26.09.2019 • 6 minutes
In the previous articles, we reviewed various educational practices supported by a wide scientific literature that you can easily implement in class. Their execution is enabled by audience response systems, or “clickers”. These devices, and how to use them, are the focus of this month’s article.
Back in the day, clickers were actual transmitters with the sole and specific objective of allowing in-room communication between a teacher and their audience. Having only one button and being connected to the rest of the system by wiring, they used to represent a serious hardware investment for schools and universities. They were later replaced by wireless devices using radiofrequency signals, but the downsides were not really outdone. Smartphones have replaced many physical objects we were used to up to the 2000s. It’s therefore no surprise that clickers have met the same fate as pocket digital cameras and road maps, Wooclap being a prime example of this transition.
As with all technologies, clickers maximise their potential to support teaching and learning through good practices. In a 2007 article, Dr. Caldwell from West Virginia University reviewed the best practices that emerged from pedagogical research.
First of all, despite the enthusiasm generated by clickers among students, some of them may remain skeptical: as a teacher, you should make sure you explain to students why you are using this system, and what you expect them to gain from the experience.
In her paper, Caldwell lists common applications of clickers, such as:
However, she also suggests other less common but innovative uses:
The idea of class discussion is not new. Auditoriums were invented by the Ancient Greeks, and they were ingenious enough not to save them for monologues. Technology is not going to change this fundamental invention, but clickers in the classroom are the right tool to scale this proven practice by orders of magnitude and have fun in the process.
Without technological assistance, it quickly becomes very complicated to adopt an interactive teaching style with hundreds of students at a time. Under these conditions, students are often shy or discouraged from speaking; they are ashamed of making mistakes in public, or fear the disapproval of their classmates. There is also an expectation of passive behaviour, both on the part of students and teachers, or even a lack of certainty as to what acceptable behaviour is in a very large class.
Clickers can help solve these problems, because they allow students to vote anonymously. By visualising the answers, they become aware of the variety of ideas and level of understanding in the classroom: they will likely discover that they are not alone in the mist.
In addition, not only are the results available immediately, but teachers can access them after the lecture to take into account attendance, prepare for future courses, or for educational research.
In short, the positive effect of clickers on student performance is achieved through three mechanisms:
The use of clickers is as varied as the teachers’ creativity, and new technologies make it possible to go beyond the classic format of the multiple-choice question (“find on image”, script concordance test, and many others).
The only rule to keep in mind is that the structure of each question must meet a specific pedagogical purpose. Now it’s your turn to play!
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