Education Leadership Conference

Students are increasingly using classroom devices that look suspiciously like remote controls. These hand-held clickers are the newest way to increase classroom interactivity through instantaneous in-class surveys, said 2006 ELC presenter Randy Smith, PhD, a Kennesaw State University psychology professor.

"I always tell my students, 'No, it doesn't have a mute button, so don't bother looking for that,'" Smith said, at a session that also included presentations on online portfolios and digital video technology.

Instead, the controls have buttons for "yes," "no," "true" and "false," and the letters A through J. Teachers can hand the clickers out at the beginning of class and use them throughout a lecture, in place of a show of hands, said Smith. The instructor can ask a multiple-choice question, and the students can beam their answers to a central receiver, either by way of radio waves or infrared light. The receiver tallies the responses instantly and creates a bar chart, which can be projected for the entire class to see, Smith demonstrated.

Smith uses the clickers in several ways. On the first day of class, for instance, he asks students questions about their familiarity with various concepts, such as classical conditioning. That allows him to tailor lectures to students' knowledge level, he said. What's more, students don't have to be afraid to admit they don't know a term, because the responses can be anonymous.

Smith also uses the surveys to spark classroom discussion. He might ask, for instance, a multiple-choice question about what ethical responsibility therapists have if a patient reports previously being sexually harassed by another clinician. Do they then need to, for instance, report the incident to the licensing board? Students can see whether they agree with the majority of their classmates, and then hash out their differences.

Finally, Smith uses the surveys to assess how well his classes have learned concepts at the end of a lecture. In an introductory psychology class, he might ask whether taking a pain reliever to escape a headache is an example of: A.) Positive Reinforcement, B.) Negative Reinforcement, C.) Extinction, or D.) Generalization. If the majority of students don't answer B, then Smith knows he should go over the concept again.

Studies have yet to show whether the technology improves teaching, but students consistently report they enjoy using the technology--which costs around $4,000 for an 80-remote set, said Smith. "My belief is that when we get more active engagement in class, that has almost got to improve student learning," he noted.

--S. Dingfelder