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EVS technologies, alternatives, vendors

(written by Steve Draper,   as part of the Interactive Lectures website)

Contents (click to jump to a section)

What are the alternative methods and technologies to the PRS handsets we've bought? In fact this is all part of a wider set of choices. Our own approach at Glasgow university adopted the position:

The ideal system for this would allow huge groups of students to register a response to a MCQ (multiple choice question) with privacy (secret ballot), and have the results immediately summarised, and the summary displayed. Feedback to individual students (e.g. by LCDs on handsets) could be nice. Best of all would be to escape the MCQ strategy and have open-ended input from each audience member.

Besides these web pages containing our views, there are some other reports on what technology to adopt:


There are many other interactive techniques than MCQs. See for example:
  • Summary map of techniques
  • Notes from the Social Policy and social work LTSN / Bristol.
  • More pointers.
  • A journal article: Charman, D.J. & Fullerton, H. (1995) Journal of Geography in Higher Education "Interactive Lectures: a case study in a geographical concepts course" vol.19 no.1 pp.41-55
  • "Interactive lectures: 20 years later" by Thiagi (2002).
  • Steinert,Y. & Snell,L.S. (1999) "Interactive lecturing: strategies for increasing participation in large group presentations" Medical teacher vol.21 no.1 pp.37-42.
  • Bligh,D. (2000) What's the use of lectures? (Josey-Bass: San Francisco)
  • Edwards,H., Smith,B.A. & Webb,G. (2001) Lecturing: Case studies, experience and practice (Kogan Page: London)
  • MacGregor,J., Cooper,J.L., Smith,K.A. & Robinson,P. (2000) Strategies for energizing large classes: From small groups to learning communities (Josey-Bass: San Francisco)

    Non-electronic, but MCQ

    Given the use of MCQs as the way to involve student interaction, there are other ways that are possible and in fact have been heavily used in the recent past and present.

    Electric but not wireless (MCQ)

    There have been, and perhaps still are, cases where particular rooms have had systems installed based on wiring rather than wireless technology. Some examples of this are described in the History section at the end of this page. Nowadays the installation or even the cable costs of such systems would outweigh those of wireless ones, besides being tied to a single room.

    Electronic voting (MCQ) technologies

    This section lists non-computer special electronic handset voting systems that support MCQs. Non-MCQ systems, that allow open-ended responses from the audience, are discussed in a later section. And don't forget the alternative of using computers: one PC per student (discussed in this paper) and in a section below.

    The price information below is out of date, but as of March 2008 I cleaned up a lot of the rest of it. Still, even an out of date starting point is better than none for people looking for a vendor.

    For another view you could look at this 5 Aug 2005 news article by, and 3 ads. The article also reports that "U.K market research firm DTC Worldwide, which tracks the global market for education technology, expects that 8 million clickers ... will be sold annually by 2008".

  • Comparing different hardware: list of reviews on the web.

    Open-ended audience input

    The key function that MCQ-oriented technology cannot cover is allowing open-ended (e.g. free text) input from each audience member, rather than just indicating a selection from a small, fixed set of alternatives. However it is important to think, not just that MCQs are a limited way of asking questions, but what on earth a presenter in front of an audience of several hundred could possibly do with hundreds of free text inputs. The great virtue of MCQs is that great numbers of answers can be summarised in a single, simple summary (e.g. a bar or pie chart), whereas it would take a human not a computer, and considerable time, to group free text answers into "similar" points.

    However if you do want this function, then the most obvious method is to teach in rooms or labs with a computer per student (or at least per group of students); and use the network instead of infrared to interact. If the computers use wireless networking, then the system could be mobile and flexible. (See this discussion.)

    Other specialised equipment however allows some of this.

    Voting by SMS (mobile phone) texting

    For some years, in nearly every talk or workshop on EVS, someone would suggest that it could all be done using texting on the mobile phones very nearly all students carry. In 2008, an MIT startup company Poll Everywhere created by Jeff Vyduna (jvyduna AT offered this service (which is not yet available in the UK). Here is a discussion about the apparent prospects and problems with this approach.

    The service provided seems to be:

  • A short text number to dial (41411)
  • Msg content each voter types in of the form "CAST 10082"
  • Votes caught, processed, put on a web page that can be displayed in the talk. And embedded in powerpoint.
  • Votes from SMS and the web can be combined.
  • (Also can download spreadsheet form of the data)

    First, the attractions are large: a speaker need only arrange and pay for the service in advance, and have a live internet (WWW) connection in the lecture theatre (actually still quite difficult and rare in my university), but they can reasonably assume most of the audience will come with their "handset" i.e. mobile phone, and no other equipment or setup is necessary on the spot. PollEverywhere also says their software is integrated with PowerPoint.

    However there are several issues, in fact drawbacks, with this.

    Matt Jones ( has a paper on trying SMS mobile phone text messaging in this way:
    Jones,M. & Marsden,G. (2004) "'Please turn ON your mobile phone' -- First impressions of text-messaging in lectures" (University of Waikato, Computer Science Tech Report (07/2004))
    In that study:

    Nevertheless, the students were favourable to this. So it is feasible if you don't mind only a minority voting successfully.

    Summary: how to decide if to adopt this technology

  • Much of the cost is retained by the presenter/university, but students may be charged for the texts by their mobile phone service provider.
  • It seems likely that a considerable proportion will not have their votes "heard", especially in large audiences. There isn't much useful data on this that I have found so far, and what there is doesn't look good. Especially in large audiences, missing some votes doesn't seem to matter at first thought: everyone knows what (they thought) they voted, everyone sees how that relates to the group votes. However, it quickly undermines the meaning: as people realise their votes aren't seen, they lose motivation, can't trust the summaries in the same way, etc. And the presenter too is increasingly misled, along with the audience; particularly if the missing votes are not random, but are the last (and perhaps most thoughtful) section of the audience.

    The paradox, or rather cleft stick, is that:

  • This technology is significantly easier to start up and set up especially for one-off presenters and audiences.
  • BUT for such uses, the strong tendency is to use quick questions that require no thinking: and then the longer key press sequences and potentially long latency times will matter more than they would for mature, regular educational uses where longer thinking times are required of the auidence, and slower equpment response times become less problematic.

    Other near future

    In 2002 near future solutions look like including using text messaging from mobile phones (see previous section), or with all audience members having a PDA (personal digital assistant i.e. palm-top computer) with wireless networking. See also this system for voting from pocket PCs: class in hand.

    Mark Finn has a journal paper reviewing projects to date that have used PDAs in teaching.

    Historical cases of classroom voting technology

    I'm interested in having a history of classroom voting technology; and putting it here. I repeatedly hear rumours about a "system just like that": these (so far) turn out to be wired (as opposed to wireless) handset-equipped lecture theatres. Such systems are of course not mobile but tied to particular rooms, and support only MCQs, not open-ended responses from the audience.

    A comment suggested by John Cowan and in different words by Willie Dunn, is that these systems represented a first effort towards engaging with learning rather than teaching. Their importance was perhaps more that shift: and when the equipment, or more generally feedback classrooms, were abandoned, it was as much to take the underlying change in attitude further into new forms than a step backwards.

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