Using a Classroom Response System to Support Active Learning in an Educational Psychology Course: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Conventional lecture styles hold significant pedagogical limitations, mainly due to lack of classroom interactivity and inadequate opportunities for feedback (American Psychological Association, 1997; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Simply stated, transmitting information from the teacher to the learner in a lecture does not sufficiently ensure that every student will have the opportunity to learn the material (King, 1993; Mayer, 1996). Research in the field of educational psychology has shown that engaging students in active learning is a more effective teaching strategy (Anderson, 1987; Glaser, 1990; Jonassen, 1995). For our purposes, active learning simply means that students become cognitively engaged with the information presented; that is, they select, organize, and integrate new information into their existing knowledge structures, rather than just passively listen to someone else's version of the way things are (Mayer, 2002, 2004). Furthermore, from a social constructivist perspective, we assume that knowledge construction and understanding is significantly enhanced through human interaction (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Driscoll, 2005; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978). In the classroom, this type of interaction includes both instructor-learner and learner-learner communication.

Recently, classroom response systems (CRSS) have received considerable attention in the educational technology literature, and their use in college classrooms has increased rapidly (MacGeorge et al., 2007). In several empirical studies, CRSs emerged as useful tools for engaging students in active learning during lectures, enhancing students' overall communication, and helping instructors create a more learner-centered classroom (see, for example, Beatty, 2004; Draper & Brown, 2004; MacGeorge et al., 2007; Siau, Sheng, & Nah, 2006). In the spirit of creating a more learner-centered classroom, we (the instructors) adopted a CRS for our educational psychology undergraduate course in an effort to enhance interactivity, maintain student interest, and provide real-time, formative feedback to students and instructors.


Classroom response systems appear in the literature under different names, including classroom communication systems, classroom performance systems, electronic response systems, personal response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers, and polling systems (Fies & Marshall, 2006). The classic CRS consists of transmitters that students use to send responses, a receiver that collects these inputs, and computer software that collates responses and displays results. Typically, students respond to an instructor's multiple-choice questions and then histograms, representing students' answers, can be produced and viewed by instructors and students. Moreover, the technology allows instructors to easily keep records of their questions, as well as their students' answers, and, when used in the anonymous mode, allows students to confidentially enter responses without fear of failure.

CRSs have been used in college classrooms since at least the mid- 1990s, although the popularity of these systems has recently increased rapidly (MacGeorge et al., 2007). Past research on the use of CRS technology in the classroom has focused on (a) its effects on student achievement, attitude, and motivation, and (b) effective pedagogical practices in CRS-enhanced classrooms. For example, the ClassTalk program pioneered the effective use of CRSs in physics classrooms at the University of Massachusetts. Dufresne, Gerace, Leonard, Mestre, and Wenk (1996) used ClassTalk in four different introductory physics courses over a three-year period to create a more interactive, student-centered classroom.

During a CRS-facilitated lecture, the following activities occurred: (a) the instructor presented questions, (b) students worked in groups to reach a solution, (c) students voted either individually or in groups, (d) a histogram of the results was displayed, and (e) a class-wide discussion followed until consensus was reached. …