Clickers in the News

Classroom response systems have certainly made some headlines lately, probably because the start of the fall semester is a good time for news outlets to run stories on education. Since I’ve been too busy to blog about each of the stories below as they hit, I’ll make do with this news roundup…

  • Costly Clickers: Some Students Now Being Asked to Buy Device” by Samantha Ruiz, The Collegian, August 29 – This story appeared in the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Brownsville. In the past, clickers were provided to students free of charge, but with more faculty using clickers, the university did what many have done and moved to a financial model where students purchase clickers themselves. Some students appear to be upset over this, probably because of statements like this from instructors on the value of clickers: “Using the clickers makes the grading process easier.” As I’ve written before, if you’re using clickers to make your life easier, students aren’t going to want to pay for them. Fortunately, other instructors at Brownsville have the right idea:

[Michael] Lehker [, chair of Biomedicine,] said the clickers allow him to notice which students need help, give everyone a chance to participate in class, and provide immediate results.

“Usually in class discussions, the outspoken ones dominate the discussion, but with clickers, everyone pretty much has the same voice,” he said.

…He is able to see how many people got a certain question wrong and what areas he needs to place more focus on.

  • Don’t Lecture Me” by Emily Hanford, American RadioWorks, September 1 – If you’re not familiar with the Force Concept Inventory or the work of Eric Mazur, please, stop reading this post and go listen to this excellent radio documentary! Seriously, go there now. I’ll wait. I was blown away by the quality of storytelling in this documentary. I’ve heard Eric Mazur tell his “confessions of a converted lecturer” story many times, and Ms. Hanford shared it in this piece in a concise and compelling way. She worked in the story of the Force Concept Inventory, as well! Anyone who listens to this documentary and still thinks that lecturing is the best way to teach first-semester physics (or any other science course, for that matter) isn’t listening very well. Bonus: The second half describes efforts by the fledgling University of Minnesota Rochester to completely reinvent how higher education is done. Great stuff.
  • In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores” by Matt Richtel, New York Times, September 3 – In this lengthy piece, Mr. Richtel tackles the finding that some K12 schools that have invested heavily in educational technology (including clickers) have found that their students’ scores on standardized tests haven’t improved. This article has received a ton of attention, with many commentators pointing out problems with the idea that stagnant test scores are a problem for these tech-savvy schools. Scott McLeod’s response was the best that I read, although the responses by David Wees and Clive Thompson are also excellent. Thompson, for instance, does a great job describing three uses of technology in education to accomplish learning activities that are difficult or impossible without technology. That’s the kind of educational technology thinking that I like best, and I was impressed that it came from someone outside of education. And over on Twitter, @EDTECHHULK, pointed out one big problem with the low-test-scores argument in his usual succinct style:
  • With Cheating Only a Click Away, Professors Reduce the Incentive” by Jie Jenny Zou, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 4 – Cheating with clickers typically refers to student A bringing student B’s clicker to class so that it appears that student B is present, when student B is really back in the dorm, snoozing. I’ve blogged about cheating with clickers in the past, and it’s a concern that many faculty seem to have. Ms. Zou from the Chronicle interviewed me this summer about the issue, and she did a great job capturing my thoughts on the matter in this piece. Although there are various clever methods of catching cheaters (see the comments on the Chronicle article for examples), reducing the incentive to cheat is the best approach. Make sure your clicker questions don’t contribute much to a student’s grade (5, maybe 10 percent), and make sure you use your clicker questions in ways that help students learn. If it’s just about the points, then students are likely to try to game the system.
  • Going Paperless: Students Make the Switch to E-Textbooks” by Lauren Jansen, Vanderbilt Hustler, September 5 – Closer to home, I was interviewed by a former student of mine for a piece in the local student newspaper on technology in the classroom. There’s a bit in the story about e-textbooks, but it’s mostly about the laptops-in-the-classroom issue. Lauren did a great job conveying a few key ideas I shared with her (the need for “change ups” in lectures, the opportunity to use student laptops for in-class collaboration, the challenge of teaching students information literacy), although I don’t think I referred to “inserting video clips” as a creative opportunity for student laptops in the classroom! There’s also a passing reference to the use of clickers as a positive use of tech in the classroom.

Image: “A Happy Place,” Dustin Diaz, Flickr (CC)

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