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Why classroom clickers are obsolete

I have something to admit:  I’ve never used a classroom clicker before, neither as a student nor as a teacher. And I probably never will.

It’s not that I’m ideologically opposed to technology in the classroom. Like many college composition instructors, I encourage my students to bring their laptops and tablets with them to class, just like I do (my laptop). We use these devices to read and discuss The New York Times and Harper’s Magazine, to respond to open-ended questions, and to give and receive feedback on one another’s out-of-class writing.

Photo of students using laptops in class

Students using laptops during class. By Amit Gupta, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In one class this week, when I forgot to bring a bag full of magazines containing photo essays–which we were to analyze–I sent each student group a PDF from the Harper’s online archives to work from. During students’ subsequent mini-presentations analyzing the essays, I asked one student from each group to would walk around the room, holding up the device so others could see the photos they picked that were key to understanding the genre. While magazines would have been ideal (they’re easier to read from and pass around), technology saved the day: I would have had to scrap that portion of the lesson without it.

Photo of a classroom clicker

An example of a classroom clicker.

This is to say I like technology when it’s used appropriately. And one new use case I’ve just begun experimenting with is classroom response systems. Up until recently, the only kind of classroom response systems available were tied to proprietary hardware that both universities and students had to pay for. College administrators had to devote entire budget lines to buying and installing receiver stations in each classroom. Students had to purchase held held “clickers” that resembled fancy garage door openers or remote controls from 40 years ago.

These days, however, smartphones are almost the only hardware needed for a fully functioning classroom response system. (Having a computer connected to a projector also helps). With apps like Socrative and PollEverwhere, instructors can create quizzes for students to respond to during class using their smartphones, tablets or laptops. In my own class recently, I had my students get into groups and complete six questions in Socrative relating to their assigned reading. Putting them in groups gave the activity a sort of trivia game feel, where students argued about what they thought the correct answers were.

I have never seen students get so excited to take a quiz! One student even remarked, “I wish we did this in every class.” While these kinds of activities may not be appropriate for every class or even every discipline,  I felt like it was a worthwhile activity– something I will add to my repertoire for checking in on students’ learning.

Interested in learning more? The below video shows how two DePaul professors in the health sciences use interactive polling in their classes.

Mark your calendars! On Jan. 22nd and 23rd in 2015, you can attend a workshop on “Engaging Your Students with Mobile Classroom Apps.” Visit the Teaching Commons workshops page to learn more.

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