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Getting students engaged in class, and holding their attention, is something that every lecturer has struggled with at one time or another. And what about the classes that simply don’t respond? Have they understood? Are they quiet because they’re shy, or because they disagree with you and don’t want to say?

One tool you could use to help answer all of these questions is called PRS (personal response system), and Rebecca Maina has used one example, Mentimeter, to great effect with her law students, who answer her questions with their smart phones or tablets.

Students love it, Rebecca says, and so does she. Rather than posing a question to the class and waiting – sometimes in vain – for someone to raise their hand to answer, students are able to key in their response anonymously, making it much easier for all of the students to answer.

The benefits of this are two-fold: you, as an academic, can instantly see what proportion of the class has understood the question; and the students can compare their answer to the rest of the class without the fear of being wrong.

There’s more to it that that, though. Mentimeter – or anything that works along the same principles – enables you to engage and interact with an audience, and for them to interact with each other. As a learning tool, there is quite possibly nothing better at getting students involved in discussion and debates, and it’s a good way for a lecturer to hear lots of views – and whether those views are correct. Can the students apply what they’ve just learned? Have they understood what you think they have, or intended them to?

Perhaps best of all is what Rebecca calles ‘the noise of learning’, that moment of time between the appearance of the question and receiving the first answers. Students are generating the content, and before they can do that they discuss it with each other and decide what to say.

Asking questions, and providing a space for answers. There’s really not much to it, and yet the impact can be enormous!