Article: O’Donoghue & O’Steen (2007)

Reference: O’Donoghue, M., & O’Steen, B. (2007). Clicking on or off? Lecturers’ rationale for using student response systems. Presented at the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Conference, Singapore.

Summary: The authors of this article present a qualitative analysis of interviews with five instructors (three of whom had experience teaching with clickers at the time of the interviews, two of whom did not) about their beliefs and practices relevant to teaching with clickers. Based on these interviews, the authors present a partial taxonomy of the ways instructors approach using clickers. This taxonomy is presented as a series of car and driving metaphors. Each metaphor is listed below, along with a brief explanation.

  • Speed Bump – These instructors use clickers to slow down a lecture and give students and instructor time to “review and reflect on what had been presented.”
  • On-Ramp – These instructors use clickers to introduce material, perhaps at the beginning of class, perhaps throughout a class.
  • Thelma and Louise – The authors describe this use of clickers as an “all-or-nothing approach,” but it’s unclear what they mean by that.
  • Empty Car Park – These instructors use students responses collected by clickers to help determine the course of the class. (The analogy here is that one can go anywhere in an empty parking lot. One need not follow the lines.)
  • Long Distance Trucker – These instructors look at the “road ahead” (the learning goals and syllabus for a course) and determine the best route (choice of classroom activities and technologies) to get from point A to point B. This is more of a meta-level approach to clickers, since these instructors might use clickers in the ways described in the other categories of this taxonomy as appropriate.
  • Reduced Driving Visibility – This is another meta-level approach to using clickers. These instructors feel that using clickers is beneficial, but they’re not intentional about how or why they’re using clickers.
  • Driving by the Instruments – These instructors use clickers to gather data on their students understanding of course material during class and respond appropriately, spending more time on material students find confusing and less time on material students understand.

The article also includes a summary of student responses to a survey designed to elicit student feedback on the use of clickers, but there’s little context provided on the classes in which this survey was administered. As a result, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the survey results.

Comments: I think these metaphors are great. I can see them being very useful in talking to faculty about the various ways they might start using clickers. Following are my thoughts on the metaphors presented in this article.

  • Another way to use clickers as an “on-ramp” is to use clicker questions to set the stage for class-wide discussion instead of lecture. Giving students a chance to think about a discussion question and commit to an answer before opening the floor for student comments lays the foundation for a richer discussion that engages more students. This kind of “on-ramp” approach, particularly if combined with “one-best-answer” critical thinking questions, had great potential in the humanities, a set of disciplines that hasn’t embraced clickers so far.
  • The “Thelma and Louise” and “empty car park” metaphors are a little vague as presented in this article. A few examples from the classroom would have been helpful with both of these.
  • Regarding the “long distance trucker” metaphor, some kind of “vintage car buff” metaphor might fit the description a little better. A car buff typically has a garage full of vintage cars and likes repairing and “fixing up” old cars. When he decides to go for a drive, I expect he considers all the cars in his garage and chooses the one that best fits the trip at hand. As someone who works on cars, he’s intimately familiar with how his cars work. In a similar fashion, when an instructor sets out to design a lesson plan, if the instructor is familiar with various classroom activities and technologies, including clickers, the instructor choose the ones most appropriate to the lesson at hand.
  • In my experience, classes taught by instructors operating under “reduced visibility driving” typically look like “speed bump” classes in that such instructors often ask a clicker questions every 10 to 20 minutes during their lectures. This approach gives students time for the reflection and review, but the instructor may not be doing this intentionally.

What seems to be missing from this taxonomy, bearing in mind that I’m unclear about a couple of the metaphors? Following is my attempt to craft a few more metaphors to address other approaches to teaching with clickers.

  • Driver’s License Exam – Some instructors use clickers primarily for summative assessment. This can take the form of in-class graded quizzes, where clickers make it easier and more efficient for instructors to administer multiple-choice quizzes and where they make it possible to review a quiz immediately after it is completed since the clickers tell the instructor which problems on the quiz were missed the most. This can also take the form of quizzes at the start of class over pre-class reading or homework assignments, used to motivate students to prepare for class. Some instructors administer entire exams via clickers, as well.
  • Party Bus – Some instructors use clickers to add some elements of fun and excitement to class. Students often initially think the technology itself is engaging. Also, instructors can structure in-class games and competitions with clickers in ways that make class more fun. There’s also the potential for a little dramatic flair when the instructor reveals the bar chart showing the distribution of students answers—or when the instructor reveals the correct answer to a question on which the students were divided.
  • Carpooling – Some instructors use clickers primarily as a way to help students discuss course material in small groups. The carpooling metaphor isn’t perfect, since most people carpool for efficiency and interpersonal reasons, not because it helps them be more effective drivers. Those teams of engineers who create cars that drive themselves and then race those cars in cross-country races would make a more accurate metaphor, since in that case, the teamwork creates better results. However, I don’t see that metaphor working well as short-hand for this concept since it’s hard to describe in a short phrase.

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