Down Under, in Melbourne, Australia, at the Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges, there’s a learning revolution going on. Teachers at the K-12 school are using high tech response systems – very similar to the handheld devices developed for marketing focus groups and polling companies – to transform the at times tedious and regimental learning experience of yesteryear into a fun and interactive way to participate in class.

The results speak for themselves, says Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Loewenthal, director of Jewish Studies in the primary school at Yeshivah College.

“The students are 100 percent more engaged,” he effuses. “And so are the teachers. Teachers’ knowledge about students is based on student response, and we’ve discovered that the talking head tactic is not working.”

Loewenthal is not alone when he refers to the shame students feel when called upon to give an answer that ends up being wrong. If it happens often enough, some students simply refuse to raise their hands in class, a phenomenon companies like Smartroom Learning Solutions seek to mitigate with devices that allow teachers to ask an entire class a question, essentially polling every student for a quiet answer.

“This teaching methodology changes the number of students involved in answering the question from one to the full classroom,” says Smartroom’s president, Howard Mendel. “All students can be asked every question, [and] each student [can] concentrate on the question at hand rather than watching a peer try to provide the answer. Knowing that they will be asked each and every question drives the students to pay careful attention to the subject matter that is leading up to those questions.”

Several different companies offer variations on what is essentially a networked series of remote-control devices, similar to those used for television sets. Questions teachers want answered can be presented conventionally or projected on a screen, and students can key in their answers on their remotes; the answers feed into a computer on the teacher’s desk.

Institutions from primary schools to universities are catching on to the technology. Joel Klein, former chancellor of the Board of Education in New York City, recently left his job to work on education technology for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which is investing millions of dollars in such projects.

Yeshivah in Melbourne appears to be leading the pack among Jewish institutions.

Loewenthal, a self-described “techie” and a 10-year veteran of Yeshivah, introduced the program five years ago.

“The students feel like it’s a constant challenge, because it gives them the ability to succeed without being judged by their peers; and they aren’t distracted, so the information enters better,” he states. “And the teachers get constant feedback. Every student gets to answer every question, and if everyone, or a majority of the class, is getting the answer wrong, the teacher knows he or she has to go back and review the material.”

Mendel, whose Marietta, Ga., company produces sets under the Beyond Question brand, got into the business eight years ago because he was disturbed by the low quality of education offered by public schools in his area. He says that the technology offers something for everyone; his clients include early childhood programs, on the one end, and Harvard Medical School, on the other.

“The earlier these kids learn their core skills, they can acquire the building blocks they need for learning from the get-go,” says Mendel. “It’s a great way to connect and engage the students and makes it easy for the teachers to evaluate them. Now they can see who is learning and who isn’t and concentrate on the weak spots.”

According to a Powerpoint presentation provided by Mendel, the Beyond Question program’s average cost for a 30-strong class’s portable system is about $1,300. The sky’s the limit to how teachers can use it, he says, but that’s also a stumbling block.

“Teachers say the technology is terrific, but they don’t have time to create question banks that are a required part of the process,” he explains. “We are also trying to develop ways to teach critical thinking, which is a very important component of learning.”

Loewenthal uses a system called Smarttech and developed material for using it to teach Bible, Talmud and the Jewish holidays.

“For the kids, it’s like a game,” he says. “It engages them, and that’s 100 percent of the battle. Because they aren’t asked to write a humongous amount of stuff, their attention spans are not strained, and they learn how to gather knowledge.”