Audience Response Systems

Audience Response Systems

Obtaining formative feedback in the classroom is a powerful ingredient for supporting student learning (Trumbull and Lash, 2013). By knowing in real-time the degree to which students understand concepts and can engage in higher-order thinking around course material, instructors can nuance their approaches to foster learning. Audience response systems (ARS) can help with these assessments by measuring student progress toward desired learning objectives.

The use of ARS typically involves students answering questions for which immediate feedback is provided, like clickers, polling technologies, and index cards. These and other tools can be implemented in a variety of class types including large lecture courses and seminar-style classes, and can be used with individual, team, or group assignments.

  • Use best practices in designing multiple choice questions – If instructors assess students using multiple choice questions, resources exist for designing quality multiple choice questions that follow best practices, including testing for concepts over content, consistent structures, and clearly differentiated answers.
  • Assess prior knowledge and modify instruction  – Research indicates many ways in which students’ prior knowledge and previously developed conceptions inform and affect the ways they learn new knowledge (Ambrose, et. al, 2010). In general, ARS can be implemented to assess students’ prior knowledge on a particular concept, gauging where students stand in their learning and helping instructors modify their approach accordingly.
  • Conduct pre-/post- assessments – ARS may be implemented as pre-/post- assessments. This approach activates prior knowledge by re-assessing students with the same or similar questions after instruction, in order to monitor learning progression.
  • Engage in problem solving – In class sessions where students solve problems with single solutions such as in a science, math or engineering course, instructors can implement clickers to assess whether students have arrived at the correct answer. For courses featuring problems with a variety of solutions (medicine, philosophy, management), systems like colored cards can be scaled up to measure general progress or differing strategies that students or groups are deploying.
  • Implement during teamwork – To promote student engagement in learning, students can work in teams and respond to polling questions in a competitive fashion.

Make it accessible

Instructors utilizing software, clickers, and related technology should be aware of student accessibility concerns, and provide dynamic policies to support students who are technologically inexperienced or barred from maintaining their own electronic devices. Questions?

Choose the tools for audience response


Explore tools available at Iowa State

Pink Top Hat graphic showing icons for classroom, textbooks, assignments, and secure exams.

An interactive, cloud-based teaching platform that leverages student’s mobile devices to increase in-class engagement and get real-time feedback.

Anyone can ask and answer questions on Piazza. With students teaching students, conversations on Piazza can continue long after office hours are over.

Lower tech tools

  • Colored Index Cards – A simpler version of clickers is ABC index cards. Instructors can use a different colored note card for each answer option and provide a set to each student or group. As with other methods, instructors can develop a series of questions and students can respond by holding up the appropriate card. Using this type of audience response system, students are held more accountable to their more publicly displayed choices. Additionally, index cards can be collected and reused.
  • Folded Paper – Another simple ARS involves using folded paper with A, B, C, D options. A template can be found here: Colored ABC Card (PDF). Using this tool, students fold the paper to the correct response and hold it up for viewing, similar to the colored index card approach. The templates may be colored-printed and disseminated to students at the beginning of the semester to bring to class each day.

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research – Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd.

Audience Response Systems page from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), Iowa State University is a derivative of the Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning Audience Response System page retrieved on May 12, 2020, from