Teachers and students like clickers — hand-held devices that let students send their answers to the teacher, reports the Idaho Statesman.

(Sixth-grade teacher Jill) Hanford swears by the “clicker,” a device that looks like a remote control but functions as a silent link between Hanford and her students. The clicker lets students answer Hanford’s questions simultaneously and allows her to see what proportion of the class understood the concept.

All students answer each question. But nobody’s embarrassed by being wrong in public.

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  1. Using a clicker rather than the traditional oral or blackboard response would also help bright kids. There’s a lot of social pressure on them to conform by hiding their brains, particularly when it comes to girls. Nobody wants to be ridiculed as a “walking encyclopedia” or see his/her classmates roll their eyes when the teacher offers praise for a correct answer.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    I was going to respond my how things have changed. When I was a child that is exactly what we wanted everyone to think. But then I remembered that was also true for my children. Maybe what you say is true for inner city schools now. However, it was not true for New York City schools when I grew up or for suburban schools where my children went to school. Using a clicker is school has no educational value. I know we are in the age of the Internet, but having allowing students to answer questions anonymously is ludicrous.

  3. No, Crimson is right. I am a 24-year-old college student, supposedly in school with other “adults”, and I got a 100 on an exam this week. The instructor gave the stats and said there wouldn’t be a curve because someone got a 100. A girl said to me, “He should tell us who it is, I’d like to smack the %*$& out of that person.” Whoa! LOL And I couldn’t care less because I worked hard for my grade, but it’s not so easy to be confident in the face of comments like that when you’re a kid.

  4. I’ve actually been in demonstrations of these (where I was in the role of a “student”). It’s pretty fun and I do think it’s a good way to keep students involved – and to keep teachers abreast of whether a concept’s been understood or not.

    And I agree with Crimson Wife. There is still, unfortunately, pressure not to be “too smart.” At my school though it seems to be more the guys who want to look like “good ol’ boys” than the women.

    Just as long as the students don’t expect the “clickers” to come with a mute button, or allow them to change the channel if they don’t find the topic interesting…

  5. I didn’t get the impression that the clickers allowed totally anonymous answers, but rather than the teacher is the only one who knows whether or not a particular child got the correct answer. And really, what purpose does it serve to let the entire class know about the individual child’s performance in such a public fashion? That should be between the student, his/her teacher, and the child’s parents.

  6. Clickers are fine when they work, but they can be buggy. It took a couple of months of tweaking by our IS department before the clickers in the next lecture hall stopped screwing up the results in ours (and vice versa).

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    I saw a demo of something similar in a math class. It was actually taught in a computer lab. The teacher would post the problem and students would log in the answers, so she could tell at a glance when the whole class was on the same page, or what the hang-ups were. One interesting feature was a sort of an instant messaging thing, so that students could ask a question anonymously and then the teacher could either respond by IM, or share the question with the class and respond. Seemed to be a helpful tool.

  8. It seems to me the best thing about these devices is that every child gets a chance to answer a lot more questions on his own, with the teacher getting some real-time feedback on students performance. The article clearly states that the teacher will know each childs performance. Because the clickers are only used for multiple choice questions, it introduces all the issues with those kinds of problems (e.g. discrete guessing).

    Students will not know what other students answered, but if questions cannot be solved in one’s head then other students will clearly see who completes the work first. Also, students may be able to see who presses a button first or which students don’t press any button at all. Perhaps its easier for students to cope with these social pressures than the ones involved in verbal questioning and answering.

    Given that the teacher in the article liked them so much, I suspect they can be put to good use. Well, that is unless it was some form of paid promotional masequerading as a news article. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  9. I have not had occasion to use clickers, but I can imagine they can be put to good use. I agree that some students, indeed many, may know an answer but not want to volunteer to speak, for a variety of reasons. But let’s not lose sight of the fundamentals. Remember what they taught you about all that in ed school? Remember the video examples showing students listening to the teacher? Remember how the professor would stop the tape and point to various students and give guidance on how to read their expressions, who’s anxious, who’s cocky, who’s lost, who’s bored? Remember how they told us of all the ways to call on a student, how one choice of words and voice inflection would come across as challenging or even intimidating, while other choices of words and inflection would come across as a friendly invitation to share, how to phrase your words so that a student could gracefully decline to answer without embarrassment, or how to put it so a misbehaving student would receive a threat that is both compelling and yet deniable? Remember how the professor would talk about situational language, and gestural language, that could be at odds with the surface meaning of words? Remember all we were told about keeping topics absolutely neutral, and egos therefore off the line, about long term nurturing of classroom social climate, about the social and psychological dynamics of different age groups and cultures, about dealing with and handling competion, about . . . . . . Oops, pardon me. I’m dreaming again.

  10. Crimson Wife – the clickers I saw demonstrated did not show the class who answered “right” and who answered “wrong” – just gave a general percentage of “how many got it right” vs. “How many chose these other (wrong) answers.” I think there was a database – private to the teacher – that keeps tabs.

    I dunno. I’m not an education specialist but I found the clickers fun and engaging. And I’m usually pretty much anti any new technology that seems faddish to me.

  11. tabitharuth says:

    Fifteen years ago we used the low tech clicker of individual white boards–the students could hold up their answers and the teacher could see who got it and who didn’t. It was very helpful.

  12. I teach Algebra Support and we have the clickers (aka CPS). I’m a fan, although there’s nothing anonymous about the way we use it. We give the first correct click extra points, and keep score. The kids have a blast.

    We also have the individual white boards, which take far too much time and don’t allow the kids to work at their own speed. Plus, the pens are a pain and the kids always dry them out.

    The clickers are great. We can give the kids a quiz ahead of time, allow them to work on it for 10-15 minutes individually and help kids who need it. Then we start the game, where speed of entry gives extra points. Plus, the clickers track all the performances.

    They’re very useful for lower level math courses.

  13. I first saw these when we were adopting new textbooks a couple of years ago, I’ve put them at the top of my wish list ever since.

    One thing no one has mentioned is that the kids enjoy using them, and it gives them more incentive to answer the questions. While I do not subscribe to the school of thought that teachers are supposed to make school fun, this tool provides a valuable service to the teacher while providing the students some fun.

  14. With so much money spent trying to crudely shoe-horn technology into education, it’s nice to see a device that is thoughtfully designed to address a real world problem.

    Personally, depending on the power of the software backing them up, these things could turn out to be a boon to data-driven teaching. Imagine being able to go analyze a week’s worth of clicker data to see how effective your teaching was, or look at a particular students mastery of various concepts using longer-term data sets. Way cool.

  15. I’ve used them, and they have many positive points:

    1) I can see who responds correctly, and I can set the system for personal feedback. The kids don’t know who got it right, though. Nice for that kid who lags behind not to feel singled out.

    Also, I’ve found that kids internalize the corrections better from the screen. Re-tests with similar questions have a MUCH higher average score.

    2) It does keep kids on task. They stay much more alert. Important in those long block classes.

    3) It provides teacher feedback on lessons – targets specific areas to re-teach. Also targets individual students with problems, so I can give tutoring or other assistance.

    On the down side:

    1) Expense – about $2000 per system. They can be shared by several teachers, but still pricy. Use a sheet of tagboard, slipped into a heavy-weight sheet protector, and a marker – per student class cost, about $2/year.

    BTW, the replacement costs are high – about $100 or more a clicker. And the kids drop them constantly. If you’re thinking about such a system, look for one with the lightest-weight clickers – the physics says that they’ll get damaged less.

    2) Learning curve = for the teacher – HIGH.

    3) Time spent setting up system and inputting quizzes and tests – HIGH. I did it, and it paid off later, but I estimate I spent at least 100 hours in a year’s time. Most teachers won’t spend that much time (and, in my school, didn’t).

    Clicker systems are single-purpose – as a science teacher, I’d prefer a TI-Navigator with graphing calculators. I can use that multiple ways, including as a clicker system.

  16. Linda F gave me an idea, with so many kids getting cell phones and wifi being so popular why not use them as clickers 🙂 And calculators too! I wonder is someone is already working on that. You could probably reduce the cost of the clicker to zero, even for the students.

  17. So many individuals focus on the “will it improve a student’s education?” question that they forget another important one – “will it make a teacher’s job easier?”
    From what I’ve heard, these clickers do make it easier to assess students in some situations, and on top of that, can be used to improve student participation.