In classes with relatively high enrolment, student participation can be a challenge. This is even more so in a diverse setting like ours, with people from around the world and different parts of society. At the same time, active learning has been shown to significantly improve retention of course material. Armed with this context, we set about looking for an effective way to increase participation in large classes. We tried clickers first, but the physical logistics seemed quite complicated. So in a range of courses, from the first year World Economy to the upper level Industrial Relations, we introduced a web-based audience response system (ARS) in 2012-13.
There are two main advantages of web-based ARS. First, students can use this system with their own devices (smartphone, laptop, tablet, or even a mobile phone from which you can text). Secondly, questions can be multiple choice, as with clickers, but also free response, which opens up a whole range of possibilities in terms of interactive teaching. We trialled several different vendors including PollEverywhere (where a basic account is free) and LectureTools (which is now owned by Echo360, and so can be accessed by those in institutions with an Echo360 subscription). UCL’s Teaching and Learning Portal has written up our experiences here.
We now use clickers regularly in our large Introduction to Economics first year class (the clickers are installed in the lecture theatre), and web-based ARS in modules throughout the three years of the degree. Students report that they like testing themselves (and their friends!) on the material in class, as well as participating through free response questions. Many say that it breaks up the lecture and so makes it easier to sit through a two hour session, while others appreciate the fact that their free response answers can be saved and viewed during revision.
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