More on Presidential Debates

In my last post, I noted that students at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, used clickers to answer polling questions before and after they watched the recent presidential debate.  I heard from Barb DeSanto, chair of the Mass Media Department at Washburn, who organized the clicker portion of the debate viewing.  She let me know that they’re holding viewings for all the presidential and vice-presidential debates this year and that the clickers question asked and the results of those questions for each debate are available on the Mass Media Department wiki.

Barb DeSanto noted that by asking students pre-viewing clicker questions and letting them know that they would be answering post-view questions, as well, it’s likely that the students were a little more engaged during the debate.  This is a useful feature of clickers in other settings, too.  When students know that something will be asked of them, they tend to be a little more focused during any activities leading up to that “deliverable.”

Dr. DeSanto found that the reactions of Washburn students to the debates aligned well with national polling results.  This strikes me as useful, since I’ve talked with other instructors who have found that when student responses to in-class polling questions align well with national data, the students often take that national data more seriously.

Finally, I’ll point out that student responses to pre- and post-debate questions could have been collected without using clickers, perhaps through paper surveys.  One important advantage of clickers over surveys is that clickers provide immediate results.  This allows instructors to use those results to shape subsequent discussion.  I can imagine asking a few post-debate polling questions, then asking students to volunteer reasons why their peers might respond in the ways they did to the polling question.

If you have any thoughts on using clickers during this presidential election season, feel free to leave a comment below!

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