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Student Response Systems Can Enhance EMS Education

You’re an EMS educator and want to raise your game. You know better than to kill your students via death by PowerPoint. You also know effective instructors engage students and conduct classes interactively, rather than just directing instruction or lecture. One way to get students more engaged in the class is via “clickers,” or student response systems. Many of these systems are inexpensive or free, and most utilize the students’ cell phones as an interface for participation.

Student Response Systems

A student response system (also known as classroom response system, or CRS) is a mechanism by which the instructor poses questions or content and students respond through an interface of either handheld units or their phones (through the Internet or an app). This allows instructors to check for understanding during the lesson instead of just at the beginning or end. It also allows greater student participation and engagement. According to one study, such systems “lead to greater learning gains than traditional learning environments.”1

Another investigator notes, “Questions can be engineered to fulfill their purpose through four complementary mechanisms: directing students’ attention, stimulating specific cognitive processes, communicating information to the instructor and students via CRS-tabulated answer counts, and facilitating the articulation and confrontation of ideas.”2

These “clicker” systems have a variety of uses from low to high engagement. Examples can include:

  • Taking roll;
  • Icebreaker activities;
  • Surveys;
  • Responding to multiple-choice questions;
  • Responding to more complex and detailed questions;
  • Students questioning the instructor;
  • Students questioning each other.

Different types of questions can be asked:

  • Recall: true/false, multiple choice;
  • Opinion/analysis: ratings, rankings, surveys;
  • Synthesis: connections, activating prior knowledge, making predictions.

These kinds of questions can be used as “get to know you” kinds of activities, formative (such as checking recall on a reading assignment) and summative (checking understanding after a lesson or skill) assessments, and opportunities for posing further questions, debate, and fostering higher-level thinking.

There are several challenges associated with clicker systems. They include the technology learning curve for some, creating effective questions, adjusting the format of classroom instruction, and using the data. It requires time. The time is well spent, however, if it leads to greater student engagement.

Common Systems

Plickers—This system can be used in different ways. Students can either hold up cards the instructor scans with their phone, or students can use their own phones to indicate their choices on cards. Instructors see responses in real time with data and visual markers. Sign-up is free and there, is a “pro” version for a monthly fee.

Poll Everywhere—This phone-based system lets you use codes and texting to have audience members respond. The basic system is free for classes of up to 25 students. Paying more upgrades features and class sizes.

Pear Deck—Pear Deck is a response tool that integrates with Google tools. Instructors can embed their slide decks with interactive questions, polls, quizzes, and formative assessments. A variety of questions can be used. There are free and pro versions.

Kahoot!—Kahoot! is a game-based system accessed via students’ phones. Typically they answer multiple-choice questions in a competitive format.

Consider adding a student response system to your EMS Instructor repertoire today.


1. Fies C, Marshall J. Classroom Response Systems: A Review of the Literature. J Sci Educ Tech, 2006; 15(1): 101–9.

2. Beatty ID, Gerace WJ, Leonard WJ, Dufresne RJ. Designing effective questions for classroom response system teaching. Am J Physics, 2006; 74(31): 31–9.

Barry A. Bachenheimer, EdD, FF/EMT, is a frequent contributor to EMS World. He is a career educator and university professor with more than 30 years in EMS and fire suppression. He is currently an EMT with the South Orange (N.J.) Rescue Squad, a firefighter with the Roseland (N.J.) Fire Department, and an instructor at the National Center for Homeland Security and Preparedness in New York. Reach him at



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