[Paleopsych] AP: No Wrong Answer: Click It
checker at panix.com
Thu May 19 19:10:12 UTC 2005
Wired News: No Wrong Answer: Click It
10:42 AM May. 14, 2005 PT
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island -- Professor Ross Cheit put it to the
students in his Ethics and Public Policy class at Brown University:
Are you morally obliged to report cheating if you know about it? The
room began to hum, but no one so much as raised a hand.
Still, within 90 seconds, Cheit had roughly 150 student responses
displayed on an overhead screen, plotted as a multicolored bar graph
-- 64 percent said yes, 35 percent, no.
Several times each class, Cheit's students answer his questions using
handheld wireless devices that resemble television remote controls.
The devices, which the students call "clickers," are being used on
hundreds of college campuses and are even finding their way into grade
They alter classroom dynamics, engaging students in large, impersonal
lecture halls with the power of mass feedback. Clickers ease fears of
giving a wrong answer in front of peers, or of expressing unpopular
"I use it to take their pulse," Cheit said. "I've often found in that
setting, you find yourself thinking, 'Well, what are they thinking?'"
In hard science classes, the clickers -- most of which allow several
possible responses -- are often used to gauge student comprehension of
course material. Cheit tends to use them to solicit students'
The clickers are an effective tool for spurring conversation, for
getting a feel for what other students think, said Megan Schmidt, a
freshman from New York City.
"It forces you to be active in the discussion because you are forced
to make a decision right off the bat," said Jonathan Magaziner, a
sophomore in Cheit's class.
Cheit prepares most questions in advance but can add questions on the
fly if need be. His setup processes student responses through infrared
receivers that are connected to a laptop computer.
Clickers increased class participation and improved attendance after
Stephen Bradforth, a professor at the University of Southern
California, introduced them to an honors chemistry class there last
fall, he said.
Bradforth uses the clickers to get a sense of whether students are
grasping the material and finds that they compel professors to think
about their lesson plans differently. He says it's too early to say
whether students who used the clickers are doing better on
Eric Mazur, a Harvard University physics professor and proponent of
interactive teaching, says clickers aren't essential but they are more
efficient and make participation easier for shy students.
Many colleges already use technology that allows teachers and students
to interact more easily outside the classroom. For example, professors
can now post lecture notes, quizzes and reading lists online. Several
companies market software, such as Blackboard and Web CT, that provide
ready-made course web pages and other course management tools.
Mazur envisions students someday using their laptops, cell phones or
other internet-ready devices for more interactivity than clickers
offer. At least one company, Option Technologies Interactive, based in
Orlando, Florida, markets software that allows any student with a
handheld wireless device or laptop to log onto a website and answer
questions, just as they would with a clicker.
For now, the clicker systems appear to be selling. Two companies that
make the systems say each of their technologies are in use on more
than 600 university campuses worldwide. Some textbook publishers are
even writing questions designed to be answered by clicker, and
packaging the devices with their books.
Versions of clickers have been available since the 1980s, but in the
past six years several more have entered the market and advances in
technology have made them both cheaper and more sophisticated. Most
universities that use clickers require students to buy them, although
at Brown they're loaned through the library.
Made by companies including GTCO CalComp of Maryland, eInstruction
Corp. out of Texas and Hyper Interactive Teaching Technology from
Arkansas, the devices cost about $30.
The clickers communicate with receivers by infrared or radio signals,
which feed the results to the teacher's computer. Software allows the
students' responses to be recorded, analyzed and graphed. While each
company offers slightly different features, the systems typically
allow instructors to display the class's results as a whole, or to
record each student's individual response.
The clickers themselves vary among companies but generally allow
students to respond to multiple choice questions or key in a numeric
answer. The clickers can also be used to give quizzes that can be
graded automatically and entered in a computerized gradebook, saving
professors time. But several professors said they have avoided that so
students will see the handheld devices as positive, rather than
At the college level, the devices originally took hold in science
classes, but they are finding their way into the social sciences and
humanities, where the anonymity they offer may be an advantage. Cheit
said that's especially true when it comes to sensitive topics, such as
"People that are against it will click," Cheit said, "But they might
not raise their hand and say it."
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