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Audience response is a type of interaction associated with the use of audience response systems, to create interactivity between a presenter and his/her audience. Systems for co-located audiences combine wireless hardware with presentation software, and systems for remote audiences may use telephones or web polls for audiences watching through television or the Internet. Various names are used for this technology, including perception analyzer, real time response, the worm, dial testing, audience response meters, and just "squiggly lines." In educational settings, such systems are often called "student response systems" or "personal response systems." The hand-held remote control that students use to convey their responses to questions is often called a "clicker." More recent entrants into the market do not require specialized hardware, however. There are commercial and open-source, cloud-based tools that allow responses from the audience using a range of personal computing devices such as cell phones, smartphones, and laptops. These types of systems have added new types of functionality as well, such as free text responses that are aggregated into sortable word clouds, as well as the more traditional true/false and multiple choice style questions. This type of system also mitigates some of the concerns articulated below in the "Challenges of audience response" section.
Hardware Based Audience Response: The presenter uses a computer and a video projector to project a presentation for the audience to see. In the most common use of such audience response systems, presentation slides built with the audience response software display questions with several possible answers, more commonly referred to as multiple choice questions. The audience participates by selecting the answer they believe to be correct and pushing the corresponding key on their individual wireless keypad. Their answer is then sent to a base station – or receiver – that is also attached to the presenter's computer. The audience response software collects the results, and the aggregate data is graphically displayed within the presentation for all to see. Some clickers also have additional keys, allowing the presenter to ask (and audience members to answer) True/False questions or even questions calling for particular numerical answers.
Depending on the presenter's requirements, the data can either be collected anonymously (e.g., in the case of voting) or it can be traced to individual participants in circumstances where tracking is required (e.g., classroom quizzes, homework, or questions that ultimately count towards a student's course grade). Incoming data may also be stored in a database that resides on the host computer, and data reports can be created after the presentation for further analysis.
Software/Cloud Based Audience Response: The presenter uses a computer to create the questions, sometimes called polls. In this case however, those questions can be open ended, dial testing, and votable open ended as well as multiple choice. Those questions are then downloaded into the presenter's presentation program of choice. During the presentation, the questions automatically display within the presentation program, or from a web browser, and can in some cases even be displayed only on the participant's tablet computer or smartphone. Results are instantly tabulated via the internet, and presented on screen in real time, including grading the "correct" answer if desired. Some services offer presenters real time moderation for open ended responses or questions prior to displaying them on screen.
Depending on the presenter's requirements, the data can be collected anonymously, or it can be traced to individual participants who have created accounts in advance of the poll. This method is commonly used on corporate training where attendance must be verified, and in classrooms, where grades must be assigned. Data from both methods can be saved and analyzed by the presenter and loaded manually or via API into learning management systems.
Only software or cloud based audience response systems can accommodate distributed audiences, due to the inconveniences and costs of hardware devices.
There are many reasons for the use of audience response systems (ARS). The tendency to answer based on crowd psychology is reduced because, unlike hand raising, it is difficult to see which selection others are making. The ARS also allows for faster tabulation of answers for large groups than manual methods. Additionally, many college professors use ARS systems to take attendance or grade answers in large lecture halls, which would be highly time-consuming without the system.
Audience response offers many potential benefits to those who use it in group settings.
Audience response systems may present some difficulties in both their deployment and use.
Audience response is utilized across a broad range of industries and organizations. A few examples include:
An audience response system (ARS), or personal response system (PRS), allows large groups of people to vote on a topic or answer a question. Depending on the solution chosen, each person has a device with which selections can be made, or a mobile device that they can use to respond. In a hardware solution, each remote communicates with a computer via receivers located around the room or via a single receiver connected to the presenter's computer using a USB connector. In a software solution, each device communicates with the question via SMS or the internet. After a set time – or after all participants have answered – the system ends the polling for that particular question and tabulates the results. Typically, the results are instantly made available to the participants via a bar graph displayed on the projector but can also be viewed in a web browser for some systems.
In situations where tracking is required, the serial number of each remote control or the students identity number is entered beforehand in the control computer's database. In this way the answer of each individual can later be identified.
In addition to the presenter's computer and projector, the typical audience response system has the following components:
Since the 1960s, a number of companies have offered Response Systems, several of whom are now defunct or changed their business model.
Circa 1966, Audience Studies Institute of Hollywood, California developed a proprietary analog ARS system for evaluating the response of a theater audience to unreleased motion pictures, television shows and commercials. This early ARS was used by ASI's clients – major motion picture and television studios and advertising agencies – to evaluate the effectiveness of whatever it was they wanted to accomplish: for example, selling more products, increasing movie ticket sales, and achieving a higher fee per commercial slot. Often, a client would show different versions to different audiences, e.g. different movie endings, to gauge their relative effectiveness. ASI would give out free tickets on the street to bring people into the theater, called the "Preview House," for particular showings where each attendee would fill out a questionnaire and then be placed in a seat with a "dial" handset outfitted with a single knob that each attendee would turn to a position to indicate his or her level of interest. Turning the knob all the way left for "dull" to turning all the way to the right for "great." In 1976, ASI upgraded their system to become fully digital, have Yes/No buttons and, in some cases, numeric keys for entering in numbers, choices and monetary amounts.
Another of the industry’s very earliest systems was the Consensor. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, William W. (Bill) Simmons, an IBM executive, reflected on how unproductive most meetings were. Simmons had become essentially a nonacademic futurist in building up IBM's long-range planning operations. He was one of the pioneers of applied future studies in the private sector, that is, future studies applied to corporate planning. Through this work he had met Theodore J. (Ted) Gordon of The Futures Group. Gordon had conceived and partially developed what would today be called an audience response system, and Simmons immediately saw practical applications for it in large corporate meetings, to allow people to air their true opinions in anonymous fashion, so that each individual's Likert scale answer value for a question would remain secret, but the group's average, weighted with weighting factors, would be instantly displayed. Thus (something approximating) the group's true consensus would be known, even though individual middle managers or aspiring junior executives would not have to jeopardize their conformity to effect this result. (IBM's organizational culture was famous for its valuing of conformity; and this was common at other firms, too.) Simmons retired from IBM in January 1972, and soon after he formed a startup company with Gordon, called Applied Futures, Inc., to develop and market the system, which they called the Consensor [connoting consensus + sensor]. Applied Futures was one of the first audience response companies. In 1972, while Gordon and his assistant Harold S. (Hal) Becker were still working on development, Applied Futures filed for a patent (U.S. Patent 3,766,541), which was granted in 1973 with Gordon and Becker as inventors. Another patent, filed for in 1974 and granted in 1976 (U.S. Patent 3,947,669), lists Simmons and James A. Marquis. Sales began in 1974.
The Consensor was a system of dials, wires, and three lights; red, yellow, and green. A question was asked verbally and people would turn their dials anywhere from 0 to 10. If the majority agreed, the green lamp would light. If not, either the yellow or red lamp would light, depending on the level of disagreement.
Although business was strong for this fledgling company, the command-and-control management style of the day proved a formidable opponent to this new tool, which promoted consensus building. In his memoir Simmons describes how junior-executive sales prospects tended to like the idea, imagining themselves heroically speaking truth to power (but not paying any price for being a maverick), while their senior-executive bosses tended to see the Consensor as "a blatant attempt to impose democratic procedures into a corporate hierarchy that is anything but democratic." Simmons observed that "A majority of corporations are run as fiefdoms, with the CEO playing the role of Supreme Power; he may be a benevolent dictator, but nonetheless still a dictator." He described this type of senior executives, with ironic tone, as "secure in the knowledge of their own infallibility." Nonetheless, Applied Futures sold plenty of units to business firms and government agencies. In October 1984, it became a subsidiary of Brooks International Corporation, a management consulting firm.
One of the early educational uses of an audience response system occurred at Rice University. Students in a computer-equipped classroom were able to rate how well they understood portions of a lecture, answer multiple choice questions, and answer short essay questions. Results could be tallied and displayed to the class.
Audience response technology has evolved over time, moving away from hardware that required extensive wiring towards hand held wireless devices and small, portable receivers. In the 1980s, the Consensor product line evolved toward peripherals that could be plugged into a PC, and a software application to run thereon. Wireless LANs allow today's peripherals to be cordless. Another example of this is Microsoft's Mouse Mischief, a PowerPoint add-in, which has made it easier for teachers, professors, and office professionals to integrate audience response into their presentations.
The advent of smartphones has made possible systems in which audience members download an app (or run it as SaaS in their web browser) which then communicates with the audience response system (which is itself just software running on someone's device, whether desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone) via the local wireless network, the cellular telephone network, or both. In this model, the entire audience response system is a software product; all of the hardware is what the users brought with them.
The majority of current audience response systems use wireless hardware. Two primary technologies exist to transmit data from the keypads to the base stations: infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). A few companies also offer Web-based software that routes the data over the Internet (sometimes in a unified system with IR and RF equipment). Cell phone-based systems are also becoming available. The most popular keypad hardware is manufactured by the Fleetwood Group, an audience response hardware producer that partners with several top software producers.
The oldest of these technologies, IR audience response systems are better suited for smaller groups. IR uses the same technology as a TV remote, and is therefore the only one of the four technologies that requires line-of-sight between the keypad and receiver. This works well for a single keypad but can fail due to interference when signals from multiple keypads arrive simultaneously at the receiver. IR systems are typically more affordable than RF systems, but do not provide information back to the keypad.
In schools, clickers can be used as a way of taking attendance, quizzing students, taking a quick survey, etc. They can be used effectively by 4th grade students and maybe younger, depending on their maturity level. A teacher is able to generate worksheets and let students enter their answer choices at their own pace. This setting is called "student directed". Another way for students to enter answers is "teacher directed". After each question, the teacher is able to instantly show a histogram of how many votes each question received.
Clickers in the classroom can be used as a tool to support active learning approach. Also, the fact that students can send responses anonymously means that sensitive topics can be included more readily than would otherwise be the case. An example of this is in helping students to learn about plagiarism.
Ideal for large group environments, RF systems can accommodate hundreds of voters on a single base station. Using some systems, multiple base stations can be linked together in order to handle audiences that number in thousands. Other systems allow over a thousand on just one base. Because the data travels via radio frequency, the participant merely needs to be within range of the base station (300 – 500 feet). Some advanced models can accommodate additional features, such as short word answers, user log-in capabilities, and even multi-site polling.
Web-based audience response systems work with the participants' existing computing devices. These include notebook computers, smartphones and PDAs, which are typically connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, as well as classroom desktop computers. If the facilitator's computer is also Wi-Fi-enabled, they can even create their own IP network, allowing a closed system that doesn't depend on a separate base station. The web server resides on or is accessible to the facilitator's computer, letting them control a set of web pages presenting questions. Participants log into the server using web browsers and see the questions with forms to input their responses. The summarized responses are available on a different set of pages, which can be displayed through the projector and also on each participant's device.
Internet has also made it possible to gather audience responses in massive scale. Various implementations of the concept exist. For example, over 10,000 viewers powered the iPowow Viewer Vote  which tracked live viewer emotional response for Channel 7 during the 2013 Australian Federal Election debates and displayed as a live "worm" graph on the broadcast screen. Microsoft featured Bing Pulse during the 2013 State of The Union (US) address by president Barack Obama. The system allowed registered users to input their responses (positive, negative, neutral) to the address and visualized the results as a trending graph in near real time. The evolution of networking technology has also inspired a new line of startups, among others Vuact Inc, that is bringing their technology for gathering and visualizing audience reactions to the consumer market.
The familiarity and widespread use of cell phones and text messaging has now given rise to systems that collect SMS responses and display them through a web page. These solutions don't require specialized voting hardware, but they do require telecom hardware (such as a mobile phone) and software, along with a web server, and therefore tend to be operated by dedicated vendors selling usage. They are typically favored by traveling speaking professionals and large conference halls that don't want to distribute, rent, or purchase proprietary ARS hardware. Computing devices with web browsers can also use these serviceLLs through SMS gateways, if a separate web interface isn't provided.
Cell Phone enabled response systems, such as SMS Response System, are able to take text inputs from the audience and receive multiple responses to questions per SMS. This allows a new pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, such as the work by Derek Bruff and an initiative on SMSRS.
The advantage of using such SMS type of response system is not limited to the logistical advantage of the presenter keeping no device inventory, it comes with an associated range of pedagogical advantages, such as agile learning, peer instruction (as possible with all types of response systems), it affords additional educational features like MCQ-Reasoning – a feature developed in a SMSRS system in Singapore that allows respondents to tag a reason to their choice of options in an MCQ, thus eliminating potential case of "guessing-the-correct-answer" syndrome, and text mining of SMS responses (to provide the gist of the messages collectively in a visual map).
Interactive SMS Forum is another feature that is proprietary to SMS-type response systems where audiences not only post their questions, but can also answer the questions posted by others via SMS.
With increasing penetration of smartphones with permanent internet connections, live audience response/voting can be achieved over the HTTP protocol. SMS is still a solid solution because of its penetration and stability, but won't easily allow multi-voting support and might cause problem with multi-country audiences. The issue with SMS not supporting multi-country audiences is projected to be solved with SMS hubbing.
In classrooms and conferences with Wi-Fi support or anywhere with GPRS coverage, software systems can be used for live audience feedback, mood measurement or live polling. These systems frequently support voting with both mobile apps as well as mobile browsers.
With mobile apps and browser enabled voting, there aren't any setup costs for hardware since the audience uses their own phones as voting devices and the result is often presented in any browser controlled by the lecturer.
With a standard mobile browser solution these are click and go solutions without additional installations. Therefore live audiences can be reached, and smartphone voting can be used - as with SMS - in any number of different locations. With the GPRS solution the audience does not necessary need to be in the same area as the lecturer as with radio frequency, infrared or Bluetooth-based response systems.
Audience response software enables the presenter to collect participant data, display graphical polling results, and export the data to be used in reporting and analysis. Usually the presenter can create and deliver her entire presentation with the ARS software, either as a stand-alone presentation platform or as a plug-in to PowerPoint or Keynote. Because of this, in order to provide official plug-ins, many popular audience response companies are required to be direct partners of Microsoft or Apple. For PowerPoint add-ins, the level of compatibility and Microsoft approval can be determined by the provider's Microsoft Certified Partner level. A Gold Certified Partner represents the highest level of distinction offered to Microsoft Partners, while a non-certified software provider cannot function as an official Microsoft add-in.