New! Student Response System Resource Guide

Learning to operate the technology is the easiest part of become facile with CRS-based instruction. More difficult challenges include creating and adapting suitable questions, cultivating productive classroom discourse, and integrating CRS use with the rest of the course, with curricular materials, and with external constraints.

Beatty, 2006 

  There are many advantages to using Student Response Systems, such as Poll Everywhere, as they allow you to:

  • Refresh previous knowledge at beginning of lecture
  • Focus students' attention on important ideas
  • Promote interaction between students and between the students and the lecturer
  • Evaluate factual knowledge
  • Evaluate conceptual understanding
  • Reveal student misunderstandings
  • Assess students' ability to apply lecture material to a new situation
  • Take a snapshot of students' understanding and difficulties
  • It might also have a positive impact on attendance, engagement, promote greater student participation (cognitive reasons and affect) and even achievement.

However, there are also some challenges, namely in feeling comfortable with a more active learning approach to lecturing, writing questions that are at the right level of difficulty, engaging the whole group, promoting discussion and focusing on important concepts.  

Have a look below to determine what kind of use you make of student response systems, and explore some ideas that might allow you to develop your SRS practice.

These stages are not fixed and you might use elements from all of them, depending on the available time, learning aims, student needs, etc. However, research states that SRS use is more effective when the questions are aligned with the learning aim, students are independent learners and there is a large element of collaboration.

 Which SRS user are you?
Stage 1
  • Asking simple, factual questions about material just covered in lecture.
  • Little or no discussion between students to answer the questions, and there is little of no follow up discussion after they answer.
  • The primary aims are to improve attendance and engagement, by breaking up the delivery of content.
Stage 2
  • Asking more challenging, conceptual questions that require discussion to answer and discussion after.
  • Follow up questions asked
Stage 3
  • The lecture, or moments in the lecture, are flipped and students prepare for them in their own time.
  • Students are organised into groups and have assigned tasks.
  • The questions are challenging and demand discussion to answer them.
  • SRSs are used frequently

We recommend the following approach for using student response systems:

 We recommend
  1. Question

    1. Focuses students attention on important facts or concepts.
    2. Consider not displaying the options immediately, if using a multiple choice question. This might lead students to check their notes and connect the question to previously learned material, rather than eliminating options.
    3. Base the distractors on common misconceptions.
    4. See Writing effective questions for more information.

  2. Individual answer

    1. Individual answers are good, especially at the beginning of term, or in situations that simulate formal assessment. 
    2. Answering individually encourages students to think about the question and develop their own ideas, or apply knowledge to a new situation.
    3. Consider not revealing the correct answer after the individual vote, if you want students to then work as a group.
    4. Individual answers provide you with feedback on students' understanding and misconceptions

  3. Peer discussion and group answer

    1. It improve students' understanding and their ability to communicate ideas.
    2. Promote a greater confidence in the option chosen, especially if students were asked to, individually, come to an answer before they start working as a group.
    3. Brings the many benefits of peer work: expressing doubts and misconceptions, asking for help, generating discussions using technical terminology, expressing their ideas, etc.
    4. The main benefit is not only arriving to the correct answer, but also to understand why that is the correct answer.

  4. Whole class discussion

    1. Allows the group to hear different answers and points of view.
    2. Allows them to ask following questions to other students 
    3. Allows you to give feedback to the whole group, explaining why the option is correct and why the others aren't.

Of course these parts of the approach depend on time, objectives and other conditions. Below are some examples of when and how you can use SRSs, depending on your learning aims, the activities you want to use and your goals. 

 Examples of SRS use

The table below shows some "recipes" for SRS use, with potential objectives that can be met and advantages in the Notes column.

Beginning of the lectureQuestion+ Individual answer + FeedbackRecall previously covered materials, or developed skills
Throughout the lectureQuestion+ Individual answer + Feedback

Evaluate factual knowledge/conceptual understanding/ Reveal student misunderstandings

Throughout the lectureInstruction + Question + Individual answer (no feedback) + Collaborative discussion and answer + Whole-class discussion + FeedbackAllows students to assimilate the subject matter, test their understanding and articulate it in a group.
Throughout the lecture (Flipped learning)Question + Collaborative work and answer + Feedback + Lecturer observations/Mini-lectureMore learner-centered; goes beyond recalling and practice of acquired skill.
End of the lectureQuestion + Individual answer + Feedback

Evaluate factual knowledge, evaluate conceptual understanding, reveal student misunderstandings. Gives a snapshot of content that might have to be covered in students' own time, or in following lectures.

 Writing effective questions and using them in lecture

Once you feel comfortable using SRSs in your lecture in an interactive and integrated way, writing questions is one of the most important elements of using this educational technology.

Ideally, questions will motivate and assess students, revealing their level of mastery of the content and factual recall, their misconceptions and interpretations. Questions that are too easy might not only not motivate students, who tend to see them as a waste of valuable contact time, as might give them a false sense of security.

A good way of avoiding these pitfalls is to use a simple methodology that is learner centred and pedagogically focused. Keep in mind that writing effective clicker questions is different from writing exam or assignment questions. According to Beatty, good clicker questions should have a:

  1. Content goal
    1. Directly related to the course content; often have correct and incorrect answers. They might ask students to remember facts, concepts, or procedures.

  2. Process goal
    1. Exercises cognitive skills: analyse, explain, describe, etc.

  3. Metacognitive goal
    1. Learning about learning
    2. Critical thinking about subject matter or process

To write SRS questions, start by

  • Defining your learning aims
    • What do you want your students to be able to do (factual recall, content assimilation, skill development, etc.)?

  • Defining the goal for the question
    • Promote discussion, raise awareness, stimulate cognitive process, etc.

  • Choosing the appropriate type of question (see Question Design Goals and Tactics, under Tactics)
    • qualitative questions, analysis and reasoning questions, multiple defensible answers, etc.

Here is one example of this methodology in practice:


  1. Learning aim

    Interpret legal problem. Identify correct solution. Articulate point of view.

  2. Skill: apply legislation to real-world scenario.

  1. Goal of the SRS question

    Promote articulation and discussion; stimulate cognitive process.

  2. Tactic

Qualitative question; analysis and reasoning, interpret representations.


Based on the facts of problem 7 (in the students' textbook), in the lawsuit by the student against Mountain Law School, a court will likely find in favor of the:

a) student, if the court finds that the terms of the catalogue are complete, definite and certain.

b) student, since catalogues are usually considered ads, and ads are always offers

c) law school, since catalogues can never include the necessary terms to be deemed definite and complete offers.

d) law school, since the student could not have expected to be taught all the terms included in the catalogue.

adapted from Bruff, D. Teaching with Classroom Response Systems

 Click here to expand...

Instructions for students

Research says that the majority of students like using SRSs, especially when the aims are explained and they understand the value of using this technology in lecture. The negative feedback raises interesting questions and the need to explain the value of SRSs and of using valuable contact time in lecture.

Below is a summary of what the literature says on students' opinions on SRS use:

The good ( 70% to 88%)The bad - a minority:
• The students who particularly reported the benefits of the SRS were those who had difficulty learning in the traditional lecture format: those who struggled to remain engaged or devote attention to the material being delivered
• Students like immediate feedback
• Students see lecturers who use SRSs as more aware of their learning needs
• They like anonymity, comparing their answer with the cohort’s; collaborating and discussing with colleagues
• Perception of ‘dumbing down’ and wasting time
• “Our research also confirmed that the use of SRSs is not universally endorsed by students, some of whom felt that the time could have been better spent delivering a larger amount of content – a sentiment that is now new (Van Dijk, Van den Berg and Van Keulen2001)
• (…) students who thought SRS a waste of time were precisely those who wanted more coverage of content and would probably fare well no matter the pedagogy or delivery method.
• Dislike technical problems
• Dislike when SRS are used to monitor attendance
• Dislike using SRSs when they don't know the learning value of questions
• If linked with assessment, grades need to be fair, clear and the SRS use robust

An effective way of communicating the advantages of SRS use in lecture, is to highlight its advantages:

  • The time spent using the SRS is compensated by the depth of understanding of the material
  • Time might be made up with a balanced use of study time
  • Immediate feedback is available
  • As it can be anonymous, it is a safe environment to give answers
  • It promotes the development of different skills that go beyond content assimilation: the ability to express ideas, negotiate, dean, collaborate, etc.

On the technical side, clear instructions for how to vote are essential. If you are using TurningPoint clickers or Poll Everywhere, click here to read some tips on how to help your students vote.


 Question design goals and tactics

Question design goals and tactics (Beatty et al., 2006)

Question design goals


Direct attention and raise awareness

- Remove nonessentials

- Compare and contrast

- Extend the context

- Reuse familiar question situations

- Oops-go-back 

Promote articulation/discussion

- Qualitative questions

- Analysis and reasoning questions

- Multiple defensible answers

- Require unstated assumptions

- Trap unjustified assumptions

- Deliberate ambiguity

- Trolling for misconceptions 

Stimulate cognitive processes

- Interpret representations

- Compare and contrast

- Extend the context

- Identify a set

- Rank variants

- Reveal a better way

- Strategize only

- Include extraneous information

- Omit necessary information 

Formative use of response data

- Answer choices reveal likely difficulties

- Use “none of the above” 


For more help

Poll Everywhere