Clicking smarts of the class mob
March 8th, 2010

An Associated Press story today is a roundup on classroom clickers: At universities, is better learning a click away? One of the article’s themes is the variety of the devices in use, and whether smartphones will eventually take over as the standard clicking devices:

. . . CU-Boulder chose the device — which uses the same technology as a garage door opener and has five lettered buttons — because it’s simple and durable, Dubson said. One student’s stopped working when he spilled Coke on it. He cleaned it with soap and water and it worked fine. Students pay about $35 for them.

More sophisticated clickers run in the $60 to $70 range. Some have gaming features that appeal to the Wii generation and one can record the fastest responders.

Most, if not all, of the handful of major companies in the clicker business are marketing applications that use smart phones or Web browsers to accomplish many of the same functions.

At Central Michigan University, students in an introduction to teaching course use iPhones and iPod touches to answer poll questions and access discussion material on the Web. Students who don’t own either device can rent an iPod touch for $30 through the CMU Bookstore.

Several schools — including the University of Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and the University of Florida — have turned to a text-messaging product marketed as a cheaper alternative to clickers.

Derek Bruff, assistant director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching, said simple clickers are great at multiple choice questions. But he’s more excited about using smart phones, which allow students to ask questions of instructors, hold back-channel discussions with each other and respond in their own words. . . .

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