I stopped by the Turning Technologies booth this morning.  Turning is one of a few classroom response system vendors with booths at the conference.  I’m hoping to check out the others tomorrow.  At the Turning booth, I saw a demo of their new ResponseWare Web application.  This application makes it possible for students to use laptops, smart phones, and any other Internet-enabled device to respond to polling questions during class.  One of the advantages of using this kind of application is that it makes it easier for students to respond to free-response questions since they have keyboards and other ways of quickly entering text.

It occurred to me that while interviewing faculty for my book, I found very few instructors who were using the free-response options provided by many classroom response systems in part because the methods that most clickers provide for entering text are pretty slow.  (I’ve met a few instructors who frequently ask numeric-response questions, which are a little easier for students to answer than text-response questions.)  I’ve also sensed that some faculty, upon hearing about clickers, reject the idea of using clickers because they feel that multiple-choice questions are too limiting.  I would argue that multiple-choice questions can be used productively in just about any class, but, regardless, there’s still this sense.

While at the Turning booth, I hypothesized that a system like their ResponseWare Web–one that made it easy for students to quickly respond to free-response questions–might appeal to faculty who don’t see much value in asking multiple-choice questions during class.

Later in the day, I spoke briefly with George Saltsman, who, along with his Abilene Christian University colleagues Kyle Dickson and Bill Rankin, presented a session today on ACU’s iPhone initiative.  At ACU, instructors are able to ask free-response questions and have students respond quickly and easily using their iPhones, so I asked George if many faculty members there were taking advantage of this ability.  He said yes and then confirmed my hypothesis from earlier in the day–this ability was a big draw for a lot of his faculty members, ones that might not have been interested in asking multiple-choice questions using clickers.

I’m eager to hear more about the experiences of faculty at ACU and elsewhere who are using classroom response systems to ask free-response questions.  The vast majority of work exploring the roles and impact of clickers in the classroom has focused on the use of multiple-choice equestions.  I think there’s a lot of potential for exploring the use of free-response questions, too.