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Student Response Clickers

July 8, 2010

I am researching student response clickers, in hopes of using them in Algebra I and II classes this fall.

Companies

To date I have come across six companies that offer them:
eInstruction
iRespond
Qwizdom
Renaissance Learning
Smartroom
Turning Technologies

I have found internet references to the following vendors being used at the following universities:

eInstruction at U. California-Riverside, U.California-Davis, Purdue, St. Mary’s, U. Kansas, U. Wisconsin-Oshkosh, U. Texas

Turning Technologies at Ohio State, U. Florida, U. Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Features

From my research so far, features of interest include:

  • Radio Frequency (preferable) vs Infra-red light communication
  • Ability to avoid interference/confusion with clickers in neighboring classrooms
  • A means for the student to confirm which answer was selected, and that a response has been received by the teacher’s computer (not just that it was sent by the clicker)
  • Do students need to use the same physical clicker every class, or do they pick up any clicker and enter a PIN number?
  • Features of the software (toolbar for any application, integrated with PowerPoint, and/or standalone application)
  • How do you want to use it?
    For instant feedback seatwork,
    as a catalyst for class discussion,
    for surveys,
    for yes/no, multiple guess, and/or free response answers
  • Battery life and type
  • What assessment materials have already been developed for the system, and how do they align with the curriculum

Intended Usage

Clickers are not a solution to all challenges in today’s classroom. They can certainly save time grading assessments in which all questions are either right or wrong, and many vendors’ offerings make it easy to convert pencil and paper assessments into electronic ones.  While this certainly saves paper and grading time, I do not see such a step as something that is likely to have much effect on the quality of instruction.  Unless the questions and their answers are carefully designed, it does not provide the teacher with much (if any) insight into where a student went astray in their thinking for formative assessment purposes. I want to see the student’s work in solving most problems, not just their answer… then again, I feel that way because I do not have access to multiple choice assessment materials that were tested and proven to provide solid formative diagnostic information.

The greatest promise of clickers in my mind is their potential to engage a very high percent of students in a class in an accountable manner. Clickers can give students many opportunities to test if their thinking is sound, without the risk of embarrassing themselves in front of their classmates. Furthermore, when it turns out that a question is more complex than they first thought, a teachable moment will often be at hand, group discussions can be productive, and the stage has been set for peer instruction. Over time, the teacher can also track an individual student’s success rate at answering such questions, which becomes another useful data point in a comprehensive assessment scheme.

Based on the above, I don’t see great value to large displays on a clicker. I do value a system that:

  • shows that an answer was sent, and received by the teacher’s computer
  • shows the student which answer they selected (did I pick A or E?) on their clicker
  • allows numeric answers to questions (such as 3.14159)
  • makes it easy to see when a clicker battery level is running low

My remaining preferences apply to the software running on the teacher’s computer. Of the products I have seen so far, I like ones which:

  • Can be used via a toolbar over any application (not just PowerPoint, or the vendor’s software)
  • Can capture the display at the time the question was asked (for impromptu questions)

Cost

Quotes received so far for a one-classroom 20-24 clicker system (either the least expensive, or next to least expensive clicker, plus receiver, software, and shipping) range from around $1,000 to around $2,100 – depending on the model and vendor chosen ($51 to $88 per student seat).

Resources

Some good resources I have come across include:

16 Suggestions for teaching with Classroom Response Systems

Teaching Ideas

Classroom Response Systems

Teaching with Classroom Response Systems

Conclusions

After reading many brochures, downloading manuals and/or software, having on-line webinars, asking many questions, and thinking long and hard about exactly how I would use such a system… my early enthusiasm has waned.

All of the systems are trying to be everything to everyone, to support instant grading of multiple-choice assessments, attendance, lesson development, integration with textbook materials, etc. They are more complicated than I really need or care to deal with on a daily basis.  My first priorities are student engagement, progress, and confidence; my second priorities are syllabus, overall approach, and coordination with other classes; my third priority is clear and consistent communication with both students and parents (via internet-based documents or a blog).

While the clicker systems I have looked at are neat, and may certainly help in the “engagement” department… they also represent a set of new tools to master, ones which will take more of my time than making do with my usual approaches.  Developing formative assessments myself that use a multiple choice format and technology is incredibly time-consuming, more so than manually correcting open-ended questions on paper (which lets me or peer groups review student work and thought processes afterwards).

Furthermore, asking open-ended questions that are likely to elicit a variety of answers, then using the differing answers to generate interest and discussion in a class, is something that can be done in a variety of ways that do not rely on technology… do I really need a record of how each student answered such questions when they were first posed? Or do I care more about their answers to formative assessment questions on the topic later in the week?  Now that I have finally posed the question that way, my answer is the latter… so why futz with more technology and layers of software to record their answers when they are first grappling with something new?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 12:17 pm

    From what I’ve seen in my work this year, primarily with older Promethean ActivVotes, I would balk at investing in any response system without seeing it run in my school with my teachers.

    As soon as the cost per student creeps up to $100, I start to wonder what we could do with a more general web-enabled device (iPod Touch) instead. Our school is jumping to a 1-1 laptop model in the fall, and I my intuition is that very little of what’s good about clickers is tied to the form factor.

    • July 9, 2010 8:33 pm

      Good point about alternatives when the cost crosses an internet access threshold, and I agree that the form factor is not the primary issue. The real appeal is “anonymous” responses (at least as far as their peers are concerned) combined with the ability to provide instant summarization of peer responses to all. Thank you!

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