Here are some common questions about classroom response systems:
What are they, and how do they work?
Clickers are small, hand held devices that use radio wave technology to transmit student responses to questions. A portable receiving station is placed at the front of the classroom, and responses are instantly received (anonymously, or identified with individual students) and can be displayed on a screen in a variety of formats (for example, graphically, numerically, text responses, or themes). They can be used as part of classroom participation and discussion, non-graded assessment, graded quizzes or tests, and participation documenting. Data from assessment can be uploaded to grade books in learning management systems such as Blackboard.
Don't they make students in large classes even more anonymous than they might already feel?
Interestingly, the experience of many students in classes currently piloting or using clickers is the opposite. For example, in many classes, some students are more inclined to speak out and ask questions, while others stay mostly silent. Particularly in larger classes, students might get in the habit of passively watching the instructor and more vocal students engage in discussion. With clickers, everyone responds, and the discussions following the display of responses at the front of the room, engages class members more because of their natural curiosity in results they helped generate. For an excellent introduction to how clickers are used by faculty, including guidelines and classroom scenarios, see http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/files/Clickers_Final_Version_04_08.pdf. For a review of research on clickers and student learning, see http://lifescied.org/cgi/reprint/6/1/9.pdf.
What about critical thinking?
Wouldn't clickers constrain students' thinking, into yes/no or either/or kinds of responses? If questions are not used carefully, then this could certainly be a downside of clickers. However, the newer generation of clickers offers a variety of response options including true/false, multiple choice, and full text options. Even in cases where a multiple choice option is used, most faculty don't stop there. For example, they might construct questions carefully to uncover misperceptions, allow students time to discuss or debate option choices, and then use the response results to clarify misunderstandings. Clickers can also facilitate small group work, as well as student-student and student-faculty interaction. For a classroom scenario depicting how clicker questions can encourage critical thinking in class, see http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7002.pdf. For an example of research on student perceptions of clickers, see http://alh.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/8/3/233.
Are these only for very large classes?
Clickers are being used in all class sizes at PSU. Some faculty who initially tried clickers in larger settings were impressed by how efficiently they were able to gauge all students' understanding of course material as they went along, and so have adopted clickers in smaller settings also.
What are the drawbacks to using clickers?
To use clickers, students must purchase a clicker unit. An average cost is around $45.00; however, with a common clicker system on campus, students can use units for multiple classes, and the bookstore can arrange to buy back units for approximately half the purchase cost. Most vendors will provide a receiver unit and one clicker to faculty at no cost. Students can forget to bring their units to class, however, so "loaners" might need to be provided. Also, most clicker systems have options for students to use laptops and cell phones for responding rather than the clicker unit.
There is, of course, the time needed to learn the systems and incorporate clicker activities into class. The first term may seem a bit "clunky" as you get used to the technology and figure out the interface between clickers and Blackboard. However, initial assessment of courses across campus indicate that he payoff in students' attention, involvement and achievement have been worth the startup efforts. If you are interested in joining the clicker interest group (to receive periodic email on clicker task force progress and upcoming campus educational events related to clickers), please contact Janelle Voegele at firstname.lastname@example.org.