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Academic Conference Gathers Rich Data with Student Response System

Interactive polling engages attendees and collects real-time feedback and data.

During the summer of 1956, computer science pioneers gathered in Hanover, New Hampshire, for the "Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence." Dartmouth Professor John McCarthy had coined the term "artificial intelligence" specifically for this event, and planned to return to Dartmouth with other attendees to commemorate the occasion.

Dartmouth AI conference: The Next 50 Years was billed as a forum for leaders in artificial intelligence research to assemble, examine how far AI has progressed in the past half-century, chart AI's research agenda for the future and, in essence, provide an opportunity for the founders of the industry to hand over the baton to a new generation. Nearly 175 experts and rising leaders in the field from around the world were set to gather for this once-in-a-lifetime event.


Steering committee member Carey Heckman, also an adjunct professor in philosophy at Dartmouth, wanted to gather a wide variety of data during the conference. He decided to explore the possibility of implementing Turning Technologies' student response solutions (SRS) into his presentations to accomplish this goal. 

With a sophisticated, knowledgeable global audience that rarely meets – world-renowned keynoters, Ph.D.'s, post-docs, rising stars in the field and original attendees of the 1956 AI colloquium – Heckman wanted to capitalize on this opportunity. He envisioned a presentation with rich participation and data-capturing capabilities that would record and honor this unique gathering, while also allowing him to conduct research and reveal attendees' feelings.

His concerns about implementing a student response system for this purpose included high costs, technology issues, unnecessary hassles and no direct experience with how it would operate. However, he soon discovered that his worries were unfounded as TurningPoint interactive polling software became a welcome addition that engaged participants and facilitated data gathering.


Heckman created interactive PowerPoint® slides with questions that dealt with the metaphysical, spiritual level of the event, tapping into attendees' ownership of ideas and the discussion topics. As an add-on to PowerPoint, TurningPoint seamlessly integrated into Microsoft® Office products, nearly eliminating the learning curve for users already knowledgeable in PowerPoint, Excel® and Word®.

Heckman originally moved quickly through the questions, with the intention to limit tainting opinions by seeing results. But as he continued to close polls and move on, he began to receive increased amounts of razzing from the audience to see the results. They would usually vote before a break, and attendees were so interested in the results they would often opt not to leave their seats!


Heckman is grateful and relieved that TurningPoint student polling easily allowed him to gather and document such important information. Its ease of use was critical to the success of the response technology's implementation. Heckman was looking for a solution that was "an aide, not a hurdle." TurningPoint met that expectation.

"It's mind-boggling how easy TurningPoint was to use, and I've been exploding with ideas of how else to implement it in other ways," said Heckman. "It has driven us to have a variety of conversations about other uses."

Heckman also stated that from start to finish, the Turning Technologies staff was incredibly helpful and prepared him to go into the conference with confidence.

"I never once felt the technology limited me, but actually helped me get to where I wanted to go," he concluded. Even in a high-pressure environment, TurningPoint was a tool that alleviated his worries, commemorated the conference and helped to celebrate a significant anniversary with success.