Student holding a clicker

Clickers not clicking in class

February 22, 2007

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If you've seen the TV show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, you know about the personal response systems (PRSs) or "clickers" Joan Sharp's students use in her Biology 102 class.

They're the same devices the TV quiz-show audience employs when contestants use their "Ask The Audience" lifeline on the really tough questions.

But Sharp isn't ready to award any prizes for the nifty, hand-held infrared transmitters just yet. "The clickers are a powerful tool for student engagement and discussion," says the senior biology lecturer. "But they are time consuming and technically somewhat glitchy."

As part of a pilot project sponsored by the Learning and Instructional Development Centre, Sharp is testing the devices for group responses to multiple-choice questions in her introductory biology lectures. The PRS system includes proprietary software on Sharp's computer, which is tied in with a wireless receiver and the clicker transmitters students buy as part of their course fees.

Sharp projects questions on a screen in PowerPoint slides, and the students' clicked responses are automatically tabulated and displayed on the screen. The individual responses are anonymous to the audience but not to the teacher, who can identify each student's answer.

Sharp encourages students to discuss the questions with their neighbours. If the class results are not conclusive, she doesn't share the correct answer but instead encourages students to either research an answer or convince their neighbour and then try again.

"Student response is mixed," she says. "Some welcome the clickers and find the engagement and peer discussion helps them learn. Others complain about the time they take."

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