In response to student dissatisfaction and high cost of hardware, new web-based technology systems have emerged that allow students to participate from their seats, just by accessing the web via laptop, iPad, or smartphone—hardware most students already have.

Top Hat is one example of a subscription web-based clicker service that allows students to access lecture question via laptop, iPad, and smartphone and give instant feedback to teachers through polls, quizzes and open-ended questions. Moreover, students that do not have access to such devices can still participate using any type of cellular phone by texting in their answers to a designated number.

In addition to gaging student participation, the system can also offer students and teachers interactive demos, a homework tool, gradebook and a file-sharing tool.

Based on current research and faculty interviews on the use of a cloud-based classroom response technology determined these pros and cons of using a web-based technology system in college:


Cost: Physical clickers are a costly piece of equipment for students to purchase, and professors understand that. Susan White, Ph.D., Business Finance professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, said that the biggest reason in transitioning from physical clickers, to a web-based response systems was the cost. In previous classes, she found that very few students had clickers from prior courses, and felt bad asking them to purchase one for her class. A web-based subscription runs anywhere from $10-$18 dollars.

Interactive videos, demos and extra practice: With cloud-based SRS’ like Top Hat, students are given access to more than just the ability to answer questions from their seats in lecture classes. These systems come with videos and labs that provide students extra practice with the class material. Karen Hallows, Ph.D., who also teaches Business Finance at the Smith School of Business, expressed this as the primary benefit with using a web-based student response system. “A student can use [web-materials] at their own pace, and it gives them practice in the learning process,” she said. Hallows explained that she and the department have done an assessment on the student engagement rate with using a web-based technology. She finds that “students learn more because they are working out problems at their own pace.” Hallows also found that student perform better on exams because of the higher levels of engagement they have with the material (Hallows says these these exam results will be presented soon).

Higher accessibility: Using a web-based response system eliminates the necessity of lugging around a separate piece of equipment not normally used, since students are able to participate using their cellphones, smartphone, laptops and iPads. “It’s easy to use, and you do not have to worry about buying a separate item in case you lose it or forget to bring it to class,” Smith School of Business Senior, Molly Garfinkle said.


Cheating: With a web-based response system, student attentiveness in class could become a problem, just like with any online activities integrated in class. “If a student is not interested in learning, they could cheat,” Hallows said regarding potential cons of the response system.

Service Problems: As a fairly new system that replaces the physical use of clickers, it comes with its glitches. White explained that a big problem she has seen with using a cloud-based classroom response tool is the internet service and connections within individual classrooms. She explained that some students, depending on their service provider, struggle when trying to connect to the classroom session online with their smartphones.

Skating—lack of attendance: Using a cloud-based technology response system allows students to log into classroom sessions from anywhere. Hallows explained that this means students can log on from their dorm rooms, not attend class and still get the participation points.

Carly Morales is an editorial intern with eCampus News.