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Clickers in the Classroom: Game Show Atmosphere Helps Students Stay Awake

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Interactive learning devices known as clickers are still relatively new, but they’re already being used by over half a million students at several thousand colleges across the country.

The trendy, high-tech tools encourage student participation, and they are transforming teaching and learning in such ways that one Rutgers professor has called them “the greatest educational innovation since chalk.”

What are Clickers?

Some colleges require students to purchase their own clickers—which can range in price from $30 to $70—while others lend them to students. They are manufactured by different companies and use radio frequency transmitters to “read” responses from students. Students register their clickers online so each and every “click” they make can be traced back to them.

Similar in appearance to calculators and remote controls, clickers feature numbered buttons which students can use to check in for attendance purposes. That’s not to say some resourceful students won’t try to find a way around that issue, though.

Professor Noshir Contractor of Northwestern University told the New York Times that he once witnessed a student bring several clickers into class. The owners had skipped class, but their clickers had made it with a friend.

Clickers are much more than an alternative to roll call, though. They make it harder to snooze or send text messages during class because professors use them to gauge student comprehension during lectures. Some students might not like the fact that their instructor can now keep tabs on them in such great detail, but others actually enjoy using the device.

“It does make you read. It makes you pay attention. It reinforces what you’re supposed to be doing as a student,” said Jasmine Morris, a senior industrial engineering major at Northwestern.

Clickers “Entertain” Students During Class

Temple University law professor Samuel Hodge Jr. started using clickers more than five years ago. He compares his classes to game shows: Hodge marches up and down the aisles, calls on students and repeats their comments into his mike during class. His classes are a mix of video clips, amusing advertisements, animated figures and clicker questions. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Hodge feels students “not only want to be educated, they want to be entertained.”

Hodge must be on to something, because preliminary studies at Harvard, Ohio State and other colleges suggest that engaging students in class with devices as familiar to them as cell phones increase their understanding of material.

Nicholas Staich, a Temple senior and Hodge’s teaching assistant, likes the clickers. “It can be very intimidating in front of 400 people to raise your hand and answer the question. There is a security in anonymity. That ability to contribute without having to worry about people laughing at you is something that most students have never seen before,” he said.

Clickers used to Answer Multiple-Choice Quizzes

Professor Bill White of Northwestern may not create a game show setting in his lecture halls, but clickers definitely play a major role in his “Organizational Behavior” course. The New York Times reports that White rarely lets 15 minutes pass without asking students to use their clickers. He even administers multiple-choice quizzes that students answer with their clickers. The quizzes comprise nearly 20 percent of students’ grades and they always begin precisely one minute into class.

White’s opinion on clickers mirrors that of Professor Hodge’s teaching assistant. “They can be very reluctant to speak when they think they’re in the minority. Once they see they’re not the only ones, they speak up more,” he said.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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