Top Hat: Student Response Systems to Engage Students

Brief Description: 

Through small remote devices (“clickers”) or through laptops, tablet devices and/or smart phones accessing online tools, instructors can poll their students, ensure key points are understood, give low-stakes quizzes to assess student learning, and receive immediate classroom feedback on teaching.

Possible Instructional Uses: 

  • Assessing students’ prior knowledge and identifying misconceptions before introducing a new subject
  • Checking students’ understanding of new material
  • Starting class discussion on difficult topics
  • Using peer instruction and other active learning techniques
  • Administering tests and quizzes during lecture
  • Gathering feedback on teaching
  • Recording class attendance and participation

Centrally Supported Tools: 

Additional Tools: 

Tips for Using Personal Response Systems

  • Examine your own teaching style and establish clear goals for using a response system in the class.
  • Know how the response system works before bringing it into the classroom. If you are not well prepared technologically or pedagogically for using a technology, it is recommended that you postpone using it until you are ready.
  • Explain to students why a response system is being used in the course and clarify how the tool can help students achieve the learning objective(s). Be sure to use the response system regularly and consistently.
  • Clearly articulate your expectations of students and also establish rules and student responsibilities (e.g., it is the students’ responsibility to bring clickers or other device to lecture every time).
  • Develop a pool of thoughtful and effective questions for each lecture. Questions that ask for conceptual thinking in technical courses or critical thinking in any class are particularly effective.
  • Use a response system in conjunction with teaching strategies such as “Peer Instruction” and “Think-Pair-Share” to improve students’ conceptual understanding of the content, as well as their critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.
  • When using a response system for the first time, consider the first couple of class sessions experimental so that both faculty and students will have a chance to practice. It is not a good idea to give students tests using a tool on the first day of class because some of the students may not have purchased their devices yet.
  • Be sure not to allocate too many points to a single test that is given to students during lecture using a response system, since it may create anxiety and also increase the temptation to cheat. Response systems are most effectively used for low stakes assessments.
  • If response system technology is used to track attendance, be sure to use the system for other purposes as well, such as assessing student understanding, generating ideas for class discussion, or engaging students in thinking critically about course content.
  • When using a response system to diagnose students’ understanding, be sure to comment on or explain students’ responses, give students another question on the same topic if needed, or adjust lecture pace and sequence if necessary to clarify confusion or misconceptions.

Next Steps


Information adapted from:

Personal Response Systems. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan