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San Diego State To Roll Out New Wave of Classroom Clickers

San Diego State University is shifting to a new classroom response system five years after standardizing on its old one. This time it will be i>clicker2 from Macmillan's i>clicker division. The rollout is planned for fall 2011.

A short list of evaluation finalists also included Poll Everywhere, which uses the student's mobile phone or laptop computer in place of a clicker device, and Turning Technologies' ResponseCard NXT, which is also a dedicated response device.

Even as classes are using i>clicker products, however, PollEverywhere will be piloted separately by six to nine instructors over the next year as well, according to Mark Laumakis, who splits his time between two roles, as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology and as faculty-in-residence with the university's Instructional Technology Services department.

In its heyday, clickers were in use at San Diego State by about 60 instructors, he said. But clicker usage declined precipitously in fall 2010 as a result of problems related to an upgrade of the existing system.

"I teach 500 students at a time, back to back. I would cross my fingers at the beginning of a session that [the clicker system] would do what it was supposed to do," Laumakis said. "I'm very well versed on how they work. So I warned the students, 'I'm going to expect a day where there will be problems.' But I didn't expect it to be every other time."

He added that instructors working on Macs didn't have many of the functions that he was accustomed to on the PC side, including the ability to assign points for student participation or attendance based on clicker usage in class.

"That level of dissatisfaction led us to say, 'We need to look around," he said.

The task force made up of many of the same participants that had recommended the approval of that initial system reconvened and laid out a list of potential criteria by which to gauge alternative solutions. "We had 20 or 30 different criteria that we were rating them by on a scale of one to five," Laumakis explained.

Groups of faculty, staff, and students sat through demonstrations of the three finalists. "Pretty clearly i>clicker was the winner," he noted.

The university received a demonstration of and will be using a model of the i>clicker that is expected to be released in the fall. i>clicker2, announced in January, includes an LCD screen that relays to the user that a response has been delivered properly; it also offers a battery status light and numeric and alphanumeric support to expand beyond the device's traditional multiple choice-only selections.

But Laumakis doesn't expect many faculty members to move beyond their traditional practices of soliciting multiple choice responses even with the feature set of the new clickers. He includes himself in that group. "The students are satisfied with the way I'm doing it now," he pointed out.

However, he said he believes that more instructors using clickers at the university are shifting to an "Eric Mazur type of peer instruction approach." Mazur is the Harvard University professor who developed an instructional approach that recommended having students work with each other to help amplify the learning process.

At its most basic, Laumakis explained, in a class that uses response devices, the instructor using peer instruction poses a question and collects the response among students. "But you don't tell the class the right answer. If you have a 50/40 split between two answers, you have the students talk to their neighbors. Then you re-ask the question. Amazingly, it shifts 80/10 to the right answer."

Laumakis expressed no doubts that the use of response systems in his classes improves attendance. Before he began using clickers in 2006, fewer than half of the students would be present. For the last five years, he has averaged about 375 out of 500 students in any class session.

He acknowledged that more are showing up because there are participation and attendance points. "Whatever you give them points for they do. In my course, those two things combined add up to 14 percent of their grade, so they're there."

But beyond the points, the classes are just plain more interesting. "I got started with this technology because I hated teaching big classes," Laumakis said. "There was no interaction. There was no chance to find out if students understood the material or not. Peer instruction with the clicker has really changed class dynamics. Students are talking to each other. Then you ask the question again [and show the new results] and they're high-fiving each other. They're excited. It changes the atmosphere in the room."

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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