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These days mobile phones, tablets etc are widely used with dedicated apps to gauge audience response. But what did we do before the advent of all the technology which we today take for granted? Answer: classroom clickers.
“Classroom clickers” is a term which widely refers to audience response systems which have been used by various companies since the 1960s. There have been many versions of this tool; some involved a yes/no button facility for which the audience could respond to stimuli, others had a dial function which was turned by audience members to indicate their approval or disapproval, for example.
The use of classroom clickers allowed a teacher, for example, to collect student responses for later analysis. These handheld transmitters submitted student responses via a radio frequency signal to a receiver which was attached to the teacher’s computer. The computer contained software that could create graphs and charts to illustrate responses, from which the teacher could then tailor the lesson to that particular audience.
The use of classroom clickers plays a starring role in a subplot of an episode of the 1970’s series, “Columbo”. In this series, Peter Falk’s Detective Lieutenant Columbo of the LAPD must solve myriad crimes and outsmart the very smart murderers every time.
Season 7, episode 4, “How to Dial a Murder”, which first aired in early 1978, sees the murderer, who is a mind control expert in psychiatry, giving a seminar to an audience of adults who wish to take control of their lives. He seeks to learn their responses to certain “trigger” words – and uses a room full of Classroom Clickers attached to every seat to garner the feedback of the audience when they are presented with words such as “mother”, “father”, “lunch” and “death”. The audience responds on a scale between positive and negative to each word. A team of psychological analysts are situated in a control booth to collect the data this audience response system delivers and the leader of the seminar subsequently manipulates his content and its delivery depending upon the feedback received.
Even in 1978, when this technology was a co-star in Columbo, the use of such an audience response system must have seemed like a new and ingenious entity. These systems were first used by the film and television industries to evaluate audience reactions to advertising, movie previews, etc. Originally consisting of a dial knob, by 1976 the handsets were being manufactured with an upgraded button design, and were soon to be fully digital.
The system of determining audience response has come a very long way since 1978. It is, however, interesting to view this old television episode of classic American 1970’s crime TV, and to see how far we have come: yet in so many ways, little has changed. Our technology has advanced, but our aims and the general ideas behind them remain the same.
write by evans