CRS at Purdue: Promoting Campus-wide Student Involvenent

Responding to the need to support the rich classroom interaction desired by faculty, Purdue University has site-licensed eInstruction’s CPSrf for Higher Education system. This case study presents the rationale for Purdue’s decision and provides insights into issues of support and installation of classroom response systems at the institutional level.

Classroom engagement, communication, and assessment are constant challenges for faculty, especially in large lecture classes. Many faculty members struggle with ways to keep students interested and to determine whether material they present is being understood. The larger the class, the more pronounced the challenge of student engagement becomes. Purdue University, a large state-supported school with a student enrollment of 38,000, offers a number of large enrollment classes where promoting class interaction is particularly valued.

Classroom response systems (CRS) offer one mechanism for bridging the gap between students and faculty in classes.

Traditionally, “classroom response systems” have been implemented by requesting students to raise their hands. However, fear of looking uninformed or expressing an unpopular opinion have always been limitations to a public show of hands. To encourage more complete and honest sharing of opinions, classroom response systems have been developed that are permanently wired in classrooms. While wired systems offer the promise of asking more complex questions, getting better feedback due to anonymity, and providing quicker tabulation of answers, the infrastructure and installation required to support such systems are costly and time consuming. A new generation of wireless classroom response systems has emerged as an affordable and easily installed approach to help faculty engage their students in entirely new, creative ways.

Pedagogy and Classroom Response Systems

In the 1987 AAHE Bulletin, Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson spell out “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education(1).” Several of these good practices are enabled through classroom response systems:

* Good practice encourages contact between students and faculty–Especially in large classes, it is difficult for faculty to interact with each student and know their level of comprehension. Students can easily skip classes or become nameless by not asking questions. Classroom response systems encourage contact by enabling faculty to require participation of each student and to perform real-time assessments of student comprehension.

* Good practice communicates high expectations - Classroom response systems enable faculty to enforce their attendance expectations more readily. In the first weeks of using the system at Purdue, we had a few glitches that rendered the system inoperable. Faculty in many classes reported students left classes early when the CRS didn’t work. Moreover, attendance in subsequent sections of the same class dropped until students heard that the CRS was again operational.

* Good practice develops reciprocity and cooperation among students–Some faculty at Purdue are not deterred when their class provides incorrect answers when using the CRS. They turn the pattern of incorrect answers into learning opportunities by breaking the class into groups for discussion and peer teaching exchanges. When the question is revisited later in class, the expectation is that student group communication will have enriched learning and helped all students understand the correct answer.

* Good practice uses active learning techniques and gives prompt feedback-Providing prompt feedback through use of the CRS serves the purpose of active learning. In one of her first class sessions this spring, a Purdue faculty member asked a multiple choice question and the entire class uttered “Oh!” after the histogram appeared on the screen and everyone realized that 350 students had selected correct answer A and only 3 had incorrectly answered B. Certainly a powerful message was sent to those three students in the class. Those three students became aware of a knowledge gap and an area to review before the next exam.

Deploying Classroom response stations

If one agrees that Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles” will improve learning, the decision to use classroom response systems is easily defended on pedagogic grounds. However, from the institutional perspective, any system implemented must be affordable, scalable, and supportable. Currently, there are two types of classroom response systems to choose between–-infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). Infrared systems are the more widely available but also present the greater deployment challenge--especially in older buildings with inadequate infrastructures to support the numerous receivers required for full coverage (approximately one receiver for every 80 students). Like your television remote control, IR systems are line-of-sight so students must point their response pads at the receiver to register their answers. IR also has technical limitations; power outlets were not accessible in Purdue’s large lecture halls and florescent lighting caused interference with the IR signal.

To scale our implementation, Purdue selected a radio frequency (RF) system to install--eInstruction’s CPSrf for Higher Education system. Because the RF system will receive responses from as many as 1,000 students with a single receiver and d'es not require line-of-sight, deployment of the system is greatly simplified. Installation is as easy as connecting a USB receiver to a computer already located in the classroom. By fall 2005, Purdue will have approximately 250 classrooms and computer labs with receivers pre-installed for faculty to use.

Integrating CRS into instruction, however, d'es introduce new support challenges. Faculty development must be conducted to present best practices for using CRS. Also, while the CPSrf for Higher Education response pads cost less than a calculator, the technology is now required in a number of classes so students must purchase them. Prior to deployment, an institution must have a policy to assist students when their response pads do not work. While a student would never expect the institution to replace a lost calculator, many students have requested their faculty member or the institution to replace lost response pads. At Purdue, we have placed the responsibility on the student to be responsible for their response pad–-a lost pad can be replaced by purchasing a new one at the bookstore.

When Purdue first began investigating classroom response systems in the Fall of 2003, McGraw-Hill introduced eInstruction’s IR system to campus by bundling it with book purchases. Faculty members using a McGraw-Hill text were given the receiver and software at no charge. Each student was then required to purchased the response pad at the bookstore for $4 and paid a fee each semester to activate the response pad

It became evident that other publishers were going to follow suit and students would be required to have different response pads for different classes. Purdue acted quickly to avoid propagating multiple, incompatible systems by site licensing the eInstruction CPSrf for Higher Education system. Because Purdue’s site license covers classroom hardware and the response pad activation charges, students are only required to cover the cost of the response pad purchase (approximately $16 at the campus bookstore). The campus standard is paying off as faculty have become keenly interested in learning about the system and students can meet their class requirements with a single response pad that works throughout classrooms and independent of the text book in use.

Overall, we are still early in our implementation of a campus-wide CRS system, but faculty and student acceptance are both promising. Data collection is underway with 1,200 students in five classes to assess the impact of the CRS. The assessment team expects to answer such questions as: Do students perceive that CPSrf use benefits learning? What is the impact of CPSrf on class time? What are the challenges and benefits of supporting large and small classes using CPSrf?

Beyond assessment, the remaining challenges include working with textbook publishers to more easily import their pre-existing question banks into the eInstruction’s CPSrf, integrating the CRS with the campus course management system (WebCT Vista), and better informing faculty of the many learning scenarios that classroom response systems can support.

1 Chickering, A. & Gamson, Z., AAHE Bulletin, March 1987. Available online at

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