Professors return mixed reactions to clicker use

Ben Fitch

Diane Good, adjunct professor of sociology and anthropology, gives a series of quizzes to her class, during every lecture without using paper. Instead, her students answer multiple choice, opinion and true or false questions with clickers.

The clickers resemble television remotes. They have buttons A through E and numbers one through nine. Students can connect their clickers, wirelessly, with the instructor’s software and answer questions directly and anonymously. Before the semester begins, students register online and the instructor can create a roster to make taking attendance easier. Students are responsible for purchasing their own clickers, which cost about $50.

“My students come on time and they stay until I’m done,” said Good. She said she thinks clickers influence student attendance. In fact, Good said her attendance has increased from 70 to 72 percent from last semester to 85 to 87 percent this semester.

During one class, Good quizzed students about on the specifics of language in culture. She gave them 30 seconds to answer the true or false question.

“All of you got in on time,” she says, “good for you.”

Later, she gives another true or false question, and the students had 45 seconds to answer. One student raised his hand.

“I think my batteries ran out,” he said.

Sara Tucker, history professor, said she expects there to be problems such as low batteries, but “there are some low tech ways of dealing with the high tech problems.”

“If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, then we need to improve it or get rid of it,” she said. “We need to ask ourselves: ‘Is this a specialized tool or is it a very new general tool?'”

Tucker said she advocates the use of clickers in the classroom because they motivate students to come to class, and the students remain anonymous. Clickers can provide an opportunity for interaction that is missed in conventional lectures.

“It’s like the difference between using a typewriter and a word processor,” said Tucker. “I am convinced Socrates would have considered using digital technologies if he was alive now.”

But Socrates may not have found clickers quite so easy to use.

Sue Taylor, instructional designer, said she likes the idea of clickers in the classroom because they lead to higher attendance, more interaction and more discussion when they are used properly. However, she is not impressed with the specific model, the Interwrite Personal Response System, which Washburn adopted last semester.

“I just don’t like the kind we have,” she said. “They’re too complicated.”

Taylor visits instructors who are using clickers in lecture and trains them on the technical aspects. She said the biggest problem has been the lack of technological education.

Good said students have had little trouble adjusting to the technology. Eldon Little, a junior business administration major, is a student in Good’s class. He said the first week with clickers was the hardest.

“It’s just her way of doing quizzes,” he said. “If you don’t do the reading then you’ll probably miss the questions.”

Several classes in the nursing department are using clickers, as well as classes in allied health, legal studies and anthropology. Some professors, however, said they were apprehensive about the technology.

Gene Wunder, associate professor of business, said he was not impressed with the number of faculty and students who were showing interest in clickers.

“I don’t see a useful application of it yet,” he said. “It concerns me on several levels; it doesn’t require the students to speak publicly, and in marketing, face-to-face communication is necessary.”