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Penn State Ramps Up Clickers after Pilot

Penn State is adopting i>clicker from Macmillan after running a spring 2011 test that also evaluated the use of i>clicker and one other system. Five Penn State campuses participated in the pilot project, representing 21 courses that had enrollments totaling more than 4,600 students. Faculty and students were positive about both clicker systems, but showed a preference for their experiences with i>clicker, including an easier transition off of an earlier clicker system.

Deployment across 20 undergraduate campuses will take place in fall 2011. Faculty will receive i>clicker devices for no cost. Students will pay in the range of $35 to $40.

The i>clicker hardware works in a range of 200 to 300 feet and has 16 possible frequencies to prevent conflicts with other classrooms. Its design includes six buttons (A through E) and an on/off button. The device also has LED indicators to show power, low battery, and vote status. Visually impaired students can place vendor-supplied Braille stickers alongside buttons or order a vibrating version of the clicker to confirm voting status. The device runs on three AAA batteries. On the instructor side, the receiver shows real-time vote distribution but also allows the results to be reviewed before they're displayed. The receiver plugs into a computer via a USB cable for recharging.

Criteria for the evaluation encompassed multiple components: cost, ease of use, product stability, support experiences, learning management system integration, vendor support, reporting capabilities, compliance with federal laws, and cross-platform support. Students and instructors received the clickers for free for the duration of the pilot then filled out surveys afterward to communicate their impressions.

"At Penn State, we needed a clicker system that was both easy to use and flexible enough to support our wide-ranging teaching methodologies," said Dave Test, a member of the university's technology classroom support organization. "With i>clicker, our faculty can easily implement clickers into their courses, adding myriad engagement opportunities with their students, but without the steep learning curve that we've experienced in the past. i>clicker gives us rock solid reliability and all of the features we need, without all of the headaches of other clicker systems."

Interwrite PRS RF from Interwrite Learning (acquired by eInstruction in 2007). That was the preferred clicker from 2007 to fall 2010.

Faculty member Sam Richards, a sociology professor, said he finds the use of clickers valuable for asking controversial questions in his courses. Richards posted a video, "Playing with Clickers," on the Penn State Web site to demonstrate the impact a classroom response system can have on student behavior. The video shows Richards taking a poll in his class regarding a current event. As the class proceeds, he introduces additional information on the topic of discussion, then takes the poll again. The results of the student responses flip.

"What was interesting was that with the use of clickers, I saw my students going from being too far in this direction to being way off the scale in this other direction. If i had relied on a show of hands or just my imagination, I never would have known that," Richards said in the video. "Clickers give you that very quick and immediate response to where your students are at."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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