Value of Audience Response Systems (ARS) is in a variety of positive outcomes: from pre-testing students, facilitating student engagement , to allowing to stay anonymous in sensitive conversations. Those make perfect sense, but the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) showed me a whole new role for ARS in an educational setting: RIT used ARS to help calm the frayed nerves of parents dropping their kids off for freshman orientation.
Who’d have thought?
Let me set the scene by saying that this wasn’t my first move-in day. I’d moved my eldest child into a dorm at a different college several years earlier. But every parent knows that kids are different. One child causes you to worry in one set of ways; another child prompts you to worry in a different set of ways. We strive to prepare them for life outside the house, but they are still adolescents, and at that moment, when you’re dropping them off at a dorm several hundred miles from home, you can’t help but wonder whether you’ve done enough. Will they remember to separate the darks from the lights when doing laundry? Will they budget their spending money to last through the term? Is it too much to hope that they can stretch those funds across the full year?
And that’s where RIT made brilliant use of an ARS system. That first evening, while the students were involved in their own programs, the Director of Parent & Family Programs at RIT held an event for parents entitled “Becoming an RIT Parent,” and a good part of the program was spent talking about the programs that RIT had in place to deal with a wide range of issues that parents might be concerned about.
For each of the issues that were discussed, the presenters posed a question to the thousand or so parents in attendance. They were questions like “Do you see yourself as a helicopter parent?” and “Are you worried that your child will not be able to figure out how to do their laundry?” By using our phones into virtual clickers, all the parents could provide an anonymous response – such as A. Yes, I’m a totally a helicopter parent or B. I’m a helicopter parent about some things, or C. I’m not a helicopter parent at all, and so on. Within seconds, all the responses were captured and graphed on a PowerPoint slide on the screen.
Those results were interesting in themselves, because we as parents soon discovered that most of us felt pretty good about where our kids were in terms of maturity and problem-solving capacity. The percentage of parents who were very worried about one issue or another was far lower than the percentage of parents who were only slightly worried or not worried at all.
But here’s where the ARS data became transformative. Unbeknownst to the parents, RIT had already asked our children these same questions. And after the presenters flashed the results of the parents’ votes on the screen, they changed to the next slide and showed us how our children had answered the same questions. What we soon discovered was that our children were pretty much in sync with us on all topics. The percentage of students who felt confident about their ability to get their laundry done properly mapped very closely to the percentage of parents who felt confident about their child’s ability to get the laundry done properly. The percentage of students who expected to call home only once a month was about the same as the percentage of parents who didn’t expect to hear from their children more frequently than once a month. Even the percentage of parents who expected to hear from their children on a daily basis seemed to match the percentage of students who anticipated calling home on a daily basis.
Ultimately, the take-away for me was that the parents and the students had a pretty good measure of one another – much better than I think most of us had realized. There were no glaring discrepancies in terms of expectations and likely outcomes. Most parents felt confident about their kids and most kids felt confident about their ability to survive in this new world of college life.
We all still had to say goodbye to our newly minted freshmen the next day, and that’s always tough. But I think all the parents who’d attended the program the night before felt much better about the state in which we were leaving our kids. RIT’s use of ARS to capture the parents’ expectations helped each parent better understand where we were – individually and collectively – at this difficult juncture. But then to see that our kids had the same expectations? That was unexpectedly comforting. Without the experience delivered by the ARS, we would have driven away still wondering whether we’d done enough to prepare them. As parents, we’ll probably always do that. But because we saw that our expectations were mirrored by those of our kids, I think a lot of parents left feeling much more confident that their kids would thrive in this exciting new environment – and that was a good way to start the long journey home.
Mark A.R. Mitchell is a writer living in West Chester, PA.