Category: Classroom

Best student response systems

In my role as a Learning Technologist, I have just produced two articles, which discuss student response systems. The articles were compiled from my own knowledge, research and experience (Post 1) and from the ALT discussion forum (Post 2).

The first blog post these looked at the functions of student response systems and what to consider.

The second blog post looked at the systems available (as mentioned by other learning techs on the ALT forum) and their merits.

Written August 2014.


Why do we have to be ‘outstanding’?

How many truly ‘outstanding’ days have you had in your life? The day you got your ‘A’ level results? The day you first flew in a plane? The day you got married or your child was born? I know that I can think of a few which really stand out.

How many truly ‘outstanding’ lessons did you have at school? Again, I can think of a handful. There was a project with Mrs Crowson when I was in Year 5 where we planned and built a pond in school. There was a lesson when I was in Year 11 where we had to plot a coup (Mrs Naish) and a lesson in Year 12 where I was asked ‘Is a tree poetry?’ And I think that’s about it.

How many days a year are you ‘outstanding’? In my case, it would be two or three. Most days I just do my work and look after my family and on some days, sadly, I’m just a downright waste of space!

And yet our schools are being asked to deliver ‘outstanding’ experiences day-on-day and week-on-week.

If we look at some dictionary definitions of ‘outstanding’, it means ‘standing out among others of its kind; prominent, noticeable.
superior to others of its kind;’ (  This, in turn, means that not every lesson can be ‘outstanding’ as then one lesson would not stand out from another.

I have been interested to see the increased number of calls for OFSTED to do away with the ‘outstanding’ grade. (See here – March 2014) In the schools that I was working in, many schools had ‘becoming outstanding’ as a stated aim, but my question would be, “Can we just be ‘good’ or ‘good enough’?”

Becoming a parent was a big shock to me a few years ago (and still is, if I’m honest!), and it was a revelation to me when someone told me that I didn’t have to be a perfect mother, I just had to be ‘good enough’. If we are honest, a lot of life is about being ‘good enough’, it is about doing the best we can, about making the most of the experiences we have. Sometimes, it is about learning how to deal with difficulties and do things we do not want to do.

If schools seek to be ‘outstanding’, then is this presenting a realistic view of the world that they will enter. Where do we learn to ‘be good enough’ if we are told that you have to be ‘outstanding’ all the time?

I am not for one moment suggesting that schools shouldn’t try to do better and that children shouldn’t work hard – but I worry about a culture which sets unattainable targets. I have seen too many great teachers go by the wayside in the last few years – colleagues and friends who worked hard, who were good human-beings, who were decent people and who really dedicated themselves to their work and the children, but who ultimately could not be ‘outstanding’ for 5 lessons a day.

So, should be expect our schools to be ‘outstanding’? Well, occasionally, yes! But not every day of the year and not every person every day. Let’s learn to be ‘good enough’, let’s learn to find pleasure in mundanity and look forward to those occasional ‘outstanding’ moments.



Classroom Response Systems

The article by Draper and Brown was written for Higher Education in 2004. This task summarises the article, highlighting how practice differs in Secondary Schools in 2011.

Draper and Brown discuss the devices used and the technical support provided. As with any technology, it must work efficiently to gain staff confidence. In 2004, wireless devices were a relatively new concept, based on infrared signals. In 2011, devices designed for the classroom use radio technology and reliability has improved dramatically. However, two points made by Draper and Brown are very valid. Portability allows for the technology to be shared easily and used flexibly. Many secondary classrooms now have devices in portable boxes. Technical support remains as crucial as ever, allowing the teachers to ‘concentrate on their job’.  (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 84)

So, what is their job? Using technology has to address an identified problem and in HE, this is the ‘inadequacy of the lecture format…..the lack of interactivity’. (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 82)  Secondary classrooms may not suffer from this as greatly as in HE but there can be a tendency for a teacher to dominate a classroom, following the ‘sage on a stage’ model. Research has shown that the more pupils are engaged, the better they learn. Indeed, Bruner (1960, p.80) stated that ‘motives for learning must be kept from going passive… they must be based as much as possible upon the arousal of interest in what there is be learned’. Draper and Brown cite research from Crouch and Mazur (2001) which shows that ‘a voting system, when used as part of a particular pedagogical method, produces large and statistically significant improvements in standardised test results.’ This leads us to focus on the ‘pedagogical method’.

The tutors in the article were early adopters. Use in Secondary schools today varies from schools with sets of devices in every classroom to schools with just one shared set. Whoever is using the devices, one fact remains clear. They enable students to interact fully with the teacher. In Draper and Brown’s article, three clear areas are given in which the devices make a difference: feedback, interactivity and anonymity. In Robert Powell’s book ‘The Response Revolution’ he states that ‘Dylan Wiliam’s research suggests that the quicker the intervention, the more likely the student is to learn’. (Powell, 2011, p. 12) Draper and Brown discuss how this can lead to ‘contingent teaching’ – changing the teaching based on the students’ responses. Secondary classrooms have been slow to adopt this idea, partly due to a fear of lesson plans becoming redundant as discussion moves away from the focus of the teaching. Interactivity, however, is key- and devices now allow for more varied input than simple multiple-choice questions. Anonymity is useful in some contexts, but in general it is more useful if the devices can be associated with a user. This enables for more coherent support and facilitates classroom discussion.

In summary, whilst there are some differences between the 2004 article and the current approach in Secondary education, the most important message is that ‘success depended on putting pedagogy first, technology second….’ (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 93) is still appropriate.


Bruner, J. (1960) The Process of Education. Harvard.

Draper, S., & Brown, M. (2004). Increasing interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, 81-94.

Powell, R. (2011). The Response Revolution. Robert Powell Publications.