Smartphones to the rescue

Ten years ago I wrote an editorial entitled “Enhance learning with an audience response system” (Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 2003;124:607). The Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists (PCSO) had just tested a battery-powered audience response system (ARS) in the largest room at its annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was weighing the cost/benefit ratio for its members. The handheld keypads allowed meeting attendees to communicate with the speaker, turning the audience into active participants. At the end of the PCSO meeting, 600 members were asked to use the audience response system once more, providing feedback of the experience. They were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), several statements about their use of the system.

  • The ARS significantly increased my involvement in the presentations (3.97)

  • The ARS could have been more fully exploited by the speakers (3.10)

  • The PCSO should continue to use ARS technology in future meetings (4.06)

  • The ARS increased the level of my “take-home” information (3.18)

  • The additional cost of using ARS (approximately $4 per attendee) is a cost-effective educational tool (3.79)

The strength of this system was obvious from the results of this unscientific survey, but for a number of reasons, the PSCO never tried it again.

Years have passed, and I once again attended an American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) planning committee, this time for the San Francisco 2015 Annual Session. “How can we make this meeting even more effective, with increasing numbers of attendees from throughout the world fully participating?” asked the chairperson. I thought back to the last meeting I attended, and I remembered that many people wandered in and out of the meeting rooms, distracted by their buzzing or beeping cell phones. Then it struck me . . . Why don’t we put all those smartphones to work for us? Alas, I was not the first person to think of this strategy. Five minutes online, and I found numerous start-up companies offering smartphone apps designed to allow large numbers of meeting attendees to interact with a speaker in real time. After signing in with a code provided by the speaker, the attendee can participate in polls or answer short questions from the speaker. The app works on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry smartphones. These results are tallied instantly and presented to the audience in real time for all to view on the big screen.

What about the cost of such a system? One of the first online companies I queried (AnswerQwik) said that it would offer a number of free practice sessions and then charge $1.00 per participant over a 5-day period. This cost would include limited training and practice with the system before the meeting.

With my eyes opened a bit wider to the world of instant communication, I questioned, Was this simply exciting because it was new, or would there be lasting benefits for both our members and the organization sponsoring these meetings? Will an audience response system based on smartphones lead to any lasting improvement in our large meeting venues? I see the following benefits.

  • Increased preparation by the speaker with an orderly presentation of concepts leading to each question posed to the audience (the wrong answers will show that the speaker is not effective).

  • Greater attentiveness by the audience so as not to be left out when asked to answer each question posed by the speaker (perhaps this will limit members’ moving from room to room).

  • An effective way to collect feedback when answering the question, “Did this speaker meet your expectations?”

During the next few annual sessions, the AAO hopes to experiment with ARS technology in several lecture rooms. It has been used for years at the university level, where it seems to be more effective for large audiences when personal interaction is limited. I will leave it up to you to let me know whether you see a downside. Until then, keep that new phone charged and ready to travel.

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Apr 7, 2017 | Posted by in Orthodontics | Comments Off on Smartphones to the rescue
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