Remote Response System GetsScience Lecture Students Engaged

Mollie Reilly

An electronic polling device purchased by Colgate University in 2001 is now being used in Physics and Chemistry classrooms. Known as the Personal Response System (PRS), the wireless program allows professors to poll students in class with instantly calculated results.

In courses using the PRS, each student is assigned to a specific transmitter that they are to use throughout the semester. The PRS is connected to Microsoft PowerPoint so that the professor can put a multiple-choice question up on the display. Professors can modify the initial question, the number and content of responses, how many times students can change their answers and how long students have to answer the question.

Students choose which available choice best answers the question, and select the number on their transmitter that corresponds to that answer. After the allotted amount of time, during which students are free to change their answer, all choices are locked in. The results appear as a graph on the PowerPoint presentation. The professor can also track which answer each student selected in order to monitor individual performance.

Professor of Chemistry Ernie Nolen has been using the PRS for approximately six years, primarily in his Organic Chemistry II sections, which have 45 students each. With such a large class size, it can be difficult for students to have interactive opportunities.

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s good to use the PRS. Everyone can feel like they’re participating,” Nolen said.

According to Nolen, the system has improved participation in his classes.

“I think it helps them to stay more active in class,” Nolen said. “It probably helps them to know if they’re the only one who got something wrong that they should be working harder. I think it helps with an intellectual openness, which is really refreshing.”

Nolen currently does not intend to make the PRS responses part of his students’ grades, but it does help him assess how well students are grasping the material.

“I use it particularly early in the semester to catch people early if they’re missing a lot of questions so I can notify them and ask them to come by for extra help,” Nolen said.

The program is easy to use and manipulate to fit a classroom’s needs. In general, student response has been highly positive, although most would be concerned if their PRS answers affected their final grades.

“I polled the class on the first day if they thought they would enjoy this, and most people thought they would,” Nolen said. “Then I asked if [they] would like this to be part of their grade, their answers, and most people thought they would not.”

Nolen uses the system once a week, usually spending about half of a class asking students to respond to multiple-choice questions with the PRS.

“It adds some discussion to science,” sophomore Alex Pearce said. “We’ve never had that before.”

According to Professor of Biology Nancy Pruitt, the system was purchased for Biology 212 but has yet to be used for that course.