Classroom Response Systems

In-class technology for engagement, interactivity, and formative assessment
Ian Beatty

A classroom response system is technology that allows an instructor to present a question or problem to the class; allows students to enter their answers into some kind of device; and instantly aggregates and summarizes students' answers for the instructor, usually as a histogram.

Most response systems provide additional functionality. Some additional names for this class of system (or for subsets of the class) are classroom communication system (CCS), audience response system (ARS), voting machine system, audience feedback system, and -- most ambitiously -- CATAALYST system (for "Classroom Aggregation Technology for Activating and Assessing Learning and Your Students' Thinking").

UMPERG has been teaching with and researching classroom response systems since 1993. We find that the technology has the potential to transform the way we teach science in large lecture settings. CRSs can serve as catalysts for creating a more interactive, student-centered classroom in the lecture hall, thereby allowing students to become more actively involved in constructing and using knowledge. CRSs not only make it easier to engage students in learning activities during lecture but also enhance the communication among students, and between the students and the instructor. This enhanced communication assists the students and the instructor in assessing understanding during class time, and affords the instructor the opportunity to devise instructional interventions that target students' needs as they arise.

UMass has a support page for PRS users.

CRS Systems List

This is a list (most likely incomplete) of extant classroom response systems, with comments on some of them.

On 2007-10-05, we updated all the links. We have NOT recently updated the list of systems represented here, or re-informed our opinions about them. If you know of any classroom response systems that belong on this list, or want to update us on the status of one listed here, we'd love to know. Thanks! -- ed

This list includes dedicated classroom response/communication systems, as well as presentation and distance learning systems that have question-posing, response-gathering functionality. If you know of a system we haven't listed here, please let us know and tell us where to find more information.

Opinions and notes about the various systems are our current impressions only. Many are based on only a shallow review of online literature, and may not do justice to the system. They are included here to help the reader (and ourselves) begin to categorize and make sense of the myriad options available.


Calculator Clients (proprietary network)

Classtalk by Better Education (Discontinued)
The granddaddy of CCS... Ahead of its time with its rich feature set and pedagogic support, but plagued by a finicky proprietary network and fragile software. No longer in use at UMass.

TI-Navigator by Texas Instruments
A wired-plus-wireless network for connecting TI graphing calculators to a teacher's computer in order to distribute problem sets, share results, etc. Aimed primarily at the K-12 market. Not suitable for large university classes.

Proprietary, Dedicated Clients (mostly infrared-based)

PRS and PRS-RF by InterWrite (GTCO CalComp)
Infrared system using a proprietary remote control ("clicker"), supporting only multiple-choice answers with low/normal/high confidence level. They've just come out with a new RF-based system that looks pretty darn nice, and we've chosen it for our TLT project. Control software now runs on Mac as well as Windows. Used extensively at UMass.

CPS by eInstruction
Similar to PRS, though we found annoying shortcomings in the software (possibly resolved by the time you read this: the software is under active development).

H-ITT by Hyper-Interactive Teaching Technology
Supposedly an alternative to PRS with much less expensive "clickers"

ACTIVote by Promethean

Qwizdom by Quizdom, Inc.

Laptop/Tablet/Palmtop Clients (Ethernet/WiFi)

Discourse by ETS

Silicon Chalk by Horizon Wimba

Pocket Classroom & LearnTrac by eLearning Dynamics
PDA-based CCS (Pocket Classroom is for iPaq-type devices, LearnTrac is for PalmOS devices) with relatively simple polling, statistical reporting, and messaging capabilities. (Discontinued??)

SmartTRAX by LearnStar

Virtual Rooms by Hewlett-Packard

Essentially a shared-whiteboard system, sending contents of an instructor's electronic whiteboard (or tablet PC) to students and allowing students' drawings to be returned to the instructor or shared with the class. Claims some support for multiple-choice questions with answer reporting to the instructor, as well as assignment-submission and grading. MS Windows only.

Cell Phone Clients (SMS + Web)

Poll Everywhere
Students use their own cell phones to send SMS text messages with their question responses, and the instructor uses a web site to see results. Priced for access to the web site/service, according to the maximum number of students to be permitted in a class.


Numina by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Classroom Presenter by the University of Washington
Primarily presentation software (PowerPoint on steroids) taking advantage of the tablet PC's inking abilities. Has added some support for sending questions to a class and gathering answers, by means of multiple-choice questions that are "inked" to indicate an answer, and gathered back to the instructor. Not a full-featured CCS in the classic sense.

Beyond Question by Erskine College

ActiveClass by University of California at San Diego
Subsumed into the ActiveCampus project? Discontinued??

Sledgehammer by Purdue
PDA-based CCS: discontinued? Vaporware??

CRS Bibliography

A collection of references to publications relevant to classroom response systems
Beatty, Ian D.

Educause Learning Initiative (2005). 7 things you should know about clickers. Resource Center Abstract ELI7002.

Abrahamson, L. A. (2006). A brief history of networked classrooms: Effects, cases, pedagogy, and implications. In Banks, D. A., editor, Audience Response Systems in Higher Education: Applications and Cases. Idea Group Inc., Hershey, PA.

Asirvatham, M. R. (2005). IR clickers and ConcepTests: Engaging students in the classroom. Published online for the Winter 2005 CONFCHEM: Trends and New Ideas in Chemical Education.

Banks, D. A., editor (2006). Audience Response Systems in Higher Education: Applications and Cases. Idea Group Inc., Hershey, PA.

Bao, L., Reay, N. W., Baugh, G., and Warnakulasooriya, R. (2003). The use of voting machines in classroom instruction. AAPT Announcer, 33(2):147.

Beatty, I. D. (2000). Assessing-to-Learn project website,

Beatty, I. D. (2004). Transforming student learning with classroom communication systems. Research Bulletin ERB0403, Educause Center for Applied Research.

Beatty, I. D., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., and Dufresne, R. J. (2006). Designing effective questions for classroom response system teaching. American Journal of Physics, 74(1):31-39.

Beatty, I. D., Leonard, W. J., Feldman, A. P., and Gerace, W. J. (2006). Illuminating teacher learning of technology-enhanced formative assessment. Contributed talk at the Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Syracuse, NY. In AAPT Announcer, 36:133.

Beatty, I. D., Leonard, W. J., Feldman, A. P., and Gerace, W. J. (2006). Teacher learning of Technology-Enhanced Formative Assessment. Contributed poster EJ07-4 at the Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Syracuse, NY.

Beatty, I. D., Leonard, W. J., and Gerace, W. J. (2005). Assessing-to-Learn in the Classroom. Thomson Learning. {An annotated collection of CRS questions for teaching college physics, provided with several introductory physics texs by Serway.}

Beatty, I. D., Leonard, W. J., Gerace, W. J., and Dufresne, R. J. (2006). Question driven instruction: Teaching science (well) with an audience response system. In Banks, D. A., editor, Audience Response Systems in Higher Education: Applications and Cases. Idea Group Inc., Hershey, PA.

Beuckman, J., Rebello, N. S., and Zollman, D. (2006). Impact of a classroom interaction system on student learning. In Proceedings of the Physics Education Research Conference, Syracuse, NY.

Burnstein, R. A. and Lederman, L. M. (2001). Using wireless keypads in lecture classes. The Physics Teacher, 39:8-11.

Burnstein, R. A. and Lederman, L. M. (2003). Comparison of different commercial wireless keypad systems. The Physics Teacher, 41:272-275.

Chambers, J. (2007). Teaching by the polls. InterActions across Physics and Education, 37(1):20-21.

Crouch, C. and Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69:970.

Draper, J. and Brown, I. (2004). Increasing interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20:81.

Dubson, M. (2003). "Clickers": Electronic audience feedback in the classroom.

Dufresne, R. J. and Gerace, W. J. (2004). Assessing-to-learn: Formative assessment in physics instruction. The Physics Teacher, 42(6):109-116.

Dufresne, R. J., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., and Beatty, I. D. (2002). Assessing-to-Learn (A2L): Reflective formative assessment using a classroom communication system. In Pathways to Change: An International Conference on Transforming Math and Science Education in the K16 Curriculum, Crystal City, Arlington, VA.

Dufresne, R. J., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., Mestre, J. P., and Wenk, L. (1996). Classtalk: A classroom communication system for active learning. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 7:3-47.

Dufresne, R. J., Gerace, W. J., Mestre, J. P., and Leonard, W. J. (2000). ASK-IT/A2L: Assessing student knowledge with instructional technology. Technical Report Dufrense-2000ia, UMass Scientific Reasoning Research Institute.

Duncan, D. (2005). Clickers in the classroom: How to enhance science teaching using classroom response systems. Addison-Wesley, New York.

Duncan, D. (2006). Clickers: A new teaching aid with exceptional promise. Astronomy Education Review, 5(1).

Fagen, A. P., Crouch, C. H., and Mazur, E. (2002). Peer instruction: Results from a range of classrooms. The Physics Teacher, 20:206-209.

Feldman, A. and Capobianco, B. (2003). Real-time formative assessment: A study of teachers' use of an electronic response system to facilitate serious discussion about physics concepts. In Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Feldman, A. P. and Capobianco, B. M. (in press as of Jan 2008). Teacher learning of technology enhanced formative assessment. Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Fies, C. and Marshall, J. (2006). Classroom response systems: A review of the literature. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15(1):101-109.

Graetz, K. A. (2006). The psychology of learning environments. Educause Review, 41(6):60- 74.

Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66:64-74.

Herreid, C. F. (2006). "Clicker" cases: Introducing case study teaching into large classrooms. Journal of College Science Teaching, 36(2):43-47.

James, M. C. (2006). The effect of grading incentive on student discourse in peer instruction. American Journal of Physics, 74(8):689-691.

Johnson, D. and McLeod, S. (2004). Get answers: Using student response systems to see students' thinking. Learning and Leading with Technology, 32(4):18-23.

Judson, E. and Sawada, D. (2002). Learning from past and present: Electronic response systems in college lecture halls. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 21(2):167.

Kaleta, R. and Joosten, T. (2007). Student response systems: A university of wisconsin system study of clickers. Research Bulletin ERB0710, Educause Center for Applied Research.

Lasry, N. (2007). Peer instruction: Comparing clickers to flashcards. Technical Report physics/0702186,

Li, P., Reay, N. W., and Bao, L. (2004). Effects of in-class polling on student performance in learning physics. Contributed poster CO26, 129th National Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Sacramento, CA.

Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction: A User's Manual. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Mestre, J. P., Gerace, W. J., Dufresne, R. J., and Leonard, W. J. (1997). Promoting active learning in large classes using a classroom communication system. In Redish, E. F. and Rigden, J. S., editors, The Changing Role of Physics Departments in Modern Universities: Proceedings of the International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education, Volume 2, pp.1019-1036, Woodbury, NY. American Institute of Physics.

Ohio State University Physics Education Research Group (2007). In-class polling methodology for effective education: The voting machines.

Penuel, W. R., Boscardin, C. K., Masyn, K., and Crawford, V. M. (2007). Teaching with student response systems in elementary and secondary education settings: A survey study. Educational Technology Research & Development, 55:315-346.

Penuel, W. R., Roschelle, J., Crawford, V., Schectman, N., and Abrahamson, L. A. (2004). CATAALYST workshop report: Advancing research on the transformative potential of interactive pedagogies and classroom networks. Workshop Report P14566, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA.

Randolph, J. J. (in press?). A meta-analysis of the research on response cards: The effects of response cards on test achievement, quiz achievement, participation, and off-task behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

Reay, N. W., Bao, L., Baugh, G., and Warnakulasooriya, R. (2003). Business-style group work in a freshman engineering honors class. In Proceedings of the Physics Education Research Conference.

Reay, N. W., Bao, L., Warnakulasooriya, R., and Baugh, G. (2006). Toward the effective use of voting machines in physics lectures. American Journal of Physics, 73(6):554-558.

Roschelle, J. (2003). Keynote paper: Unlocking the learning value of wireless mobile devices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19:260-272.

Roschelle, J., Abrahamson, L. A., and Penuel, W. R. (2004). Integrating classroom network technology and learning theory to improve classroom science learning: A literature synthesis. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Roschelle, J. and Pea, R. (2002). A walk on the WILD side: How wireless handhelds may change computer-supported collaborative learning. International Journal of Cognition and Technology, 1:145-168.

Roschelle, J., Penuel, W. R., and Abrahamson, L. (2004). The networked classroom. Educational Leadership, 61(5):50-54.

Roschelle, J., Penuel, W. R., and Abrahamson, L. A. (2004). Classroom response and communication systems: Research review and theory. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Wenk, L., Dufresne, R. J., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., and Mestre, J. P. (1997). Technology-assisted active learning in large lectures. In McNeal, A. and D'Avanzo, C., editors, Student Active Science: Models of innovation in undergraduate science teaching, pp.431-451. Saunders College Publishing, Orlando, FL.

Wieman, C. and Perkins, K. (2005). Transforming physics education. Physics Today, 58(11):36-41.

Zollman, D. and Rebello, N. S. (2005). The evolving classroom response system at KSU: Classtalk, PRS, PDAs. Contributed talk EG08 at the 130th National Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Albuquerque, NM.