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Bridging the Participation Gap

Student response systems are moving beyond the lecture hall to connect users at remote campuses, home, maybe even on the bus.

Student Resource SystemsDARIN BEAMISH, CEO of student response system provider Qwizdom, sympathizes with the professor tasked with teaching distance learners. "In your typical classroom, say I've got a couple hundred students. I may or may not know if [they're] confused. Well, it's probably even worse in a distance learning scenario," he says. "I can't even see the blank stares."

It isn't any easier for the students: While distance education offers tremendous opportunities to break down the proverbial campus walls, anyone who's ever sat on the other end of that computer or video screen knows that sometimes it can be isolating and frustrating.

Enter next-generation student response systems (SRS), designed to bridge the "participation gap" in distance learning. These latest products work just like regular SRS products-- enabling instructors to collect, analyze, and display realtime student feedback-- but with an important upgrade. The new systems (some yet to be released) are designed to poll students participating from satellite campuses, home, or other geographically remote locations.

Below, CT presents an overview of the emerging marketplace of remote SRS products.

Clicking From a Distance

There's no doubt that the college lecture environment has greatly benefited from student response systems, also called clickers. By participating in polls anonymously, students feel at liberty to express when they don't understand a topic, which then helps the professor modify the lecture for more clarity. Clickers have also proven helpful in spurring dialogue in classes that deal with difficult social issues, where students wouldn't be as willing to answer questions were it not for the anonymity that clickers provide. ("How many of you binge drink?" in a sociology class, for example, probably wouldn't be met with much hand-raising.)

It's this type of classroom participation that Tim Stelzer, physics professor at the University of Illinois and co-inventor of the pioneering SRS iClicker, aimed to translate to distance learning environments. As higher ed institutions are "trying to get more and more people educated," Stelzer notes, it's difficult for some people to get to a university's main campus. Hence the growing number of so-called satellite campuses across the country. But how do you more effectively involve those students, who often are passively watching a professor deliver a lecture via video screen?

Enter iClicker Connect, slated for release this fall, which will allow students at satellite locations to use clickers to interact with a host location. iClicker Connect is currently in beta testing at The University of British Columbia medical school's distributed medical education program, which UBC launched in collaboration with the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Using iClicker Connect, students at each geographically separate campus participate in classroom polling being broadcast from a host site. A wireless signal sends the data via radio frequency to the receiver at the local site, which logs and stores each student's response. The collective data are sent to the host site, where the instructor can immediately display the results in a graph to the class and later export the scores for integration into a grade book or course management system.

"The students at each site have reported that they tend to be more involved and focused in the sessions in which the iClickers are used," says Kathy Gaul, a course director for the Island Medical Program at the University of Victoria. "The instructors find it very effective at identifying areas and concepts that require additional work or explanation."

The applications for remote SRS are not just educational. At Arizona State University, Turning Technologies' RemotePoll was deployed as a voting method for the University Academic Senate. With 74 senators at each of ASU's four metropolitan Phoenix campuses meeting via videoconferencing, the senate "needed a way to collect and tally votes as a single entity," says Seth Levine, manager of University Common Computing. The efficiencies realized by RemotePoll-- not to mention savings in travel time, gas, and parking costs-- "clearly outweigh the investment in the hardware," says Levine. "This would have been impossible without the technology."

How Much Does It Cost?


  • Contact vendor for pricing


  • iClicker's instructor software is open source and free for download.
  • iClicker Connect: $28 per student remote; free instructor kit with each 100 remotes purchased.
  • WebClicker: Individual subscription: $16.50 for one year, $35 for five years; students who purchase a one-year subscription and then upgrade later will receive a $10 discount.


  • Q-VR: Individual subscription: $14.95 for one year or $29.95 for four years. Institutions can purchase a license for x number of concurrent users at a negotiated discount.

Turning Technologies

  • ResponseWare: Individual subscription: $19.49 for one year; $35 for two years; $40 for four years. Volume discounts are available.
  • There is no charge for RemotePoll software. Accompanying ResponseCard keypads range from $25 to $65, depending on type and volume pricing. Each location also requires a receiver, which retails for $

Beyond Clickers

But the newest developments in remote SRS go beyond radio-frequency clickers. Several companies are currently or imminently selling web-based SRS products that work over WiFi and cell data networks to provide distant connectivity. Here's a quick look at some of the current or pending webbased remote polling products available to higher education:

  • Turning Technologies' ResponseWare, which has been on the market since 2008, allows students to remotely submit responses via a web or an app version. The web version works with any browser; the app version is specific to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and BlackBerry.
  • WebClicker is a browser-based new release from iClicker and works with Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer via any device with a web browser (e.g., a laptop or iPhone).
  • Qwizdom just announced Qwizdom Q-VR, a virtual remote solution scheduled for release this month. It works with Qwizdom's existing SRS hardware to allow students to log in from any web-based platform to a dedicated website, to see lecture slides in real time and respond to questions as if they were using physical clickers.
  • eInstruction, whose current CPS vClicker software enables students to use its SRS with any computer, will be building upon that technology with its release of vClicker Mobile Edition (ME) this month. Unlike CPS vClicker, which is designed for in-classroom use only, vClicker ME is a subscription-based system that will allow students to use any browser-enabled device, from any location, to log in to and interact with classes that are on the system.

The Not-So-Distant Future

Are advances in web-based SRS products signaling a future in which the standard clicker becomes obsolete in a classroom setting? iClicker's Stelzer admits that "it sounds really cool to be able to use your iPhone or an iPod Touch" with an SRS, but he worries about the potential distraction in the lecture hall. "There's a lot of other things students can do with that iPhone that are not going to help them learn the material," he says.

Others welcome the increased use of cell phone-enabled polling both in and out of the classroom-- perhaps even from the city bus. "I think that ultimately, the professor and the institution are the ones that have to be the architects of the educational experience," says Brad Gant, VP of education sales for Turning Technologies. "Flexibility is key."

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