I’m back from the Inaugural Conference on Classroom Response Systems, hosted by the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Louisville. I had a great time meeting people who I knew only by their research, and some of the sessions were very well done. Thanks to the Delphi Center, particularly director Gale Rhodes and associate director Marianne Hutti, for putting together such an enriching conference. I’m already looking forward to next year!
Tim Stelzer, research associate professor of physics at the University of Illinois and one of the founders of i>clicker, presented the morning keynote address. His presentation was very engaging, featuring a nice blend of information and humor. His slides were particularly impressive, having been designed in the Presentation Zen style. Many of his slides consisted primarily of one fullscreen image and just a few words of text. This put the focus on Stelzer and his message while reinforcing that message visually. He included a few well-chosen video clips and animations that helped him make his points (with a little humor) as well as an ongoing clicker-enabled game that kept his audience engaged.
One point Stelzer made that stood out to me was that in the past, being highly educated was correlated strongly with remembering lots of facts. This is still true today to some extent. Consider Ken Jennings, the guy who won all those Jeopardy gameshows. He’s considered highly intelligent, but not for higher-order thinking skills (problem solving, critical thinking, etc.), just for remembering lots of trivia.
Stelzer made the point that with all the information available to students via the Internet, factual recall doesn’t play the same role it used to play in learning. The challenge now in higher education is to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills, and Stelzer feels that classroom response systems can facilitate pedagogies that help teachers meet that challenge. This is a valid point, and it’s one of the reasons I included in my book so many examples of clicker questions aimed at higher-order thinking skills.
Stelzer also described the genesis of the i>clicker classroom response system. The first electronic system he used at Illinois (after abandoning the flash card method due to poor student participation, caused by lack of accountability) involved hardwiring jacks in all of the seats in a lecture hall. The students connected their TI-83 calculators to these jacks. This system allowed a couple of neat features not available in current systems to my knowledge. One was that it allowed the instructor to call up a seating chart showing each student’s name and how that student voted in response to a clicker question. This allowed an instructor to say, for instance, “John, I see that you answered B but the students sitting next to you answered C. Why don’t you discuss this question with them and see if you can come to a consensus?”
Another feature of the system was that when a student answered a multiple-choice question, the system could be programmed to send the student a response determined by the student’s answer choice. So if a student selected choice A, the system might reply, “Have you considered X?”, where X would be some example or concept relevant to the answer choice. I imagine this feature would be very useful in helping students think more deeply about their answer choices. It’s also a feature that could be implemented in some of the systems that use cell phones, smart phones, and laptops available now. In fact, this might already be a feature of some of these systems. If you know that to be the case, please let me know.
(Coincidentally, Friday night at the conference reception, I met Kevin Patton of St. Charles Community College in Missouri. He and I were talking about clickers and somehow hit upon this very same idea–giving feedback to students after their answers right on their clickers, feedback tailored to their particular answers.)
One of the research findings Stelzer shared was particularly interesting, too. According to surveys of students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where over 17,000 clickers are in use, the factor mostly highly correlated with negative student reactions to clickers was “sporadic use.” If clickers aren’t used very often, students tend not to like them. That’s pretty good evidence that students see some value in the use of clickers, I think.
I have more thoughts from the conference I’ll be posting in the next few days.