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When clickers first came out, the coolness factor caused us to overlook some of the downsides of the systems.  Student engagement and convenience of use (for the teacher) were often the over-riding considerations when purchasing systems.  Second in line were questions of reliability and cost (of course). Integration with PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation tool in higher education and business, was also a design specification mentioned by our users.

But now that we have them, and have wired receivers into many classrooms across campus, we are getting feedback that these systems were an expensive waste of time.  Why?

Because most systems do not allow instructors to save the raw data in a format that they can reuse for other purposes.  Beyond taking attendance and showing the aggregate answers to the most recent question, most of the personal response systems in use in higher education do not have a convenient way to save student responses for download and analysis later.

Many fields of study are very data intensive.  Sociology, psychology, the sciences, mathematics, and statistics are all fields in which we would like to gather data from students and show them … right then and there … how to perform statistical analysis on the data.  Simple bar graphs work fine for quick opinion polls.  But now that we have seen how easy the audience response system is to use in gathering data, we’d like to be able to run correlations on data that students have a vested interest in.  Talk about increasing student engagement many times over!

Polling services like Poll Everywhere, however, may be an answer to collecting data from the class for demonstrating a wider range of ways to analyze and perform statistical tests on data gathered from respondents.  It by-passes clickers altogether, relying upon cell phones and laptop computers to gather the input and send to an instructor’s station that is connected to the Internet.  And face it, who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?  Or a wired classroom?

In class, I might give every student a randomly generated number that they would use throughout the term, if you want to do correlations across polls.

I know it doesn’t solve the “why did we buy the clickers?” problem.  Truth is, the decade of the clicker may already be over.

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