Getting clickers everywhere…
By Matt Jenner, on 18 June 2012
The popularity of clickers at UCL is both satisfying and rewarding. While they are known by many monikers (EVS, PRS, voting handsets, response systems, doofers or ‘those Who Wants to be a Millionaire things’ the term clickers will be used here. When used in education, clickers are shown to have many positive benefits for learners and teachers. A previous analysis (Roschelle, Penuel and Abrahamson, 2004) highlighted commonalities and trends in 26 multi‐subject educational clicker studies. Clickers are noted to, with frequency in parenthesis; increase interaction (6), enhance the lecture experience (5), increase understanding (5), increase engagement (4), allow students to gauge their understanding (4), allow teachers to gauge their understanding (3) and increase communication (2).
While these data are somewhat crude, it but a brief segmented analysis of a rather large field. Clickers are cited as enhancing the experience of attending what is still seemingly a compulsory and largely passively didactic form of large group education – the lecture. Additionally it is important to remember that clickers continually prove themselves to be ‘low threshold technology’ (easy to start using) but with a caveat that the technology might be easy, but it’s the transformational teaching part that gets people the most.
Increased student interaction
How would you react if 300 students just simultaneously indicated that they don’t understand a key concept live in a lecture. Would you just move on? Instead, perhaps circle back for a while and go over the content some more or load Moodle with some additional resources? These are all good counter-moves and can grow into some wild new pedagogical developments (such as Peer Instruction or Agile/contingent teaching [see footnotes for more info]). From a student’s perspective, they can use clickers to instantly compare their ‘perceived knowledge’ against that of their peers, and the teacher at the front. Anonymity helps keep people voting, perhaps through difficult or sensitive questions and the participation and thinking/cognitive exercise helps to ensure students are more alert as they interact through the session. Or, as one student put it; “how nice to be actually asked to think in a lecture” (Draper and Brown, 2004).
So, they seem to work – that’s a good thing. At UCL we (E-Learning Environments – the central e-learning team) really think they work, so much so that we have been investing in the clickers year-on-year since we adopted them in 2008. We now seem them increasingly embedded in many areas of UCL life from the Medical and Physical Sciences through to Engineering and Economics. We see evidence to suggest they can work anywhere, in any group size (nearly) and would really like to see more growth in other areas such as Arts and Humanities, for example.
The typical route to starting with the voting is to contact E-Learning Environments; we can get you started with a demo and a chat about how they can be used. If you know PowerPoint you’re about 60-80% of the way there already. Once you’re confident, you can book a set for a session and we’ll come along too if you like. In addition, for those who want more, for the last few years we have been putting batches directly within departments to cut down on the loaning mechanisms and increase their use and spread within areas of UCL. For the MBBS we have even put them directly with students for 10 months.
We’re not going to hide from the fact that picking up, handing out, using, getting back and dropping off potentially hundreds of handsets is a tedious task. It takes a bit of time and muscle to hurl these things around and this has been identified as a blocker for many. This is understandable, so we’re addressing the issue head-on.
Next step – right into the room
A project for 2011/12 was to install the voting hardware (a little USB dongle) into every centrally-bookable lecture theatre. This has largely enjoyed much success, with most of the rooms now fitted with the required hardware on the lectern PC. Those who want to use their own laptop just bring their own USB dongle too – but many are using the room’s IT and so it should be enabled for voting automatically. We are not quite finished yet, so do contact us if you’re allocated a room for teaching and want to use the voting for the first time. We hope in the future all rooms will be ‘voting enabled’ or perhaps even a change in room booking to ensure the correct technology is given to those who request it…
For now we have our sights in permanent installs for student (voting) hardware in two of UCL’s largest teaching spaces. Borrowing 20 handsets for a session is manageable but 300+ is not. Two rooms have been lined up for a permanent install; Cruciform Lecture Theatre 1 and Chemistry Auditorium. A suitable ‘cage’ has been sourced from a supplier which is affixed to the desk and the clicker/voting handset sits within. This is in alignment with users of these rooms being strong clicker users, and us wanting to minimise on the unnecessary logistical operations, to allow more concentration on the teaching and learning and, we hope, increased use of the technology.
With funding being made available from August 1st, we hope to commence the work over the summer, or in early Term 1 of the 2012/13 academic year.
The future is mobile
…Apparently. We are also looking into using mobile and smart, browser-enabled devices for voting. While uptake and ownership is actually quite low at UCL, we also don’t currently demand students bring their own device (AKA BYOD) for teaching and learning activities. This may change in the future, perhaps when every pocket has a connected browser, but for now, this technology is sitting in the right place for expansion, hence our rationale for growth in this service.
Peer Instruction (Mazur, 1997) is a form of teaching devised at Harvard by Eric Mazur. He uses clickers to poll the audience on a topic or concept, they vote and then form small-group discussions. They are encouraged to convince someone who voted for a different answer to change their mind, by explaining how they derived at their answer. The correct answer is not given until the second poll, which usually shows a shift towards the correct answer (by student discussion). Finally, Mazur, the instructor, then explains why that answer is correct.
Contingent teaching (Beatty et al, 2006; Draper and Brown 2004) is a slightly more abstract form of teaching whereby there is no set, linear path through the lecture materials. Instead more direction is given from the students, who vote on questions, the results of which are used as indicators for the teacher to move in different directions.
Both forms can even happen ‘by mistake’ when clickers are used, as the reaction of the lecturer is based on the voting results and/or how they want to increase interactivity with the inclusion of the voting results.
Draper S. W. and Brown M. I., (2004). Increased interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system, Journal of Computter Assististed Learning, 20, p81–94.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction, A User’s Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pretence-Hill.
and Learning Theory to Improve Classroom Science Learning: A Literature Synthesis. Paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.