another fine jon smajda tech tip:
i just returned from a presentation on clickers, or wireless personal response systems designed for classroom use. i do some polling in my delinquency and statistics classes, so this might work well for my larger classes. instructors are using them locally for quizzing students, gathering class participation data, and getting a quick check on what's sinking in versus what's just sinking. they seem perfect for the large number of shy students who nevertheless want to stay engaged in the class meetings. they might also be handy for getting midterm evaluation results on one's own teaching.
judging from the presentation, the start-up costs would be low for current powerpoint users. you make a slide with a question, flag the correct response, and ask the students to click away. once you close polling, you can examine the responses and break them out in different formats. for my purposes, the most important features involve confidentiality, data formatted for easy download (e.g., into a spreadsheet), disaggregating responses by clickee characteristics such as gender, and the ability to construct questions on-the-fly during lecture. no problem on any of these counts. clicker systems could be great for undergrad data collection as well, particularly for social-psych projects. i'd like to see a little experiment comparing responses by hand-raising versus those individually collected by clickers. i'm sure the secret ballots generate different responses relative to the group dynamics in play with hand-raising.
who buys it? the way it was pitched today, the clicker would be bundled with other course materials at a cost of about $25 per student. to avoid passing the costs to students, departments could order a receiver and set of clickers as well. in our department, carolyn liebler and joel samaha are currently using the systems. there are myriad applications, but i especially like the idea of shifting course based on student responses -- both in a pedagogical sense (do they get the material or do they need another pass through it?) and in a "voice" or procedural justice sense (can they register their preferences on exam formats, review session times, and other issues?).