The Costs (and Benefits) of Clickers

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education includes an essay by Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, titled “Classroom Clickers and the Cost of Technology.”  (You’ll need a subscription to the Chronicle to use that link, unfortunately.)  In his essay, Bugeja expands on a few points he made about clickers in a prior essay.  I thought I would respond to a few of his points here.

I agree with some of Bugeja’s takeaways from his institution’s experiences with clicker vendors.  He argues that students should be involved in decisions about instructional technology, that chief information officers should be consulted by departments making such decisions, that faculty adopting technologies should be aware of not-so-obvious costs of using these technologies, and that administrators should be prudent when conducting cost-benefit analyses of new instructional technologies.

Those are all very sensible points.  However, I see some problems in the ways Bugeja uses clickers as an example in support of these points.  The fundamental weakness of the essay is that Bugeja seems to be doing a cost-benefit analysis on clickers without paying much attention to the benefits portion of that analysis.  As well-referenced as the cost portion of his analysis is, he fails to consider any of the research looking into the impact of teaching with clickers on student learning.

For instance, he quotes Ira David Socol of Michigan State University as saying, “The idea of wasting money on a device no more sophisticated pedagogically than raising your hand drives me nuts…”  However, there’s strong evidence (Stowell and Nelson, 2007) that when the hand-raising method is used, fewer students participate and students are more hesitant to answer questions honestly than when a classroom response system is used.  Those are significant differences and to ignore them is to fail to accurately describe key benefits of using clickers.

Bugeja also writes that had students at his institution been asked to weigh in on the cost-benefit question regarding clickers, “they probably would have said no because of excessive student fees.”  I can’t speak for students at Iowa State, but a number of published studies of student perceptions of clickers, including Trees and Jackson (2007), MacGeorge et al. (2007), and Kaleta and Joosten (2007), indicate that students respond positively to clickers, particularly when clickers are used in ways that engage them in class and provide them with feedback on their learning.  It should be noted that in the studies I just listed, students were required to purchase their own clickers.  Thus, there is evidence that students see the benefits of clickers outweighing the costs.

A second weakness of Bugeja’s argument is that he discusses the cost side of the cost-benefit analysis by focusing on the cost to install and maintain infrared-based classroom response systems.  IR systems are indeed costly to install and maintain and a bit of a pain for faculty and students to use.  However, arguing that classroom response systems aren’t worth the cost because infrared-based systems are costly is a bit like arguing that automobiles aren’t worth purchasing because steam-powered cars are a pain to use.  Very few colleges and universities are still using infrared-based clicker systems.  The radio frequency systems now in common use eliminate almost all of the installation, maintanence, and usage problems of the infrared systems.

As Bugeja points out, at Iowa State relatively few faculty members used clickers when the infrared system was the only one available.  When the easier-to-use and more-reliable radio frequency system was made available, “users then multiplied throughout the university.”  Bugeja makes good points about the costs involved in supporting early versions of clicker systems, but given how usage increased when more mature technologies were made available, I think a stronger takeaway is that institutions should be cautious when implementing new technologies.  Waiting for “version 2″ can help institutions avoid costs.  Universities now in the process of rolling out clickers widely can take advantage of the more mature radio frequency technologies and thus avoid all the hassle of the older systems.

There’s more I could say about this essay, but I’ll stop here for now.  I encourage you to respond to Michael Bugeja’s essay as well as my thoughts in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in Campus Support, Essay, High-Tech Options, Low-Tech Options, Student Perceptions, Vendor Adoption. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The Costs (and Benefits) of Clickers

  1. Jeff Stowell says:

    I would agree that early adopters have to pay a price for new technology, in terms of time and money. If I had to buy a calculator to do simple math, the investment wouldn’t be worth it. However, if I could do new things with a calculator that I couldn’t do before, then I could really start to evaluate the cost vs. benefit. Besides the benefits mentioned above, I have other data that suggests there is a significant difference in the type of feedback you get from students when using clickers verses hand-raising in the context of controversial questions. As with any technology, it’s effectiveness will depend on how it’s used and the characteristics of the students who are using it.

  2. Ira Socol says:

    Though I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with Michael Bugeja as he wrote this article, my arguments are very different. Clickers are, in my mind, instant anachronisms – not new technologies at all. http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/02/instant-anachronism.html

    They are typical of the worst of educational technology adoption – vast expense used to preserve the classroom power structure as it is.

    I use two much less expensive tools in my classroom – both of which allow actual two-way communication. PollEverywhere – http://www.polleverywhere.com/ – which allows students to do all the same things as clickers, but with the mobile phones or laptops they already own, plus, asking actual questions, giving “long” answers, and challenging what I am saying – and Today’sMeet – http://todaysmeet.com/ a registration-free Twitter-like feed which, in my experience, brings the classroom back channel forward – http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/11/bringing-back-channel-forward.html

    Clickers waste student cash. They waste university resources. They are insufficiently transformative – and thus not worth the investment. And, as I think Dr. Bugeja indicates, they are simply a text-book publisher profit center with faculty acting as high pressure salespeople. These publishers can’t sell many overpriced “work books” anymore, so they have jumped on this fourth rate technology in order to preserve their profit margins.

    And as one of the biggest proponents of classroom technology you will find, I find the embrace of clickers by the academe as one more bit of embarrassing evidence that the educational establishment is fast becoming completely irrelevant.

    – Ira Socol

  3. Thanks for your sensible evaluation of my essay, but you’re missing the point. It’s not whether clickers benefit learning or not; it’s how easily academe was manipulated by marketers. Unless you address that, you’re misrepresenting the essay.

    Your viewers can read the essay in its entirety here: http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=ywrFrk6Zsgjjz2bw8wkMdJg4cypNrWbp

    I agree with what my colleague and friend Ira Socol writes.

    It’s not about data showing a benefit; it’s what we’re charging students for an education and how easily a savvy marketer can sell an early adopter a hopelessly outdated device of 1970s technology.

  4. derekbruff says:

    Thanks, everyone, for stopping by my blog and commenting on this post.

    I agree with Ira that there’s value in utilizing multifunction mobile devices that students already own. Asking students to spend money on a device that can only be used for one function (responding to in-class questions) should only be done if the benefits outweigh the cost. I would argue that the same cost-benefit analysis should be conducted for other items students are asked to purchase, such as graphing calculators and textbooks. (Ira, do you have your students purchase these items, given that mobile devices’ calculator programs and Web access can replicate their functions?)

    Given Ira’s use of Poll Everywhere, it seems he’s not opposed to the pedagogy of classroom response systems, just the implementation of this pedagogy via the dedicated devices known as clickers. Although, given his comment about hand-raising, I suspect that he sees multiple-choice questions as too limited to be of much use. I see clear value in the pedagogy, including the use of multiple-choice questions, for transforming the classroom dynamic in productive ways–sufficient value, perhaps, to warrant the costs that Michael points out in his essay. The implementation of this pedagogy can vary (clickers, mobile devices, whatever comes next), which is why I focus in my book on the pedagogy (how to write effective questions, how to practice agile teaching, etc.), not the particulars of the technology.

    I’ll also agree with Jeff that early adopters pay a price in terms of time and money. Prior to a couple of years ago, there weren’t cheap and easy-to-install-and-use classroom response systems available to faculty members, but there were faculty members sold on the technology. The early adopters weren’t sold a line by textbook publishers or clicker vendors (two groups that probably shouldn’t be conflated to the extent they are in Michael’s essay). In fact, the real early adopters built their own systems from scratch.

    It’s unfortunate that the first commercial products, the infrared systems developed to meet a faculty need, were hard to use and costly. It’s also unfortunate that on some campuses, individual students had to purchase two or three different kinds of clickers. I wonder, however, what alternate path would have led us to where we are today, with RF and mobile device systems available that are cheaper and easier to use? Ira or Michael, if you could step back in time to 2002 or 2003 and give advice to a faculty member interested in using a classroom response system, what would you say? How could the faculty member have implemented the classroom voting pedagogy in a time- and cost-efficient way? Cell phones certainly weren’t an option back then.

    This brings me back to Michael Bugeja’s point that academe was easily manipulated by marketers. His essay provides evidence that clicker vendors and textbook publishers promote the technology in order to increase profits. His essay also critiques some of the more questionable business practices used by some of these companies, which is a sensible thing to do. I’m not convinced by his essay, however, that faculty members start using clickers primarily because of the marketing efforts of these companies.

    In my experience, faculty members decide to use classroom response systems when they hear from their colleagues how these systems can promote student participation, engagement, and learning. They then look around for a technology that supports the classroom voting pedagogy, one that is easy to use and as inexpensive as possible. That’s when the marketing kicks in, but it’s only after faculty have already been sold on the pedagogy by their colleagues.

    Yes, the process that got us to where we are today with technology was messy, but I would argue that it was driven primarily by faculty, not by marketers.

  5. Derek, if you believe that marketing kicks in when a need arises, as it did in the 1950s, using such defenses as “in my experience,” you’re a prime target in a datamining age. As Ira can attest, this essay involved an almost one-year investigation. I have reams of data and examples that I didn’t include in the article, which had a 1900 word limit, concerning the exploitation of academe by corporate vendors. Perhaps cost containment is not an issue at Vanderbilt; but at Iowa State, where student debt is the greatest in the nation, many instructors believe that we have an obligation to assess what we profess–not only in terms of engagement–but also in terms of containment.

  6. Ira Socol says:

    Derek,

    I appreciate your response and the conversation.

    Let me say a couple of things. It has been a few semesters since I even asked students to buy books, much less anything else class specific. I would ask, if I thought that was the best delivery system I had (wish I could assign my own book, but alas…). I don’t “steal” materials for my students, but we work whenever possible with open source materials. If I needed calculators (and I don’t), we’d have them on our phones, or, for many years now, on our computers (including full graphing calculators for free, such as Graph-Calc).

    I work at a state university which has raised tuition every semester for the past three years, in a state with a critically low 4-year-college graduation rate, in the only developed nation in the world where students routinely drop out of higher education because of costs. So I’m with Michael on costs. I am a firm believer in transformative technology. And that “transformational capability” is a big part of my cost/benefit calculator. So if I suggest laptops and/or smartphones for students, broadband, etc., I want education to improve (especially for the large percentage of students our system currently fails) and costs to, at least not rise, but preferably fall.

    Thus, if a single device, one already owned by most students, can be used in multiple ways, from content delivery to classroom response, from peer-to-peer communication to serving as a writing tool – and if the ways that device can be used alter the educational environment in ways which allow greater levels of student success, I see a win-win situation.

    Michael Bugeja and I will (and have, extensively) argued about who controls new media, about the impacts of distraction, and about the impact of commercial interests on the classroom, but where I think we find much common ground is the need to be fully aware of what and who we let take control of the education we offer our students, and the need to be very aware about all of the impacts of our technology choices.

    So, no, I don’t believe in the value of multiple choice questions. First, I believe that creates – in a multitude of ways – a false impression of how both actual education and society works. It suggests limits, and I don’t think that’s a role for educators. It makes evaluation into a game, and I don’t think that’s right. And it blocks “the better answer,” which we should never do.

    I do, however, believe in lectures. Saying that, I also know that most university lectures range from “awful” to “you’ve got to be kidding.” But in those cases we will not improve the experience through a technology which continues to concentrate power in the hands of the bad lecturer. What I like about TodaysMeet (etc) and PollEverywhere is that I, if I’m babbling nonsense up front, will get the message pretty quickly. And even if I’m doing a good job, I will hear the questions being asked in the room. That, in my experience, transforms. And does so at an extremely low cost – a cost I can help cover by, say, paying for polleverywhere but not using the course’s copy center account (nothing is on paper) and not asking the students to buy books.

    And just a note on “early adopters.” Yes, every time I switch I overpay for my new phone because I’m “one of those.” That’s all right, as my decision. But this is not something universities should be engaging in with student money. Universities have an obligation to use technology with the best possible cost/benefit status. And yes, that includes textbook choices and the choice to use textbooks (books are a technology). The amount of waste I see in university technology adoption – the vast expenses to create unique on campus solutions where open source and inexpensive commercial solutions already exist, really frustrate me. Michael Bugeja rightly worries about the power of, and the agendas of, companies like Microsoft and Google. I worry equally about the power of, and agendas of, the publishers and educational equipment suppliers who hold such cozy positions on our campuses.

    I will leave it to Michael to make that case most clearly. I was lucky enough to see a bit of his mountains of evidence, evidence which matched my own observations quite closely. Hopefully he has another book in the works.

  7. derekbruff says:

    Michael, I should probably clarify that my “experience” includes conducting hourlong interviews with 50 faculty members from a variety of disciplines and institutions, many of whom were recommended to me by my colleagues at other teaching centers as faculty members using clickers in interesting and effective ways. I didn’t mean to give the impression that I was just providing a little anecdotal evidence for my assertion that faculty are more influenced by their peers than by marketers.

    I just read your essay again, and, in spite of all the evidence you offer that commercial companies often attempt to persuade faculty to buy their produces, even when those products aren’t cheap or easy to use, I still don’t find much evidence in your essay that faculty members are swayed by these attempts. Among the evidence you were not able to include in your essay due to the word limit, did you interview faculty or staff who work frequently with faculty and ask them about the factors that influence their educational technology adoption decisions?

    I’ll also point out that cost containment is an issue at my institution, although it may not be as much of an issue here as it is at some other institutions. When faculty and staff realized that students here were being asked to buy two or three different types of clickers, there was a push to standardize on a single vendor. I was part of those discussions here, and cost to students and cost to the institution were primary factors in the decision-making process.

    Ira, thanks for taking the time to compose a very thoughtful reply just above. I’ll try to respond to it later today when I have a little more time.

  8. Lesya Hassall says:

    Derek:
    I am not sure I agree with Dr. Bugeja’s comment that unless you get his point about the vendors’ manipulation of the academe you are misinterpreting the essay. A reader is absolutely entitled to his/her own interpretation of the material he/she reads. In fact, a thoughtful and critical reader MUST sift what he/she reads through the lens of his/her own experiences. You did just that – critically interpreted what was written by Dr. Bugeja, because your teaching and learning experiences as well as a number of published research that you are aware of challenge Dr. Bugeja’s points. I think Dr. Bugeja is pleased with a critical reader like you – something that he is himself, judging by his comments.

    If you noticed, this article is published under the Commentary section of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle’s submission guidelines say: “Opinion pieces for Commentary and the Point of View page should adopt a clear point of view, not simply review both sides of a debate.” This is exactly how the essay is written – Dr. Bugeja chose a side and stands by it, and reviewing both sides of the debate is not part of the deal. In fact I was disappointed to see The Chronicle’s policies on responding to Commentary pieces: “Although we welcome unsolicited manuscripts, we do not accept opinion pieces that respond to pieces we have already published.”

    This said, I do appreciate Dr. Bugeja’s perspective – the cost will always be an issue and I value Dr. Bugeja’s efforts to remind us about it. I also know that I have seen very interactive audiences in classes where very sensitive topics were discussed (e.g, human sexuality and family abuse), and clickers gave a voice to those who just simply do not dare to raise their hands (hence Dr. Socol’s suggestion that clickers are no more pedagogically sophisticated than raising a hand does not agree with how I understand the clicker technology). I also witnessed very excited international classrooms in which the shift towards learner-centered teaching happened thanks to clickers. I also know of cases where the clicker cost was offset by the pedagogical approaches where one clicker was used per group of 6 students very successfully.

  9. Ira Socol says:

    Just a note for Lesya. I won’t say much about my sense of the value classroom surveys of late adolescent sexual practices or incest. Though I’d rather leave the surveys to public health professionals and the counseling to trained mental health professionals, if an instructor “must” do this there are dozens of free ways to collect this data confidentially. So I simply don’t buy that argument at all. We do a lot of anonymous response, but we do it through group Google Account logins and group Google Docs – that’s just one example. The reason Today’sMeet was built the way it is, was largely to allow for anonymity when desired.

    But most studies showing the value of clickers demonstrate improvements via what I call coercion – http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/06/coercive-technology.html – attendance increases when more value is placed on attendance, etc., which certainly seems true. (though in every observation I have made of clicker use in lectures, there is at least one student running multiples for friends) It also seems logical that, contrasted with a course with no student input, a course with some student input seems improved.

    The question is thus not, “Is student response a good thing/” The question is, “What systems allow the most flexible range of student responses for the lowest cost?” Because I do not see “learner centered teaching” coming from multiple choice questions, or “yes/no” questions, unless the students are creating, and asking the questions.

  10. derekbruff says:

    Thanks, Lesya, for pointing out the Chronicle’s submission guidelines for opinion pieces. Michael Bugeja’s essay didn’t look at the benefits of clickers to student learning, but, as you point out, it didn’t need to given the parameters the Chronicle has set for such essays.

    I worry, however, that Dr. Bugeja has left readers with the impression that clickers aren’t worth the cost. That was likely one of his goals in writing the essay, but it’s a misleading conclusion, given that he leaves out any serious discussion of the benefits of clickers and his discussion of the costs focuses on practices such as the use of infrared systems and the bundling of clickers with textbooks that are increasingly rare these days.

    I hope that in my post above, I’ve highlighted a couple of important issues–the benefits of clickers to student learning and engagement and the positive response that students typically have toward clickers–that provide a fuller picture of the cost-benefit analysis. It’s clear from Dr. Bugeja’s comments here that he wasn’t intending a cost-benefit analysis in his essay, but I think it will be hard for readers not to think that he was.

    I don’t really want to undermine one of Dr. Bugeja’s central points in his essay–that colleges and universities should be prudent in their use of educational technologies. I agree with that point, but I find his arguments about clickers as an example of his point incomplete and misleading.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  11. derekbruff says:

    Ira, thanks again for continuing this discussion. Would you mind letting us know what kinds of courses you teach? I think it would help us contextualize your classroom practices as you describe them.

    As for the value of multiple-choice questions, in some disciplines, particularly the sciences, multiple-choice questions with single correct answers can be extremely useful in discovering and addressing student misconceptions. The Force Concept Inventory, for instance, is a multiple-choice assessment of first-semester physics concepts in which the incorrect answers to questions are based on common student misconceptions, once discovered through fairly rigorous educational research.

    In other disciplines, particularly the humanities, I think it’s important to see that in-class multiple-choice questions can function very differently than multiple-choice questions that appear on exams. A MC question on an exam must have a single correct answer for grading purposes, which limits the use of these questions in probing students’ critical thinking skills. In class, however, a MC clicker question can serve to prompt each and every student to commit to an answer to a critical thinking question. Even if there’s not a single correct answer to such a question, if multiple answer choices have merit, asking students to weigh those answer choices and commit to one can help prepare them to engage more productively in a class discussion. These “one-best-answer” questions, questions that ask students to choose the best answer from among competing choices, can be very effective tools for helping students develop critical thinking skills.

    I could go on about the utility of MC questions (and in my book, I do, as you might expect), but I’ll stop here for now. It’s true that MC questions do not allow for the kind of backchannel that Ira uses in his class. That kind of backchannel can be transformative, just as the use of MC clicker questions to engage students and to practice “agile teaching” can be transformative. I’m glad to hear that Ira is taking advantage of tools that allow for backchannel, and I hope that future versions of classroom response systems (whatever hardware they utilize) make backchannel easier for faculty who aren’t early adopters like Ira.

  12. Everyone may be entitled to his or her interpretation of an essay, but in academe, we hold scholars to a higher standard: they should be able to view the facts and make a determination based on those facts.

    Apart from Ira Socol, what I find here are rhetorical arguments in attempting to make a simple but admittedly devastating essay as complex as possible so as to defend an antiquated technology.

    My essay is simple about one thing and one thing only: cost.

    It presents a narrative based on these facts:

    1. Marketers of deadwood–textbooks–devised a scheme to raise revenues.

    2. They opted for a pre-programmed clicker that could be used only for a given textbook–not to foster pedagogy or engagement, but to keep professors from changing textbooks because that affected revenue.

    3. The clicker used the worst possible technology, infrared, because it was cheap and available and could be bundled as “free” without affecting the bottom line too much.

    4. Early adopters didn’t care when students were carrying around 2-5 clickers. They kept doing what is being done here: overlooking cost to tout engagement.

    5. Teaching excellence centers didn’t care about cost, either, and kept trying to devise a pedagogy around a TV remote control.

    6. As more professors went to teaching excellence workshops, more clickers started to appear on campuses. But there were problems. Teachers devised complex grading schemes to take into account responses that didn’t register when a head or some other obstacle blocked the infrared remote control.

    7. IT didn’t care when it had to install 14 receivers in some lecture halls and then remove and reinstall them in another room when the professor with his outdated but clickworthy textbook was moved to another classroom.

    8. Finally, costs started to mount–even though in most IT budgets today, and I would bet even at Vanderbilt–there is no line item for clickers. That cost was significant during the infrared stage, especially for students; but only when facilities management and IT personnel got fed up with infrared–after 2-3 years on most campuses (indicating a profane disrespect for student costs)–did campuses finally begin to search for a universal clicker in earnest.

    9. Then, despite the lessons about cost from 1-8 above, many universities, including Iowa State, contracted with a vendor whose business plan counted on online registration fees that bypassed mandated rules by Regents and that had the potential to datamine students and violate FERPA.

    10. Finally, TurningPoint came up with a better technology–still antiquated, as Ira Socol points out, but nevertheless programmed to help teachers use the devise for learning.

    This inexplicable learning curve took between 2-4 years to work itself out on most campuses, costing students millions in tech fees that could have been used for software or hardware or any other properly assessed technology that had a documented benefit concerning cost vs. outcome.

    If you’re going to challenge the essay, then please respond to 1-10 above.

    To be sure, Ira and I are friends and colleagues, but we do have very different takes on technology–not because we disagree with each other’s fundamental motivation (his, to use technology to reach students who otherwise may have difficulties in the interpersonal classroom) and I (to hold down costs so that an education is not an elistist venture for the disenfranchised). Our motivations sometimes clash; but we don’t shy from confronting the facts.

    Yes, the TurningPoint system has value–chiefly because it does what it is promoted to do. I state that. But I also am raising consciousness about:

    1. Professors who scurry to IT rather than to purchasing departments for a low-bid contract with specifications that protect students.

    2. Teaching excellence centers that act as brand managers for companies who should be paying for training workshops and advertisements.

    3. Administrators and CIOs who underwrite any technology that claims to have a benefit without conducting an empirical study to test that notion. It’s easy to do, Derek. Find a master teacher on your campus and schedule her or him for two sections of the same class. In one, use a clicker. In another, use nothing. Then evaluate data from the control vs. experimental group. And decide whether the cost is worthy the outcome.

    I just may write a grant to do that and report findings in a future installment.

  13. Ira Socol says:

    Not a lot I can add to Michael’s last statement, but a few answers for Derek. I am an early adopter of many things – but they are things which typically cost very little – if anything – or which are so significantly transformative for a population that I see an absolute benefit at the cost. So, yes, back at Grand Valley State in 1998 we spent a bundle of money on software like WYNN which enabled students with “learning disabilities” to read independently and effectively (and other students to write, to see, to hear…) It was expensive but we were careful, 95% of our spending was on software which was upgradeable – and was usually purchased with upgrade contracts. This way we covered ourselves because we knew the technology would change and improve. And yes, my courses at Michigan State are now filled with uses of new technology – some of which has been developed during this year, but it all operates at no extra expense to either the student or the university.

    I teach education courses, but I’d argue that does not matter. We all deal with student misconceptions. I can take a poll of student beliefs (and do) any time without clickers. I can do it by mobile phone, I can do it with the tools within the learning management system my university already owns, I can do it with free LMS stuff like Edu2.0, I can do it with free online polling tools, I can do it with students raising their hands, but I want to do it in a way that allows – no, encourages – a genuine interaction regarding belief. As a student I found that as true in math as in history or philosophy. Understanding comes from an exchange of ideas, and the learning technologies we choose should maximize that exchange potential.

    Lastly, if we go back to the start of the process Michael describes, we already had alternatives apparent on the horizon. You didn’t need to travel, but only search Google Scholar and read, to discover that Europeans were experimenting with using their newer mobiles as interactive response systems in classrooms. (some links are probably still available through – http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2007/12/dont-hang-up-on-your-students-futures.html -) These systems were not tied in any way to content producers and were already less expensive, and more pedagogically “inventive” (and effective, in my mind). But rather than wait, we spent millions rushing through a series of poor alternatives which not only wasted money, but in most cases, became the latest joke (in student attitudes) on campuses.

    None of this is said to challenge the idea that Derek uses, and encourages the use of, clickers in ways that improve the learning experience. I’m sure he does, and I’m sure it has an impact. We could all do many things of this sort – I could ask my students to buy an $85,000 reproduction of the Book of Kells so we could evaluate pre-Gutenberg notions of literacy. Or I could require my class to pay for travel that would let us observe effective uses of classroom technology globally. But I send them to the Trinity College website for one, and we use Skype video for the other. Neither is “the perfect solution” right now, but as I wait for the next technology breakthroughs, they work “well enough.”

  14. Lesya Hassall says:

    Drs. Bugeja and Socol, and Derek:

    I very much appreciate and enjoy your responses and value your time and effort!

    Dr. Bugeja, with all due respect, if my graduate degree ever taught me anything, it is this: upholding to a high academic standard means being able to articulate my educated opinion as it is affected by my scholarly knowledge, values and perspectives. In the academic conversation that I believe we are having here, my contribution is expose my educated opinion, defend it and take responsibility for it.

    It is your responsibility as a writer to compose and publish a thoughtful essay on clickers, and it is my responsibility as a reader to critically analyze it. This is a high academic standard – allowing for a flow of alternative views, investigating the reasoning procedures behind them, dissecting the gaps in the logic and, most importantly, finding a viable solution. This said, no, I do not see your essay as simple and focusing only on the cost of clickers. In fact, by simplifying both the clicker technology and pedagogy behind it, as Derek has been pointing out throughout his postings, we depart from the high academic standard, in my humble opinion.

    In the past three days every instructor who requested my pedagogical and technical support on using clickers in the classroom received a print of your article without any comments from me, just because I, dare to hope, uphold my practice to a high academic standard and choose to point out to my colleagues the existence of diverse opinions on this technology.

    Dr. Socol, I am afraid, once again, we are simplifying this issue by referring to clickers as a mere device for supporting multiple choice questions. As Derek says in his most recent posting, a multiple choice can be a very successful teaching strategy. In fact, in the international classroom, which I witnessed and wrote about in my earlier posting, clickers helped to make that FIRST, but absolutely, not the ONLY step towards learner-centered teaching, because they offered CHOICE (albeit multiple, :-) ). In human sexuality classrooms clickers helped to not only educate students on the subject matter, but also raise social awareness. Not only clickers gave voice to those who are silenced, but also helped the rest of students come to grasp with reality and understand issues they might be dealing with in their future professional lives. There are multiple teaching strategies that clickers support and that are not at all tied to multiple choice, among them is scanning student knowledge of the previous material in order to either move along with lecturing, or clarifying the previously taught concepts.

    Derek – I apologize for taking so much space in your blog with this posting. I truly enjoy the conversation though!

  15. Ira Socol says:

    Dr. Hassall:

    First, I’m not a “Dr.” I’m a teaching grad student. But most importantly, I think you are indeed missing the point of the conversation. I don’t think I or Michael ever suggested that asking your students questions and eliciting answers was somehow pedagogically wrong. What I was suggesting is that you are choosing to use an expensive, and already antiquated, technology to do this, rather than seeking more cost-effective, and more flexible, alternatives.

    This is the false dichotomy I hear constantly in this debate. You imply a choice – you will use clickers or you will not interact with your students, or you will not survey their knowledge, or you will not offer them anonymity when that is necessary. What I think I have been saying is that you could be doing all of this, perhaps more effectively, with a bit more sophisticated level of knowledge of your technology choices and (to bring Dr. Bugeja back in), a more responsible commitment to not just cost containment, but to the environmental and cognitive benefits of not overloading students with single-function gadgets.

    I think that the emphasis you and Derek place on reproducing the functions of “good” multiple choice testing paradigms, and “good” student survey paradigms, reveals how non-transformational the clicker technology is. Yes, you are improving standard practice. And if you consider standard practice to be what is needed, and the cost of clickers very low, then yes, you should embrace them. I consider standard practice to be largely a failure and the cost of clickers to be relatively high. Thus I will not invest in clickers to support minor incremental improvement. And I surely won’t since I know of more transformational, less expensive, solutions.

  16. Lesya Hassall says:

    Ira, although not “Dr.” yet, I sure think you will be one day – we are very much in need of thinking individuals in the teaching profession. I apologize for the mistake though and can certainly use your name if that is more appropriate. Also, please feel free to call me Lesya, . If I created the impression that I wanted to emphasize my graduate degree in the previous posting, believe me – that was NOT the intent. The intent was to explain my standing on the high academic standards, :-) .

    Ira, clickers do cost our students; $ 40 dollars a piece is certainly a consideration. We should remember though that students buy this device once in their undergraduate academic career and it is good to use across different classes where this technology is implemented for the next four years of their being with the university. Now, it is relatively cheap if you look at the span of the years during which this device will be used. The TurningPoint (T)P software integrates smoothly with MS Office and Blackboard and requires no additional cost from the university.

    Absolutely, using a cell phone for participation in TP pollings would be great and Responsware Web version of clickers does just that. But, Ira, cell phones cost much more than a clicker device. Now, they are much more versatile in what they do, but they require monthly fees that are a luxury and will continue to be one for quite some time to many students, much more so in the international context, to which I alluded in my earlier postings.

  17. Ira Socol says:

    Lesya, no problem on the identifying, I just don’t like to claim credentials I have become unsure that I even want.

    I assume that someone other than your state or your students (through their tuition) has paid for Turning Point’s receiver/software bundles. and their annual licensing fees. That’s lovely, but at most schools, these are costs which must be paid. (If Turning Point was giving it away they wouldn’t have such a large sales force.)

    And, perhaps our experiences are different, but in my biggest class this semester – 56 – only one student lacked a mobile phone, and only one other lacked a massive (or unlimited) text-messaging account. Both of those had laptops, however. Internationally I find this even more true. Those friends of mine working from western Pakistan to South Africa’s Western Cape Province typically report that the mobile is the only communication system widely available. In fact, efforts are being made to supply content to students this way because books are unavailable.

    But that’s not the question, really. You could go to BestBuy and pick up – at retail – two or three pre-paid phones with text plans for less than the cost of each Turning Point receiver, and have them available for “phoneless” students, for the cost of clickers for 10,000 students (your one time cost) you could buy 4,000 of these phones and plans and pay for polleverywhere for their college careers.

    I’m not insisting that you do that, but I am suggesting that we have an obligation to consider the most cost-effective route to what we need, being as we are in a nation where education is pricing itself out of reach.

  18. derekbruff says:

    In reference to Ira’s last comment, I would like to point out that Turning Technologies, like many clicker vendors, makes their software available for free. There are no annual licensing fees. The receivers cost about $100 each, but many of the vendors provide these to schools who adopt their products at no cost. Thus, the only hardware / software costs are the costs of the clickers themselves. They run between $20 and $60 depending on the vendor and any bookstore mark-up.

    Also, it’s worth noting that using cell phones or WiFi-enabled laptops as classroom response devices relies on wireless and/or cellular networks. Establishing good signals for cell phone signals requires some work with mobile carriers on campus, and robust wireless access points can easily cost over a thousand dollars each. I point these costs out not to say that clickers are cheaper, but just to make sure that these costs are included in the overall analysis.

  19. Ira Socol says:

    which brings us back to Michael’s key question – why are vendors giving you the equipment free (or at a substantial discount over typically quoted prices if you are getting the receivers for $100)? People ask this (legitimately) about Google Apps for Education (completely free), and they’d have reason to ask about mobile phone companies putting up towers on campus. Those questions are part of the equation as well (though honestly, mobile phone reception is not an issue globally – only within the US, and I’ve never found a place on my campus where I couldn’t send a text – voice issues on rare occasion, but never text messaging problems).

  20. Stu says:

    In the K-12 arena, cost of these things is a real issue. It’s not so simple to ask every student to buy their own clicker, so they end up buying a class pod (say 30) and share it between classes. Then they learn the issues of contantly needing to register the things for each new student that grabs one. Time wasted and people discouraged.

    For those K-12 schools with 1:1 computer labs or 1:1 laptop programs, they may want to consider “Virtual Clickers” – http://studentresponsenetwork.wordpress.com/

  21. Pingback: Further Thoughts on the Costs (and Benefits) of Clickers

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  24. bloonsterific says:

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  25. Tom Wetsel says:

    1) Why do we need clickers to gauge audience participation??

    Our classes are so large we can not see the faces and we do not have time to ask questions and listen to responses. Instead we want to convert our students to percentage that responded with answer A.

    2) Please expand your discussion to include how education makes all decisions.

    It is not surprising that textbook companies have marketing plans and salemen, what is surprising is how “educators” respond to the efforts. ie if marketing and advertising was not effective then Cocacola wastes a lot of money on TV selling sugar water. Why complain about waste of money spent on clickers and not mention the bloated costs of textbooks? Are textbooks even needed now that information can be posted on the internet? Expand your discussion to include “influences on decisions” and try to identify and quantify these influences. You may need to look to marketing to help with this.

    3) Look at the “phases” of “clicker adoption” and see if you can develop the normal cycle of technology adoption.

    4) With the current low cost of netbooks and use of wifi, why would anyone need a “clicker” to a guage audience participation?

    5) Do all of you classrooms have wifi connections? Are you delivering your lectures using wifi, are you still using the smartboard/whiteboard/chalkboard?

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