A couple of weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed posted an article titled “Keeping Clickers in the Classroom” based on a presentation made by Kathy Keairns of the University of Denver at a recent Blackboard conference. The author of the article, Andy Guess, seems to conclude that this presentation is evidence that clickers aren’t just a passing fad in instructional technology. I don’t think a single conference presentation is sufficient evidence to support that conclusion, but I do agree with the conclusion. I believe that the use of classroom response systems is only going to grow in higher education, a conclusion drawn from my conversations with dozens of faculty members (and those who support faculty members) across the country. The particulars of the technology involved is likely to change (from dedicated clicker devices to smart phones, perhaps), but classroom response system pedagogies (polling all students in a class, using the results to inform classroom decisions, etc.) are too effective to fade away.
In the comments following the IHE article, a question was raised about the merits of clickers and similar high-tech devices over low-tech alternatives. I weighed in on that discussion there, and I thought I might reproduce my comments here.
Bradley Beck wrote, “It seems the clicker can have it’s place, but if the red and green cards, or a quick request from students to write down what they learned that day will do the trick instead, then why waste time and money on clickers?” I certainly see pedagogical value in the use of flash cards or response cards and in having student submit “one-minute” papers at the end of class. I would, however, like to point out a couple of advantages clickers (or some other electronic system, like the Poll Everywhere text-messaging system mentioned above) have over these methods.
One limitation of the response card method is that it doesn’t allow instructors to hold students accountable for their answers. This can decrease participation and engagement. Also, the response card method doesn’t allow the students to see the distribution of responses, which can be an important use of classroom response systems. (Imagine asking a question about student opinion where students are surprised to learn about the diversity of opinions held by their peers.) Finally, there’s some evidence that the response card method provides less accurate information about student learning and student perspectives than clickers since students are able to see the responses of their immediate neighbors and switch their answers to more popular answers, even if those answers are not honest ones.
As for the idea of having students respond in writing to a prompt at the end of class, this method doesn’t allow an instructor to act upon information gained about student perspectives during class. Classroom response systems (including response cards) allow instructors to practice what is sometimes called “agile teaching,” responding in the moment to what they learn about their students’ learning. This can help instructors tailor their instructor to the immediate learning needs of their student, and it’s one of the great advantages of using a classroom response system.