Chris Uggen's Blog: click me!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

click me!

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?).


At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you attended the noon presentation. I went to the 10:00 one myself. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the price of the equipment had dropped: about a year ago I looked into this when Joel started using these things and it's dropped significantly since then.

Personally, I'm most excited about where this is heading in the future. What I'd like to see - in an ideal world with unlimited funds - is for every student to have laptops and to be able to use those to communicate instead of clickers. Then you could not only do multiple choice type questions, but also get written feedback as well. This is actually already possible with the very system they demo'ed (they may have shown you that or not) but it's not implemented as well yet and, of course, not all students have laptops.

- Jon

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

Is it possible to monitor which students are/are not participating? If you have the kind of class where attendance/participation are measured parts of the overall course grade, I'd imagine that this technoloy may lead to some contention in whether or not students actually participated.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but this strikes me as something that will increase the quantity of participation at the risk of more detailed discussion. It is certainly interesting, though, and when you have classes discussing topics that students consistently clam up over rather than discuss (topics of race, for example), perhaps you're more likely to get honest answers rather than recitation of socially approved stances on such topics (that disguise a student's true opinion/belief on a matter).

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous chris said...

i agree, jon, though the simple clickers are probably ok for me, since students can always write more on class blogs or email when there is more time. also, if they press the question key, they can at least signal their confusion; they might be more likely to raise their hands if they see that a few other people also had questions at the same point. i'm wary of charging students $25 for (what looks to me like) $2.50 worth of radio shack technology, but i understand that they can re-use them and that the clickers subsidize the receivers.

mike, you're absolutely right about volatile topics such as race and crime. that's just the sort of thing i had in mind. i sometimes ask a series of questions: (1) "how many of you think african americans commit more crime than whites?" (2) "how many think they commit twice as much crime?" (3) "five times as much?" (4) "ten times as much?"

at this point, i hit them with minnesota data showing african american incarceration rates that are more than ten times higher than white rates. i'd love to see the results i'd get with clickers compared to the results i get with a show of hands...

At 8:10 AM, Blogger tina said...

so many times I've wanted to poll students on things. very cool!

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous chris said...

it seems to work pretty well, tina. classroom technology is often cooler in theory than practice, of course, but i'm ready to give this one a try.


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