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Clickers Growing in Popularity in UW-Eau Claire Classrooms

RELEASED: May 13, 2005

clickerEAU CLAIRE — As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students settled into their seats before a recent physical sciences class lecture, they pulled out the usual learning tools — textbooks, notebooks and pens. But students also retrieved from their backpacks a small handheld wireless device that looks like a television remote control.

The students reviewed a multiple choice question on a screen at the front of the room, pointed their clickers (as the devices are known) at a receiver and submitted their answers.

Within a minute or two, a computer in the room told Erik Hendrickson, associate professor of physics and astronomy, that 52 of 58 students correctly answered his question about converging lenses. Knowing that most of the class answered correctly, he made brief comments and moved on to other topics, using the students' clicker responses to new questions to help him determine how much time to spend reviewing information he'd covered in his earlier lectures.

"I use the clickers to review previous material, to make sure everyone is up to speed and to get them to come to class early and be ready to go," said Hendrickson, who also uses it as a way to reward students who attend class. "And I sprinkle questions throughout the lecture to help me figure out how students are doing with a new topic. Are they ready to move on to the next topic or should we go back over this one more time to get people caught up?"

Clickers are being used in several classrooms on UW-Eau Claire's campus, providing faculty with a way to gather immediate feedback, assess understanding of material and get students in large lectures more involved in classroom discussions. They also help more reserved students feel comfortable answering questions and/or offering their opinions.

"You don't have to show the whole class you don't know the answer to a question," Jake Kneser, a student in Hendrickson's class said. "Everyone in the class answers the question, not just one person."

A survey of more than 125 UW-Eau Claire students in three science classes found that most students, like Kneser, see the value of the interactive technology. Eighty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they strongly agreed or agreed that they liked using the clickers, 10 percent were neutral and just 3 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with their use.

Most survey respondents said the clickers helped them pay attention during lectures, helped them better understand the material, were easy to use and were something they'd like to use again in other classes.

"They were simple to use, made class more fun and provided a quick recap of what we discussed in the previous class lecture," said Katherine Cowden, another student in Hendrickson's class.

Cowden said the clickers offered several advantages, including providing students with opportunities to answer questions anonymously; providing a review of materials; allowing students to track their progress; and helping students identify what concepts they understand and those they have difficulties with.

Clickers are used by faculty in a variety of ways, from displaying class results to recording individual responses to questions. Some faculty members use them to give quizzes, with the computer immediately scoring each quiz and entering the students' grades in an electronic grade book. Some award students points for answering a question, while others give additional points to students who get the answer right.

Students in Hendrickson's class earn a point for each question they answer with their clicker. If he notices a student isn't answering questions, he contacts them to see if they're having trouble or simply lost their clicker, he said.

"At the beginning of the semester I tell them they should use it to reasonably figure out how they're personally doing in the class," Hendrickson said. "If they never get a question correct, they should make appointments to see me and/or get tutoring help. But I leave this in their hands and explain to them that they're responsible for their own learning. They can use it to their advantage or they can just click A every time."

The biggest disadvantages to using the technology is that students sometimes forget to bring them to class, sometimes the receiver is slow to pick up student answers so class time is lost and the students must pay for the device. The clickers cost Hendrickson's students $4 (they get $2 back at the end of the semester if they turn it in) and $8 for their individual code.

Hendrickson said the advantages outweigh the disadvantages so he — and a growing number of faculty in his department and across campus — will use the devices in future classes.

"It's a great interactive classroom tool because it helps faculty improve their teaching and it helps student learning," Hendrickson said.

"I think that they are beneficial to the academic progress of individual students," said another of Hendrickson's students, Marc Moonen.



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