will be lost. One technique for addressing student attention deficits during a class is to present ARS questions at 20 min intervals, thereby requiring students to shift their attention and actively participate in the learning process. The success of this approach has been confirmed by numerous studies which have reported that higher education students are more attentive when an ARS is used during lectures.
Anonymity and participation
Students can respond to ARS questions without being judged by their peers, a tutor, or the instructor. Anonymity allows all students to be active members of the classroom community and participate in the learning process without recrimination. In addition, substantial evidence indicates that using an ARS increases student participation when compared to classrooms where an ARS was not used.
Students have reported being more interested or engaged in concepts presented and discussed using an ARS. Students are more engaged because they are actively involved in the learning process, plus they are having fun using a remote-control device and observing other students’ responses.
It has been noted that use of an ARS increases the quantity and quality of class discussions, particularly when employed with a strategy known as ‘‘peer instruction”. Peer instruction occurs when a teacher presents a question using an ARS, collects student responses and presents responses from the class, but does not provide the correct answer. Instead, the class is instructed to discuss possible solutions in pairs and then students are provided with the opportunity to vote a second time. After the second vote, the issues are resolved through class discussion and clarifications from the instructor. The students feel they are better able to discuss and calibrate their understanding of specific concepts when peer instruction is employed.
One of the key benefits of using an ARS is that instruction can be modified based on student feedback gathered throughout a class. If feedback from a majority of students indicates that confusion or misconceptions are evident, an experienced instructor can offer alternative explanations of the concepts in question. In essence, using an ARS changes a relatively static one-way transmission of information into a dynamic, interactive lecture guided by student input.
In a regular classroom, feedback can be acquired by multiple means, including a show of hands, asking volunteers to share answers, use of small individual whiteboards to display answers, or using coloured cards to represent multiple choice responses. However, these methods have notable disadvantages. A show of hands, for example, is limited because it is difficult to obtain a quick, accurate sense of class understanding, particularly in a large lecture. Furthermore, some students are inclined to copy the responses of others. In addition, when hands are lowered, the data is lost. Also, relying on volunteers is somewhat restrictive because, only the confident students raise their hands. Note also that with a show of hands or asking volunteers to respond, anonymity is lost. Whiteboards and coloured cards are more anonymous, but amalgamating responses is a relatively slow process. Using an ARS helps improve the feedback process by guaranteeing anonymity, quickly and efficiently collecting and summarizing student responses, and preventing students from copying the answers from their peers. Finally, with ARS’s, students are required to think about a question or problem and then commit to an answer. It has been argued that this commitment to a response is particularly important when students are required to articulate and defend their answers in a peer-instruction format.
Formative assessment is used to determine student understanding of concepts without grades, in order to identify misconceptions and alter the course of classroom instruction. Without a tool like an ARS, it is somewhat challenging to calibrate overall student understanding of concepts while they are presented in class. Regular use of an ARS can offer real-time feedback to both instructors and students as to how well concepts are being understood. As stated earlier, experienced teachers can quickly modify explanations or mode of instruction (contingent teaching) or students can gauge and discuss their understanding with their peers (peer-instruction). Extensive evidence suggests that using an ARS helps provide effective formative assessment.
Compare responses with other students
After ARS feedback is presented to the class students are able to compare their understanding with their fellow classmates. There is some evidence to suggest that students like to see how well they are doing relative to their peers. It could be that the use of an audience response system promotes a competitive atmosphere, a goal that may not promote a strong sense of community. Alternatively, some students may want to monitor their progress, while others may want assurance that they are not alone in their misunderstanding of key concepts.