Grant to put clickers in every classroom
by Luanne Williams

It’s every teacher’s nightmare: the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the economics instructor tries to get his class to engage by asking fill-in-the blank questions that are met with blank stares … “Anyone? Anyone?”

Although assistant psychology professor Matthew Davis would never compare Wingate University classes to Bueller’s degenerate peers, he says faculty members are always on the lookout for new ways to get students to engage. Thanks to a Board of Visitors grant, they’ll have another tool to do so this fall. Davis was awarded $10,200 to buy iClicker bases for 85 classrooms and 20 demo clickers.

The clickers, which look like small TV remotes, and the base that interprets the clicks enable professors to poll student opinions, check for comprehension, give quizzes and get quick feedback. Students can simultaneously express their opinions and see the anonymous responses charted on the screen.

“Furthermore, clickers allow students to express their desire to go back over a topic without facing judgment or ridicule from their classmates,” Davis says, citing a 2007 study in which a two-thirds majority of students agreed that clickers led them to be more engaged in class, increased their participation, helped them pay attention, and helped them get instant feedback on what they did and did not know.

He polled faculty members before writing the grant and found that 61 percent of respondents plan to use the clickers, with another 33 percent saying they might. He believes most students are already accustomed to the technology, with web-based learning platforms such as Poll Everywhere and Kahoot gaining in popularity.

The iClicker system, which will require students to buy or rent a remote or buy an app, is designed to be more efficient and versatile than the free software sites.

“The idea with the clickers is that we already have a system set up that is integrated into the computer and can overlay whatever you have on the screen,” Davis explains. “Students like the gamification of the remote. And it allows me to quickly assess student learning and make the classroom more active rather than passive.”

He says that with a 10-minute training session, faculty members who have never used the system will be equipped to create in-class quizzes that enable students and professors to quickly gauge understanding of a new topic. With a bit more training, they can smoothly integrate their iClicker results with the Canvas learning-management system.

He says the clickers will eliminate the need to print out paper copies of quizzes and, more importantly, will help eliminate students’ hesitancy to get involved in classroom discussion.

“In most of our classes that have 30 to 35 students, you’ll usually have five or 10 who are willing to speak up during every class, but the rest are not as willing,” Davis says. “The iClicker can allow them to express their opinion in a freer environment.”

Leading to deeper discussions

The iClickers are linked to student accounts, and every student is required to register an answer within a number of seconds. Davis usually gives a countdown to encourage immediate responses, and the chart on the screen builds to reflect results.

Although allowing students to push buttons instead of giving verbal answers could be viewed as a crutch of sorts, Davis says more often polls created in the virtual environment become a springboard to more in-depth verbal discussions.

“Without the iClickers, if you are sitting in class and a teacher asks a question, you don’t have to respond, so you don’t have to decide on your answer,” Davis says. “With this, you have to answer. You have to choose one of these three options. You have to have some rationale as to why you make that choice. That process of thinking and responding helps aid the conversation that follows.”

For example, he said students in Global Perspectives, part of Wingate’s core curriculum, often tackle controversial political questions.

“Maybe the professor polls the class and the results of the poll are surprising,” Davis says. “The professor can say, ‘Here are the results of what you as a class think about this issue. Does this match up with your (individual) perceptions?’”

Although he’ll plan many of the questions he will use, the iClicker system can also accommodate spur-of-the-moment polls that result from verbal discussion.

Students can use the same iClicker remote or app for every class that employs the system. The base units are programmed so that once students log in at the start of class, their iClickers won’t interfere with the system in the classroom next door.

Prices for the remotes or the app range from $25 to $50, about the cost of a textbook, Davis says. First-year students should plan on using the system all four years. The bases will be available in classrooms at Wingate, Ballantyne and Hendersonville. Students can log into the University’s online bookstore for information regarding which classes require the technology.

“There will be a base in every classroom where the professor can go to the computer, log in, click to open the software just like a browser, select the course and hit start,” Davis says. “The base is always on, ready to receive signals from the remote or the app.”

In addition to funding Davis’ iClicker grant, the Board of Visitors also agreed to pay for nine other projects at Wingate this year, including classroom infrastructure cabling and equipment, classroom ovens for the chemistry department and an art exhibit.

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