The Productive Scholar RECAP: Clickers: What are they, how can I use them?

To access the original listing for this event, please click here.

Topic: Clickers: What are they, how can I use them?Clickers-ppt-front-Temos
Speakers: Janet Temos and Jesse Saunders

Time: Thursday, November 7, 12noon – 1pm
Location: HRC Classroom, Room 012, Lower Level, East Pyne

“Clickers” are the common nickname for “Student Response System.” If you’d like to review the powerpoint file from this presentation scroll to the bottom of this entry.

These systems allow for:

• Real –time classroom assessments and polling
• Automated grading of quizzes
• Avenue for a classroom ‘back-channel’ to assess comprehension and engagement
• A way to break up lecture and re-animate focus (helps with dense lectures)
• A quick way to gain consensus

Often best when there is a discussion following a Clicker segment. The iClicker system was adopted nine years ago by Princeton University. It was designed by two physicist at University of Illinois (Timothey Stelzer, Mats Selen *89: iClicker inventors) as a simple, consistently operational student response system. Each Clicker has an assigned broadcast signal and each unit can then be assigned to individual students for used in a course. Clickers haven’t fully caught on yet at Princeton, but are in wide use primarily in STEM courses.

The iClicker system software can be a powerful tool, but isn’t overpowering to your CPU. Clickers-Instructor-TemosIt’s design is notable for its minimal installation requirements; just a few minutes and it works identically on a PC or a Mac. A small icon will appear alongside whatever presentation or word processing software you’re using (Keynote, Powerpoint, Microsoft Word), and that allows you to control the system.

When should you use Clickers?
Usually the system is employed in mid-to large sized classrooms: they allow faculty to obtain a quick gauge of student thinking and comprehension.  They also can be used when anonymity is desired due to cultural barriers or the discussion of sensitive topics. Anonymity can level the field and increase participation in various classroom contexts where students are loathe to raise their hand and volunteer an answer. The clickers available through ETC at Princeton also have braille and raised letters, making them fully accessible.

Case example of usage: Eric Mazur, Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University started re-imagining his classroom in 1989 after seeing the results of a comprehension assessment of Newtonian mechanics he’d administered to his students. An innovation of this work is Peer Instruction which employed a student response system and a “convince-your-neighbor” peer discussion segment. To learn more, see “Twilight of the Lecture” (Harvard Magazine, 2012)  and The Mazur Group Education webpage. Also see video of Mazur demonstrating “Peer Instruction” and “Just-in-Time” Teaching techniques using Clickers.Clickers-Student-Temos

Auto-Grading: Connecting Clickers to Blackboard to enable auto-grading
There is a relatively small time investment upfront for a large time payoff over the course of a semester because of the time saved with automated grading.  The clicker is assigned through Blackboard to each student for the course and the student is recognized by Blackboard. Tip: Make sure you install or update to the latest Clicker software; with each update iClicker improves the ease of working in Blackboard. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please contact Janet Temos for a consultation.*

How Do You Get Them?
1. ETC Lending Program: Borrow them temporarily for a course from ETC. Contact: Janet Temos, Director, Educational Technologies Center.*

2. Departmental purchase – those departments and faculty using the Blackboard integration are opting to do this. Each clicker has an ISBN number and can be assigned as though it is a book. The Blackboard Course Reading tool can be used to identify the clicker as a required “course reading.” The Clicker unit is ordered as if were a book, and goes on a bookbag list. Labyrinth Bookstore (course book provider for Princeton University) knows to buy them, and Princeton students receive the Labyrinth discount on the clickers. Individual students are able purchase them at a less expensive price per unit than the wholesale price available to the University. Currently, it’s unclear whether or not the bookstore is buying them back. However, other universities have a thriving trade in clickers. More than one student can register the same clicker a as long as they are not in the same class. Blackboard will have an issue if one student is using more than one clicker in the same class. However, there’s no problem if a student has more than one clicker registered in the same class, due to either losing or forgetting to bring the original one.

How Do You Use Them?
The Clicker model that’s proven the most popular (and is used by Princeton) has buttons labeled A-E. Usually a multiple choice assessment or quiz is launched, and the students respond by voting in a response. This also allows attendance to be taken if each clicker is registered to a specific student. Focusing solely on acquiring attendance information is historically not received well by students and tends to backfire; actually inviting students to bring multiple clickers and voting “present” for their fellow students. There are also more sophisticated Clickers that will allow you to run equations but, Janet noted, their interface affords an experience similar to that of trying to write a novel on your iPhone. When they were tested at Princeton, users summarily rejected them.

Things to consider when thinking about using the iClicker system for a course:

Time Factor & Contingency Plans:
Janet cautioned that instructors wanting to use this system need to allocate an appropriate amount of time to do so. Clickers take time to distribute and to collect, time to confirm they’ve been turned on properly and registered, as well as to confirm the students are casting votes successfully. Also, it helps to put a little discussion time around the questions, because they get excited by the interactive, even “quiz show” aspect of the voting system (“So, which one is the right answer?!” “OK, but why, is it right?!”), and you want to provide the opportunity to let off steam.

Missing Clickers
What happens when students forget their clickers, and can’t participate in an assessment? Will you have extra ones on hand? It can be more work for you if you have to track a loaner in addition to the originally assigned unit.

Blackboard Integration
This is one of the most compelling (and time saving) recent feature. You do to allocate time to set it up and test it before the course begins. But as noted above, the time saved during grading should more than make up for that initial outlay.

*For more information:
If you’re interested in learning more about the iClicker system and/or having have a one-on-one consultation, please contact Janet Temos, Director, Educational Technologies Center, The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning: jtemos [at] princeton [dot] edu

Janet Temos: Powerpoint presentation file: clickers

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