Large class sizes and a wide variety of learning speeds can pose challenges to learning in a traditional classroom environment. Wake County, N.C., Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teaches ongoing medical education to individuals with college degrees. Class sizes range from five to nearly 100 students per class.

Joseph Zalkin, deputy director of Wake County EMS, said that in order to make the courses more interactive and to help students better comprehend the course material, the EMS implemented TurningPoint nearly four years ago – a platform that interfaces with Microsoft PowerPoint to embed real-time polling within a presentation.

The instructor can make a slide within a PowerPoint presentation available as a review question of the material learned so far. When the question is displayed, students can choose from multiple answers.

“We give them a medical case, and then after, ask them a couple of key questions and see how folks respond,” Zalkin said.

Using wireless, handheld ResponseCard keypads, available from TurningPoint, the students can electronically submit their answer (anonymously) to the question posed in the PowerPoint. From there, the instructor can either instantly display a graph showing how students answered, or store the data for review at a later time.

Zalkin said response times can either be open ended, or the technology can provide a timer that displays on the slide. Students can also be divided into teams, and although each student submits their answer individually, the instructor can see how answers vary per team.

But the basic idea is to assist with learning. Zalkin explained that if a high percentage of the class got a question incorrect, the instructor may want to discuss that material in more detail. Similarly, the instructor may want to move more quickly through the learning material if the polling shows the students performed well on a given question. Either way, the instructor can better gauge how the class as a whole comprehends the subject material.

According to Turning Technologies, the creator of TurningPoint, the platform can also assist with culling data for further assessment on audience or student performance.

The Milwaukee Fire Department implemented the polling technology to help educate sixth-graders in its Project Staying Alive program, according to Fire Engineering magazine. Intended to help students learn better anger management techniques to reduce violence and injury, Fire Department personnel teach the material through a series of sessions in conjunction with the students’ teachers.

Cities and other government agencies are also using TurningPoint to gauge public opinion on city-related issues. The city of Hampton, Va., for example, deployed the technology to get citizen feedback on budget priorities. Over the course of multiple meetings, nearly 600 citizens provided feedback, up from 25 the previous year.

Photo: Students submit answers to a question posed in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation using wireless keypads. The real-time polling can be used for reviewing course material or fielding public opinion on government issues. Photo courtesy of Turning Technologies.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.