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Vol 39  No 6
Nov. 23, 2006


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Clickers in the classroom

by Kristine Hamlyn

Much like the polling technology used in the ask-the-audience portion of television show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, clicker technology is now being used in classrooms at Memorial University to solicit student response and gauge students’ understanding of course material.

When students using the technology are faced with a multiple choice question, each has about 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on professor discretion, to literally click a button on a small remote control-like device to indicate their response. The clicker signals are collected by receivers and then sent to software on a computer. The results are displayed in the form of a bar graph on an overhead screen for all to see.

(Photo by Chris Hammond)

Drs. Rita Anderson and Carolyn Harley, Department of Psychology, and Dr. Travis Fridgen, Chemistry, are the only faculty at Memorial currently using clickers in the classroom. They have even built its use into their students’ mark for the semester, although each has their own method of evaluation. Students enrolled in the two sections of Psychology 2520: Mind and Brain, team-taught by Drs. Anderson and Harley, and one section of Chemistry 1050: General
Chemistry I, taught by Dr. Fridgen, are required to purchase the clicker from the university bookstore and bring it with them as a mandatory part of class.
Dr. Fridgen’s first-year Chemistry class has over 100 students. He said clicker technology makes it possible to involve all of the students in larger classes and engage them in the learning process. And, he said, making it part of course evaluation makes them take it seriously.

“The students are able to see if what they were thinking was correct and I, as the professor, can choose to move on to the next topic with confidence or spend more time on the current topic if required,” added Dr. Anderson.

While use of the new technology gives the student instant feedback and offers anonymity, a few students have still indicated a displeasure with the added expense of being required to purchase the device, a cost of approximately $26 (after a $25 rebate) at the bookstore. But, like textbooks, the clicker can be re-sold as a second-hand item to students in the following semester classes.

Overuse, resulting in the loss of lecture time, as well as possible technical glitches are also downsides to the technology. The professors admit there are challenges but believe with careful monitoring the technology is totally worth it. In fact, Dr. Fridgen who was the first to use clicker technology at Sir Wilfred Laurier University, was able to identify a positive link between classroom participation and student performance.

The professors said the vast majority of students have had positive things to say about the technology.

Leslie Pope, third-year Psychology student, said she thinks the idea is terrific. “At first I thought it was a bit much to buy a clicker just for one class but I can see the benefits now,” she said. “You get instant feedback and the professor can review material the class is not understanding. For these reasons I really see the value.”

In May, 2006, Dr. Fridgen and Ed Andrews from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College co-chaired a mini-symposium on clicker technology facilitated by Memorial’s Instructional Development Office, a division of Distance Education and Learning Technologies. Approximately 20 individuals from the two campuses came together to discuss the pedagogy of using the technology and the practical logistics of its implementation. Overall, clickers were viewed as effective in-class assessment tool to monitor student comprehension of challenging concepts.

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