Clickers in the Classroom

We’ve begun a small-scale test of “clicker” technology this week at Illinois Wesleyan. The Provost’s office funded the purchase of 35 remotes and one base station. We chose a simple, modestly priced brand called iClicker that was actually designed by a group of physicists at University of Illinois. The devices are about 6 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1/2 inch thick:


iClicker remote


These devices are designed to collect data instantly from a classroom full of students. Big deal, right? Well, they might actually be a pretty big deal. But before we invest heavily in them we’re going to have a few faculty try them out and measure the results.

There are many teachers at lots of schools using devices like clickers to gather data like quiz answers from a large lecture hall full of anonymous faces. There are other schools who have teachers interested in instant feedback, improved participation, and “active learning.” This means breaking the traditional lecture model of “sage on the stage” and letting the instructor guide the students through their own processes of critical thinking.

I won’t cite sources – there is a book that does that quite well. Check out Clickers in the Classroom, a short, concise book that is now in the Ames library collection. It is written by Professor Douglas Duncan of University of Colorado who is a big clicker advocate but first and foremost a believer in improving the teaching and learning model in higher education.

Portions of the book are available online: Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2. The research referenced by Duncan is impressive – he supplies evidence that well-designed methods coupled with response devices can mean cognitive gains, improved attendance, and improved satisfaction on the part of students. It seems that the instructors like them too!

For our part, we’ve bought 35 clicker handhelds and asked three or four faculty to try them out. They’ll be used primarily in Psych classes this term, but I’d love to see some others have a go at it in May. I expect the faculty will begin slowly, using the clickers anonymously to informally poll the class or respond to opinion questions. Once they are comfortable, some will probably ask students to register the clickers so that one device corresponds to one student. Then using clickers to assess class participation becomes quite easy. The software included lets a teacher assign point values per session and per question, even for wrong answers. The technology is easy to use, so I hope it will foster creativity among our faculty. I look forward to some of them presenting their experiences to the campus.

I don’t know whether the use of clickers will grow on campus after this test. I can say that I’m encouraged that so many of our faculty are interested in trying something new. If we don’t adapt our modes of communication in the classroom from time to time we risk inching closer and closer to obsolescence.