[Paleopsych] AP: No Wrong Answer: Click It

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Wired News: No Wrong Answer: Click It

    Associated Press
    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
    standardized tests.

    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
    affirmative action.

    "People that are against it will click," Cheit said, "But they might
    not raise their hand and say it."

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