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Clicker technology helps students, faculty engage and learn

Sept. 14, 2007
By Mary Reed
Photo by Rick Fatica

Associate Professor Steve Hays isn't afraid to ask his students personal questions. What are your religious beliefs? What's your sexual orientation? And thanks to the Student Response System technology, he gets answers. 

Using this SRS or "clicker" technology, instructors pose a question to their class and all students respond immediately using a handheld keypad that resembles a small remote control. The clicker software immediately tabulates and displays the student responses. 

"The result isn't titillating information, it's a sense of community," says Hays, a faculty member in the Department of Classics and World Religions. "By preserving one's anonymity in a class, it allows one to break out of their anonymity and say, ?Here's what I think.'"

Students learn where they stand compared to their peers -- whether it's their view on a controversial topic or simply if they understand the concepts covered in class.

For example, after students read a passage from a very old text, Hays might put a vocabulary word up on the screen along with multiple choices for the definition of the word. Students will use clickers to register their answers. "You can get a quick sense of whether someone is hearing a 21st century American word when it's really a 19th century British usage," Hays says, so he knows if he needs to spend some time on the concept of how language changes over time.

"You have to be able to, on the fly, adjust your instruction ? but that's a very good thing," says Marjorie DeWert, director of academic technologies. She says the challenge with large-enrollment classes is making it possible for students to interact with the material, the professor or each other. "We know that social interaction is very important to help us learn. The clickers, the SRS, are a much greater way of helping us bring interaction into larger classes."

DeWert says about 30 Ohio University faculty members are using the clicker technology in their classes, and she expects the number to grow rapidly. Academic Technologies has helped facilitate early use of the clickers in the classroom, and now the question is how to spread usage across campus. The technology is not too pricey, however, at less than $40 per keypad. If students pick up the cost for their own keypad, that $40 over four years will be relatively inexpensive, especially as the clickers are used more frequently in courses.

"I was skeptical at first that the clickers would be an effective learning tool but, especially (after) Geology 101, I believe that it was very helpful," says Terry Reiter, a graduate student in middle childhood education. "Alycia (Stigall, assistant professor of geological sciences) used them to provoke thought without the pressure of being wrong. Once the answers were provided, she would take the time to discuss each answer." 

Clickers help with some of an instructor's more mundane tasks as well. "That's how we take attendance," Hays says. "If they're not giving answers, they're not there. If they do give answers, they're there."

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