Tech Therapy Podcast – Barriers to Classroom Response System Adoption

Jeff Young and Warren Arbogast interviewed me the other day for the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Tech Therapy podcast. The episode, available here, focused on campus adoptions of classroom response systems (“clickers”). Jeff and Warren asked some excellent questions, giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the importance of campus standardization, conceptual and logistical barriers to adoption, and the potential of mobile devices (cell phones, smart phones, tablets, and so on) as “super-clickers.”

The impetus for this interview by Jeff and Warren was recent data from the Campus Computing Project indicating that only about 8% of college and university instructors use clickers. Clickers are a relatively mature technology, having been around for several years, so if they’re so useful in the classroom, why aren’t more instructors using them? In the interview, I noted that one reason is that using clickers requires an instructor to rethink what happens during class time. You can’t just lecture at your students for 50 minutes. You have to think about what kinds of questions you want your students to grapple with, you have to spend class time letting students discuss those questions, and you have to be ready to respond to the results of those clicker questions on the fly.

What didn’t make it into the podcast was a comparison I made between clickers and another, more buzzed-about technology: lecture capture. Sure, videorecording lectures for students to watch after class has some utility, but lecture capture doesn’t do anything to improve the dynamic of the classroom itself. If anything, it inhibits active learning since small group work and classwide discussions are hard to capture on video. I’ve always worried that lecture capture would encourage instructors to stick to the lecture format. (Perhaps it’s the name that bugs me?  Maybe “classroom capture” would work better?)

Consider the popular or common technologies used on college campuses: lecture capture, PowerPoint, course management systems, e-books. What do they have in common? They are primarily information transmission technologies. They’re not student engagement technologies. Perhaps the fact that a student engagement technology like clickers hasn’t caught on more is an indication that colleges and universities still have a lot of work to do in moving from teaching to learning (Barr & Tagg, 1995).

Image: “No, really.” by Doug Geisler, Flickr (CC)

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