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Learner response systems

What are they?

Learners response systems can be used to get immediate feedback from large groups of students and support active learning in lectures.

They are more commonly referred to as ‘clickers’ as a reference to the handset which students use to respond to a question or poll. However, the latest systems remove the need for a handset by integrating the use of mobile devices, such as laptops, smart phones and tablets, which students already bring to class.

What is the appeal of these systems?

Standard lectures are often criticised for lacking effectiveness in terms of active learning. Learner response systems offer the potential to supplement traditional lecturing methods with a more communicative approach.

Even with a large class size in a lecture environment, the instructor can use these systems to create an interactive environment. They can be used for getting feedback, providing social interaction, engaging the learners and creating opportunities to respond to students’ needs.

Each student can see or hear a prompt from the instructor at the same time and each student is given the same amount of time to respond. The instructor receives all of the answers simultaneously and can choose whether or not to display the frequency of responses to the class. Each student’s response can be tracked for later review. Responses can be given individually or groups of students can work together to produce a joint response.

How is it used?

The systems are versatile and can to be used to:

  • introduce a topic
  • check comprehension
  • facilitate peer instruction
  • gather diagnostic data
  • review material
  • provide revision practice
  • set up a problem based learning scenario

After viewing student responses in class, instructors needed to be flexible about how to proceed. Depending on how many students answer correctly,  instructors could offer further instruction, peer instruction or self-study.

How do the systems compare?

At the University a number of systems have been used in recent years:

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Turning Point Clicker & Receiver

Turning Point
The radio frequency technology is limited to a single location but the handsets and receiver permit a wide range of question types to be incorporated into PowerPoint presentations. Contact: email in the EPS eLearning Team.

Developed by the same company as Turning Point, it enhances the system by enabling mobile devices to used in addition to handsets, and is not limited to a single location. Contact: Will Moindrot in the Humanities eLearning Team.



This system has been developed in-house with the aim of providing registered students with effective feedback directly to their mobile devices. Each session is set up via the mbclick website and is delivered directly to the students’ mobile devices via the website or via PowerPoint.

Benefits of mbclick:
  • no need to give handsets to students (or collect them again afterwards!)
  • avoid problems with broken handsets and batteries
  • not limited to a specific number of handsets
  • personalised feedback (the key driver for this mbclick)
Personalised feedback using mbclick

mbclick has the capability to provide feedback for the different responses to each question, so potentially each student could receive different feedback from the same session. This personalised feedback is sent to each student’s digital device and it is also sent via email to those students registered on the system.

What do students and instructors think about mbclick?

Following the trial, students were very positive about mbclick; over 90% of survey respondents indicated that it would improve their overall satisfaction with their programme of study.

Most students (87%) accessed mbclick via the University’s Wi-Fi system, using either a smart phone (64%) or a laptop (17%). A few students participated via SMS enabled mobile phones.

Student comments:

  • It really helps to take in the information
  • It enables a physical way to participate in the class without having to put your hand up and ask a question.
  • It was very enjoyable.
  • Made the lecture more interesting as had to participate rather then just listen
  • It’s a new experience and the good aspect of it is the lecturer can know what concepts have not been grasped based on response and help us further where need be. I believe that’s very positive.
  • I think it was useful using your own device however you are susceptible to distraction with it.
  • I think it helps with learning the content because of the specific feedback based on your responses Felt a lot personal and ability to interact more.
  • Too much time spent on it and rest of content was rushed
  • I didn’t participate because I do not have a smart phone.

Instructor comments:

  • It increases the potential for contingent teaching and can be very flexible.
  • It’s the best solution as I wouldn’t want to use it if I had to pay for it or carry any handsets.
  • Authoring effective questions is a skill as it’s a fine balance between building confidence in your students and giving them a challenge.
  • Without this technology there wouldn’t be as much interaction in the class.
  • They bring these devices into class anyway, so we may as well be using them for teaching and learning.

If you are interested in learning more about mbclick, including future trials please contact Geoff Rubner.

Alternatively, DIY enthusiasts can create their own learner response system using Google docs and a set of iPod Touch handsets, the video below describes how:

Source: Radford University on YouTube


Further reading:

Fies and Marshall, 2006, “Classroom Response Systems: A review of the Literature”, Journal of Science Education and Technology vol.15 No.1

Bligh, Donald (1972): “What’s the use of lectures?” 3rd Ed. Penguin, Harmondsworth

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