Wireless Audience response System

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Many educators tend to associate clickers (aka audience response systems, student response systems, or personal response systems) with large classrooms.  Certainly, they are particularly valuable in those huge lecture halls, where the instructor might never even know the names of all the students.  But there are other situations where clickers can enhance your teaching and assist with course and classroom management, even in a small class.

Clickers can allow an instructor to poll the entire class quickly to determine the level of understanding of the entire class on a particular topic.  If you do the traditional probe of a class’ understanding or opinion of an assigned reading or educational experience, you may only have time to ask one or two students before you need to move on to your lecture.   Unless you work at randomly picking different students each class period, you know you will get the response from only a small percentage of students in the class – the two or three who are the most gregarious and/or the most studious readers.  Using a clicker system, you can get a sense of how well the whole class understands a topic and then adjust your lecture based on the data without putting shy students on the spot.

Clicker systems also allow instructors to poll the class on more sensitive topics or gather opinions on controversial issues without asking individual students to reveal potentially personal information about themselves.  You can ask students to weigh in on whether or not they support gay marriage, are against the death penalty, or know someone who is an illegal immigrant, for instance.  These could all be sensitive topics but valuable points of discussion for a class on contemporary issues.

These systems can also assist in classroom management.  We’ve all had classes where we have wrestled with a student or two who dominates the classroom discussion.  Getting that student know-it-all off the stage can be very difficult if we want to encourage classroom discussions or model a democratic, open class structure.  But it is also essential to keeping other students engaged in the class.  Clickers can help level the discussion field so that all students can express their opinion without giving the vocal minority the opportunity to claim and keep hold of the class’ “air time”.

Using these systems can also help you teach students how data is gathered, the limits and benefits of surveys for data gathering, and data analysis.  People usually are interested in their own data so you can use clickers as a opportunity to gather data, display it, and then work through how you analyze it to show trends and draw conclusions about what the class knows or thinks.  They will likely to be more engaged in how you create and analyze graphs and charts based on their responses than any other data set you might find.

So, consider making at least occasional use of this technology — even if you are teaching 12 students instead of 300.

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