Mar 18 2013

Colleges Weigh Options on Student Response Systems

Traditional clickers save bandwidth, but device choice is also attractive.

Just about everyone in higher education today sees the value of student response systems. College professors use them to track student comprehension of specific course material and administer tests and quizzes.

Where IT and instructional technology managers may differ is on how best to deliver the service. Some prefer stand-alone systems based on radio frequency (RF) transmitters, and others now prefer a web-based system that can run on students’ personal devices over a Wi-Fi network.

At the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, information systems operations manager Jeff Osmer opts for the more traditional stand-alone systems.

The college uses software and clickers from eInstruction, Osmer says, largely because they’ve been deployed for close to five years now, they run well and there’s very little maintenance required. Students pay a one-time $15 fee and then $10 per class for use of the clickers, up to about $50.

The eInstruction software sits on a computer in the classroom, and a wireless USB receiver is installed on the PC, sending out an RF signal. Students then use the clickers over the 2.4 GHz band, independent of the college’s Wi-Fi network.

“That’s a really big point for us,’’ Osmer says. “If we went the software route over Wi-Fi and had 80 or 90 kids using the network with their own devices, it could cause degradation to the network. With the stand-alone system, if one of the receivers breaks down, all we have to do is slide another USB device into the computer in the classroom.”

Alan Greenberg, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, says that colleges should closely examine their network infrastructure before moving forward with a web-based approach.

150 feet

The maximum range of use allowed by the RF frequency for an eInstruction CPS Student Response System

“IT managers need to think about the new web-based technology in terms of their overall BYOD policy,” Greenberg says. “If students will be using more devices in the classroom, that means the college needs to upgrade its wireless access points and overall bandwidth.”

That’s precisely what Tennessee Tech University did over the past year or two.

Stacey Plant, an instructional media specialist who works at the college’s Technology Institute, says the college recently deployed a web-based response system.

Students pay a $20 annual fee to use the service and are able to perform the same functions they would with traditional clickers by using their smartphones or tablet devices. Plant says students who can’t afford those devices can also run the system via SMS text messaging on a basic cell phone.

Plant says Tennessee Tech has upgraded its wireless access points and wireless infrastructure during the past year to meet the increased demand for bandwidth. Right now, about 40 instructors use the web-based tool.

“We had professors specifying four or five different clicker systems,” Plant says. “With the web-based model, we’ve been able to standardize on one system, and we’ve found a better solution — one that is more future-forward.”


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