(Posted November 19, 2001)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Teachers have been trying to get students to participate in class for hundreds of years, but several Juniata College science professors are getting it done by remote control.

Using a computer software program called the Classroom Performance System, the college has outfitted a few classrooms with equipment that allows students to answer multiple choice or true-false questions by simply pressing a button on a remote control unit. The system gives professors instant feedback on whether students have grasped the principles of the lecture and allows the teachers to track individual or group progress through a semester.

The system, which cost Juniata about $5,500, is used at about 60 colleges and universities nationwide.

While the remote system bears a striking resemblance to the "polling the audience" lifeline of ABC-TV's "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," the payoff is not money, but a deeper understanding of science. The professors who use it also refrain from saying, "Is that your final answer?"

"A teacher learns very early that total boredom and total befuddlement have remarkably similar facial expressions," says Jim Borgardt, assistant professor of physics, who uses the system in his General Physics class. "The remote system gives me instant feedback that tells me either 'Yes, the class gets this,' or 'We need to spend more time on this lesson.'"

According to David Reingold, professor of chemistry, the system allows students who often are hesitant to raise their hands to answer a question. Reingold, who uses the system in his Organic Chemistry class, gives remotes to teams of two or three students who use them to vote on answers the class has produced in response to a problem assigned by Reingold. Debra Kirschof-Glazier, professor of biology, also uses the system in her Biology I course.

"For me, the system works best as a method of increasing class participation," Reingold says. "This allows students to raise their hand and give an answer without actually raising their hand."

Borgardt says the system is particularly well suited for science instruction, but points out that any course using multiple-choice or true-false questions can use the product for quizzes, tests or problem-solving.

The system works through any personal computer. Each remote has its own wavelength that allows the system to record and track individual answers. Borgardt has assigned individually numbered remotes to each of his General Physics students, allowing him to track the progress of each student's learning.

"The benefit for me is that I can see if a student has missed five straight classroom questions and suggest that they come in to see me for some help," he explains. "It helps me see a problem before a student fails a major test that they might not be able to recover from."

Borgardt estimates that only about a third of the students in any lecture class will raise their hands to answer questions. "Or, students will wait for the students who always answer to raise their hands," he explains. "In this system, no one in the class can tell who got it right or who got it wrong, so they are more willing to participate."

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.