Using Zappers to Promote Active Learning in a Large Lecturer Class

Towards the end of the academic year 2001/2, in an attempt to improve student interaction in a large lecture class, I began to employ a Personal Response System (PRS) where each student is equipped with a PRS handset or zapper, as it is called more colloquially. These are used at suitable points in the lecture to get students to answer simple multiple-choice questions. The results are then displayed graphically on a screen. In this form the results are anonymous, but it is possible to look at individual replies and, if desired, "name and shame" individuals (something I rarely do). I use these sessions mostly to try and consolidate key ideas. The sessions have other advantages such as breaking up lectures (which I believe is a good thing in itself) and often providing some fun. However, the results can be stored, and so this academic year I have been using the system to run class tests (a total of 5 which counts for 10% of the final asessment). I announce an upcoming test in the previous lecture. This has lead to increased attendance at the lectures when the tests are held, which is particularly useful for 9 am lectures.

The video clips below are early examples of using the system for a large class of around 180 second year aero, ship science and mechanical engineers. The questions are used to consolidate their understanding of the use of trial solutions in solving inhomogeneous second order ordinary differential equations. In the case of the first question about 60% get the answer right. This is followed by a short, but somewhat unsuccessful example of "naming and shaming". Most students get the second question wrong (which is a rather salutary lesson for teachers). This is followed by two more questions, the last of which is covered at the end of the lecture. The noise from the students is quite pronounced but, if nothing else, you get the impression they are enjoying and interacting with this part of the lecture.

You need Windows Media to view the video clips. You can download Windows Media for Windows XP by clicking here.

Video clips

Question 1


Question 2

Question 3

Question 4


d'Inverno, R.A. "Making lectures interactive". MSOR Connections, 3, No. 1, 2003, 18-19

d'Inverno, R.A., Davis, H.C. and White S.A. "Student Feedback ... A Lesson for the Teacher", Teaching Mathematics and its Applications, 22, 2003, 163-169

d'Inverno, R.A., Davis, H.C. and White S.A. "Using a Personal Response System for Promoting Student Interaction", In: S. Hibberd and L. Mustoe, eds. Proceedings of the 4th IMA Conference on the Mathematical Education of Engineers, IMA 2004, 1-5


Steve Draper's Website

Written by Prof Ray d'Inverno,
last updated on 18 October 2004