Info Technology Tips and Trends

April 2005

The Emerging Technologies in Instruction Committee would like to introduce you to a new technology that you might find useful, or a familiar technology you may not have used in library instruction yet.

In this edition of Emerging Technologies " Tips and Trends," learn about the new "clicker" technology that is sweeping the nation's universities.

Clicker Culture
By Kate Adams

Personal response systems, also known as audience response systems, are being adopted by many universities for use in the classroom. Several academic departments, primarily in the sciences, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are using this technology. The first week in March I observed a Chemistry 110 lecture in which 200 students are using hand-held wireless transmitters, or clickers, to answer questions from the instructor. The clicker signals are collected by positioned receivers that then send the signals to software on a computer. An overhead screen in front of the classroom is complemented by monitors along the side walls.

In spring 2004 Bill McLaughlin, senior lecturer and coordinator of general chemistry at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, piloted eInstruction in one of the two sections in his beginning chemistry course. Student test scores in the clicker section jumped above previous scores, at a statistically significant amount. Then during fall semester 2005 he did a one-month pilot study of the InterWrite PRS. McLaughlin asked his students if the university should implement the technology. Nearly 80% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that the technology should be used; less favorable responses came from the students who were earning As and didn’t want the class pace to be slowed down. This semester McLaughlin is using the InterWrite PRS.

With the InterWrite PRS, the student buys the wireless remote clicker outright for a flat fee and registration, with a one year warranty, and can use it for other classes and subsequent semesters. The product supports user-generated questions, including “on the fly” questions. There is graphics capability and integration with PowerPoint. The on-screen display shows student response in receipt and aggregate.

Each Chemistry 110 class begins with a clicker question based on the previous lecture. Students have the first three minutes of class to calculate the answer and click. Students accrue up to 20 points for correct responses. Out of the 45 lectures in the semester, clicker responses from 13 lectures at random are counted toward the grade, with the 10 best responses counted. The total grade is based on 1,000 points. The instructor believes this motivates students to learn, and allows students to make the decision to attend class. On the day I sat in on class, 95% of the students who clicked on the previous-lecture clicker question got the right answer.

McLaughlin is interested in the impact of multimedia on student learning. He considers clicker culture as a dialogue to engage students. He often asks clicker questions just for his information, not for points, and also poses a clicker question to serve as a one-minute survey for the most difficult part of the lecture. The instructor uses the clicker to increase student time for learning. His students report that the clicker helps them study. The initial clicker question at start of class points out to students one of the key focus areas for their study.

The university is currently installing the InterWrite PRS, converting 20 large lecture auditoriums at a cost of about $2,000 each. The university is providing technology support. Faculty are on a waiting list for these classrooms.

Clicker technology gives the student instant feedback on a question, and offers anonymity compared to the student raising a hand. Clicker data isn’t everything -- the instructor still needs to scan the students to read puzzled expressions as well as the “aha” moment. Writing effective clicker questions is as essential as creating pedagogically sound multiple choice test questions. The occasional software and hardware glitches can affect the instructor’s planned lecture. Overuse of clickers can be as frustrating to students as overuse of PowerPoint or overhead transparencies of lecture notes.

What’s the role for librarians with this technology? Librarians doing an instruction session in a clicker classroom can get feedback on student understanding of search keys, database searches, etc. Assessment data can be gathered quickly. Some libraries have installed personal response systems in their instruction rooms. At the University of California Santa Cruz Science & Engineering library, instruction coordinator Christy Caldwell uses the HITT system for one-class instruction sessions primarily in the sciences. Typically she prepares 10 questions in advance and selects 4 or 5 of them to ask as the session proceeds. In addition to gauging student knowledge, she finds the data useful for assessment.

A quick Google search under “personal response systems” or “audience response systems” will yield both current vendor information and faculty reports on use of the technology in the classroom. It’s also likely the local campus information technology staff can provide an update on what is happening on your campus.

Kate Adams
Distance Education and Undergraduate Services Coordinator
University Libraries, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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