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Electronic voting technology improving education?

audience response technology

The professor asks a question. You think you know, but you'd rather not look like a complete idiot in front of your classmates. And no one likes a know-it-all, right? What if you could have some indication that you weren't off-base before you piped up?

That's exactly what new "audience response" technology (also sometimes called an electronic voting system) is making happen at several thousand college campuses around the country. An article last year in the New York Times reported that half a million college students and some middle and high school students are employing this technology that allows them to use hand-held, remote devices to respond to questions during lectures and have results immediately reported and projected on the classroom's screen.

How audience response technology works in class

Having a professor ask you and your classmates a question is just one way this technology can be used in class. It's actually a tool that can enhance student learning by creating a potentially more engaging learning environment by inviting students to be more interactive. A professor could give you a short quiz at the beginning of class before the lecture and then a similar quiz at the end of class. You'd instantly know your grade--and you'd know what you need to get help or read more about if you weren't understanding a concept covered in class.

Several companies manufacture audience response technology systems. Turning Technologies is one such company that provides this technology for K-12 classrooms, college classrooms, and corporate events. Their technology allows students to use a radio-frequency ResponseCard keypad to provide responses. Much like a standard mobile phone, the keypad has keys that allow students to respond to questions. Turning Technologies' system also lets students use their smart phones, iPads, or laptop computers to respond.

Does audience response technology help students?

Some college students find the technology a little invasive. If you're skipping class, the professor knows because the system takes roll to see which hand-held devices are present in a classroom. You're more accountable and less anonymous, which is an obvious benefit for professors. But what are the benefits for students?

For one, audience response technology allows professors to quiz students during lectures and immediately pinpoint areas the audience isn't grasping. This technique, called contingent teaching, is one of the most promising pedagogical approaches, according to a 2004 study by S. W. Drapter and M. I. Brown at the University of Glasgow.

Another study by N. W. Reah, Pengfei Li, and Lei Bao at Ohio State University in 2007 stated that although lectures alone are not always efficient teaching methods, the use of electronic voting system technology showed "a significant gain in conceptual learning" and it also "reduced the gap between male and female student performances on tests."

Electronic voting is for distance education classes, too

These audience response systems also bridge the gap between traditional classrooms and distance learning classrooms. Turning Technologies' system allows a host campus with multiple distance learning classrooms to connect. The host campus classroom is able to gather information and responses from the distance learning classrooms and display the results immediately, allowing for cross-cultural collaboration. Gone are the days of one-way video technology, or worse, an audio connection that makes distance classroom contributions awkward.

With all the contributions technology has made to enhancing online classrooms and online education as a whole, it's not a surprise that the traditional classroom is benefiting from integrating educational technology. If you're considering enrolling in a degree program or class, find out if the school is using an electronic voting system. If they do, be sure to ask if they charge students a technology fee and if that fee still applies if you're able to use your smart phone or laptop.

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