Clickers in the News (the Village Voice, to Be Precise)

I’m quoted in a nice article on clickers in the college classroom in the Village Voice today, “The Rise of Clickers Is Starting to Change How College Professors Run their Classrooms,” by Fahmida Rashid. I didn’t actually talk to this reporter, but I did speak with a reporter from Scholastic Administrator yesterday, so perhaps they shared notes.

While the article misses a couple of fine points here and there, it does a good job of providing an overview of the state of clickers in higher ed today.  Some highlights:

  • Columbia University Business School is now providing clickers to all incoming students. This is one example of an emerging trend of ubiquitous clickers. At schools where significant numbers of faculty are using clickers and at places where administrators have decided that there’s real value in the technology, providing all students with clickers or requiring all student to purchase them is an increasing popular option.
  • The article points out that even at places where students purchase their own clickers, the cost is pretty reasonable. Most clickers run between $35 and $45 dollars, and students can usually use them in multiple classes throughout their college career.  Plus, they can sell them back when they graduate.
  • Professor Margaret Bull Kovera of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is quoted saying that “she spends more time preparing her lectures with clicker-friendly questions and assessments, but that the resulting insights about her students are worth it.” This is a pretty common faculty response to teaching with clickers: They have to rethink what they’re doing in the classroom, but the benefits make it worthwhile.
  • Kovera goes on to point out two important advantages of teaching with clickers: You can hear from more than just the vocal minority of students, and when the results of a clicker question are projected, students learn something about their classmates. This is particular important when asking questions about student opinions or experiences, as Kovera does in her psychology courses.
  • There’s a nice emphasis in the article on using clickers to motivate discussion and not just monitor attendance, even quoting Doug Duncan’s great “Tips for Successful Clicker Use” handout. I’ve blogged about the dangers of using clickers just to take attendance. While that’s a nice side benefit of teaching with clickers, instructors who only or mainly use them for that are not only missing out on a great opportunity to improve their classroom dynamic but they’re also running the risk of alienating their students.
  • The article also mentions a few uses of clickers outside the classroom, including their use at faculty meetings and in student orientation sessions. I’m seeing more and more uses of clickers that aren’t strictly academic.

I have a couple of quibbles with the article, but they’re relatively minor:

  • The article states that the “original goal” of clickers was to “monitor attendance.” My read on the history of clickers is that most clicker pioneers were more interested in getting feedback on their students’ learning during class. Once the technology matured a bit, then other faculty saw it and thought, “Hey, that will make taking attendance a lot easier!”
  • There’s also a mention of clickers first appearing in college classrooms “as early as 1998.” There were classroom response systems in place before that date, I believe, but most of them were wired (not wireless) DIY systems. It’s around 1998 that classroom response system vendors went into business.
  • The article states that “some academic publishers are beginning to offer packages in which a clicker can be purchased with a textbook.” Actually, now that clickers are more ubiquitous, publishers have stopped using this model. It makes less sense when a student might use a clicker in multiple classes.
  • Bill Reay’s 2008 study of the use of clickers in physics courses is cited in the article. The article states that this study showed that students using clickers did 10 points better on final exams than students who didn’t. While that’s accurate, it’s tough to attribute that very significant gain entirely to clickers. There were a number of important (and apparently useful) differences between the two sections, as I noted in my post about Bill’s article.
  • This isn’t an error in the article, but Professor Kovera is quoted saying that she thinks clickers work best in classes with 150 students or more. I find that most classes with more than 15 students or so can benefit from clickers. See my posts on clickers in small classes for some examples.

Fairly minor points, like I said. I’m glad to see clickers get this great coverage in the mainstream press!

Image: “Day Ninety-Eight,” Dustin Diaz, Flickr (CC)

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