Classroom response systems (CRS) are well recognised active learning strategies. Although student participation and engagement doesn’t necessarily equal learning, we know that active learning strategies promote learning.

We also know that many lecturers who teach large student cohorts employ various active learning strategies, e.g. like asking students direct questions, facilitating group work, offering incentives to participate – Freddo Frog anyone?  Butdo you ‘activate’ all 500+ students when using active learning systems, be they in the lecture theatre or home watching your lecture online? Could you be more effective? Here are a few tips:

Classroom response tools available to MQ staff

Macquarie supported Echo360 ALP, as well as free, web-based tools like PollEverywherePadlet, Socrative, Mentimeter, Kahoot (there are many more others out there) allow you to get every student involved in just a few clicks. These go beyond ‘just’ clickers – students can participate in polls (picking one or more choices), type in a short answer, rank, rate and match items, and submit various media as a response. The benefits of using electronic response systems rather than ‘show of hand approach’ are: anonymity of responses, ability to immediately display responses visually, e.g. in a graph and valuable analytics and data to review and reflect on after class.

The importance of pedagogy in using CRS

The question always comes down to the why and the how, to promote student learning. Think of using CRS in terms of what responses are you looking for and what activities you think will draw out engagement. Chances are, you are already planning this ahead of class. Think about how you could employ some of the CRS tools above to structure these interactions, all while registering useful data on student engagement and participation.

Question formats*:

Recall: Useful to check students have done their homework, readings and watched their online lesson videos. Such a quiz focuses students’ attention and primes them for what’s to come. Use sparingly, as it requires lower-order thinking.

Application: Give students a scenario and ask them to apply concepts, techniques or procedures learned in class. Ask them to provide an explanation, too. These types of activities you can use in Echo360 ALP:

Active Learning Platform Activity Options

Active Learning Platform Activity Options

Perspective sharing: Ask students to respond to a scenario or case study and share how they would approach the situation. This can be a one-best-answer multiple choice or a short text response giving the student’s point of view. Use this format when you want to stimulate a rich discussion, in small groups or in a tutorial. This kind of question is likely to stimulate Bloom’s higher order thinking, as students are evaluating options and diverse perspectives, forming and arguing their opinion. Presenting students with a dilemma like The Trolley Problem: “Would you kill one person instead of five?” at the onset of a lesson about moral and ethical behaviour will likely generate a lively discussion that can guide and fill a whole session. This is an example of what Beatty et al (2005) call “question-driven instruction” and encourages deep critical thinking.

Monitoring: Ask students to share their progress on preparing their assignments: “Where are you up to with your essay”? Choose multiple choice options:
a) reviewing literature
b) drafted an outline
c) written the first draft
d) what, there’s an essay due?
It’ll indicate if you need to emphasise or explain any important points.

Poll Everywhere tool

Confidence testing: Why not ask your students: “How comfortable do you feel with the material covered so far on ethical behaviour in research interviews?” or let them predict “How confident do you feel that you’ll be able to provide a convincing argument for marriage equality?” (presenting multiple choice answers). Again, this will give you an idea of where your students are at and if you need to adjust the content or pace of delivery.

Experiment: Presenting research to students? Make it relevant to them. Ask them to express their opinion, share personal experiences, question common beliefs and values? E.g. “How many MQ students do you think opt for a ‘sustainable’ (insert definition) mode of transport to get to campus?” a) 25% b) 45% c) 75%. Even you can participate now – Submit your guess here.

Activity formats:

Attendance: Registering attendance through a digital platform encourages punctuality, as students don’t want to miss the class roll if attendance is mandatory.

Summative and formative assessment: You can make these digital activities compulsory and grade them (summative assessment). With Echo360 ALP, even if a student wasn’t in class, the platform allows for asynchronous participation – students can still log in and participate after class, if you choose to keep the activity open. You can also collect information on where students’ understanding is in order to adjust the content and provide feedback to students along the way (formative assessment).

Homework Collection: This can be especially useful where students can and are expected to submit media, audio, video, maybe even share with peers for feedback (see this Padlet example).

Padlet screenshot

Padlet screenshot

Discussion Warm-Up: Pose a question, give time to think and respond.

Adaptive teaching: This is also called “agile teaching” (Beatty et al. (2006). Based on CRS data, teachers can decide whether to move on to the next topic, go deeper or reverse.

Repeated Questions: Ask students to think individually about a question and submit a response, then ask them to discuss with their neighbour and answer the question again. Outcomes of this activity are likely to generate discussion of content and the process of how we make decisions and negotiate our knowledge with others. Combine with additional material, e.g. image, videos, etc. to stimulate further thinking and students’ detailed understanding.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Classes: Give students the choice of what topic they want to cover next by posting a question via ExitTicket (Socrative) or Echo360 ALP at the end of a lecture, for example.


  1. It can be challenging to monitor classroom response and respond to it on-the-fly, you need to be flexible and comfortable with unpredictability. For example, your whole class chooses to kill the 5 people (in the Trolly Problem, mentioned above). Plan possible responses ahead. 
  2. You’ll need to invest time to familiarise yourself with a tool so you’re not ‘caught out’ during the class.

Two takeaways from this post:

  • Question design is key if you want to engage students on a deep level. (Remember Bloom)
  • Active learning is simple to induce in large cohorts once you get a handle on a few nifty tools.

Was this post helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

And give me a call if you are not sure how to run an activity involving any of the tools above. Register interest in training session ideas with Alison Schloss.

*adapted, based on Vanderbilt University resources

Posted by Lilia Mantai

Lilia's PhD was on the role of social support in the development of researcher identities in the PhD. She is a Higher Ed professional, passionate about education, research, and providing support to staff and students.

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