The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.2 Audience Response Systems (ARSs)

Audience response systems (also known as ‘clickers’ – see Figure 2) are individual handheld devices that allow interaction between a presenter and his/her audience. Audience response systems normally combine wireless hardware with presentation software (most commonly Microsoft PowerPoint).

Figure 2: An example of an ARS or ‘clicker’

Most audience response systems integrate into Microsoft PowerPoint and allow audiences and students to participate in lectures by submitting responses to interactive questions using an individual clicker.This is done by downloading a free software package that adds an extra tab on PowerPoint, as depicted in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: TurningPoint Tab in Microsoft PowerPoint

By using an ARS, the PowerPoint presentations become powerful data collection and assessment tools that collect real-time audience responses and dramatically improve student engagement and motivation in the classroom. The advantages of using clickers in the classroom are many and have been well documented before. These include:[1]

  1. improved knowledge retention;
  2. anonymous pooling (as opposed to show of hands) encourages truthful answers and higher participation rates among students;
  3. tracking of individual student performance (and attendance) over time;
  4. immediate results encourage students to learn better and the lecturer to incorporate the results in the class;
  5. promotes discussion and collaboration among students during class with group exercises;
  6. encourages a more interactive and fun learning environment ;
  7. diagnostically: confirms audience understanding of key points immediately, signalling the need to go over the areas students did not fully comprehend;
  8. results are gathered in a database that can be used for reporting, analysis and research.

There are a large number of different providers of ARSs and the associated software. The leading companies include Meridia, Reply, TurningPoint, Qwizdom, Interwrite, Poll Everywhere (ARS using mobile phones in place of clicker keypads) and eInstruction.

Lecturers can create new slides in seconds or adapt their existing PowerPoint slides to include questions for students to respond in class. Students then select one of the options available in their handsets and the results are presented instantly in the form of a table or graph, an example of which is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: An example of a TurningPoint slide

All entries in each session can be saved in a database and a large number of reports can then be generated by selecting from a large menu of options as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: List of reports in TurningPoint

The reports are very comprehensive and are created automatically in Excel spreadsheets. Figure 6 shows an example of a ‘results by question report’ which describes the aggregate results of the class on a question by question basis.

Figure 6: Example of a ‘results by question’ report in TurningPoint

A whole array of other possible reports can easily be generated after each session. Figure 7 shows an example of a ‘result by participant report’ where the individual performance of each individual student is presented in a manner that can easily be sent as feedback to each individual student just after each class.

Figure 7: Example of a result by participant report in TurningPoint

Despite the wide range of different possible applications,[2] clickers do not allow for ‘open questions’ in the classroom. For lectures where open questions that allow for a variety of essay type answers are desired, other alternatives must be sought, including the use of mobile phones which will discussed in the next section.[3]

Audience response systems can also present some challenges for lectures. First, using clickers takes up class time, especially if students do not keep their devices between classes.[4] Next, some technical problems may arise, especially when the technology is first adopted. For example, if students use clickers in different classrooms and settings, there will be a need to synchronise each clicker to the correct frequency.

Also, by finding out what the students do not understand instantly, places more demands on the lecturer to adjust his/her teaching on-the-spot[5] thus demanding a more flexible approach to teaching. Many lecturers also use clickers to encourage class-wide or group discussions. This might prove quite challenging for lecturers who are used to a more traditional lecturing style, as it requires a higher degree of planning and adaptability.


[1] For detailed examples of clicker applications in the specific case of economics degrees see for example Ghosh and Renna (2009) and Johnson and Robson (2008) (who also introduce a cautionary note). Plus clickers can be used to facilitate classroom experiments, especially with large groups. See http://projects.exeter.ac.uk/feele/

[2] Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University, for example, lists the following type of applications: Recall Questions; Conceptual Understanding Questions; Application Questions; Critical Thinking Questions; Student Perspective Questions; Confidence Level Questions; Monitoring Questions; Classroom Experiments. For more details go to http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-guides/technology/clickers/.

[3] Some of the more advanced (and expensive) clickers include LCD screens that allow for the input of text as well. As the cost is much higher, however, this is not an easy option to consider, especially for large classrooms. Other alternatives include web-based polling applications (e.g. ResponseWare or PollEverywhere) but as these require that students have mobile phones (and especially smartphones), this is an option that does not guarantee the whole class participation and might lead to the alienation of some students. These options, therefore, will not be formally considered here.

[4] At Exeter University, all first year students are given a clicker in their welcome pack, which they will carry with them for the period they study. This saves precious time and encourages lecturers to use clickers more often, which in turn encourages students to always carry their devices with them.