Skip to main content

Class or Audience Response Systems


What is a class response system? 

Class or audience response systems (CRSs) allow educators the ability to collect live-time responses from their learners for purposes such as fostering engagement, formative assessment, or curating opinions. A meta-analysis of related research found small but significant educational effects of CRSs on both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes, however, it also found many moderators for these effects (Hunsu, Adesope, & Bayly, 2016). This highlights the need for purposeful design when integrating CRSs into educational activities. 

What class response system is available at CMU? 

CMU OIT has adopted Top Hat as an enterprise solution for CRS, meaning the Help Desk can provide support in use of that product. Top Hat does require learners to purchase an annual license at a low cost (~$25), which is a deterrent for some educators. There are a variety of free, web-based alternatives to Top Hat, such as Socrative or Poll Everywhere, that educators may choose to use if they do not require Help Desk support. In any case, most of these tools are web-based, meaning a learner can participate via any web-capable device (laptop, smartphone, etc.).  



Consider Your Pedagogy 

The CRS is promoted as a tool to serve many tasks, though without a clear pedagogical perspective attached. Before making use of a CRS, consider your theoretical framework, your learning objectives, and how a CRS will help serve those. 

Beatty & Gerace (2009) developed the technology-enhanced formative assessment (TEFA) pedagogy for CRS-based science instruction to support their instructional goals: question-driven instruction, dialogical discourse, formative assessment, and meta-level communication. It incorporates a question cycle as follows: 

  1. Pose a challenging, multi-faceted question. 
  2. Have learners wrestle with the question (alone, in groups, or both). 
  3. Use a CRS to collect and display aggregated responses. 
  4. Elicit learners' justifications without revealing the correct response. 
  5. Foster a learner-led discussion, prompting them to elaborate on their ideas. 
  6. Provide a summary, micro-lecture, meta-level comments, or another segue as appropriate. 
Pickford & Clothier (2006) developed the F4 model, or FeFiFoFun for CRS-based classes delivered in a lecture hall setting, though it has applicability in other settings, too. This pedagogy was formulated with the beliefs that, to teach effectively, one must: 

  1. Gain feedback or discover what students know and do not know. 
  2. Provide fixation or identifying and explaining key points. 
  3. Leverage formative or summative assessments to engage students in learning. 
  4. Foster fun experiences to help students want to be there. 

Consider a Range of Question & Activity Types  

CRSs can be used to gauge basic recall of information, but they can also be used for higher-order purposes like gauging ability to apply concepts, confidence with material, or to capture learner perspectives, etc. (Bruff, n.d.). 

CRSs can be used for things like recording learner attendance or encouraging learners to review pre-class materials through related formative assessment questions. However, they can also be used for tasks like discussion warm-ups, team-based learning, or "choose your own adventure" exploration sessions (Bruff, n.d.). 

To review more questions or activity types for CRSs, visit Vanderbilt University's site on Classroom Response Systems.

Using Top Hat at CMU 

Complete the Classroom Audience Response Assistance form if you'd like to request support with Top Hat from the Help Desk. 



  • To see what events we may be offering related to class response systems, check out our CIS Events Page.
  • Schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss pedagogical models for use of class response systems in your course. 


Beatty, I. D. & Gerace, W. J. (2009). Technology-enhanced formative assessment: A research-based pedagogy for teaching science with classroom response technology. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(2), 146-162. Retrieved from  

Bruff, D. (n.d.) Classroom response systems ("Clickers"). Retrieved from  

Hunsu, N. J., Adescope, O., & Bayly, D. J. (2016). A meta-analysis of the effects of audience response systems (clicker-based technologies) on cognition and affect. Computers & Education, 94, 102-119. Retrieved from 

Pickford, R. & Clothier. H. (2006). The art of teaching: A model for the lecture in the 21st century. The Higher Education Academy Annual Conference, July 2006. Retrieved from