Students Use Clickers to Help Guide College Lectures

ByABC News
May 4, 2005, 10:53 AM

May 5, 2005 — -- Educators across the country are buying into a new technology that finally allows professors to answer questions that sometimes drive them up the wall. With class sizes getting ever bigger, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, it's hard to keep in touch with the students. Thus the old haunting questions:

Is anybody out there listening? Is any of this sinking in? Is anybody awake?

The new technology isn't all that new, because it has been used for years in audience participation programs designed to evaluate entertainers and products and politicians and stuff like that, but it's pretty new to education. It allows teachers to pose questions and get immediate feedback from the entire class, and none of the students need to worry about exposing their ignorance.

The heart of the technology is a "clicker," very similar to the remotes we use to run our television sets, which sends student responses by infrared signals to a computer system that displays the results instantly.

"I display a question on the screen, and the students all start to click in," says psychologist Jeffrey Henriques of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Within about a minute I've gotten responses from about 200 students."

Henriques is sold on the technology because now he can tell instantly if any of those 200 faces are backed by a brain that is engaged, or if any of the students are understanding his lectures.

Sometimes, he says, the instant result is "gratifying." Other times, it's deflating. But at least he knows now whether to go over material he covered before, because no one seemed to get it, or move on.

And the students, according to studies at universities across the country, are quick to buy into the technology because it makes them feel "more engaged," as one said, or "less likely to doze off," as another put it.

Unfortunately "buy" is exactly what the students have to do on most campuses. The clickers cost around $25 each, and in most cases the students purchase them along with their books. But since there are several programs available, mostly offered by text book publishers, one clicker will not necessarily fit all.