April 24, 2017

KANKANHALLI | The Mandate of Expression

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I’d like to think that in 19 years of life as a Student™, I’ve amassed some degree of immunity to classroom anxiety…but what I’d like to think is not always congruous with the truth. Even now, with every fifth word I type, like clockwork, I throw a forcefully casual glance over my shoulder to confirm that no human soul is lurking within the range of vision. By extension, I guess I am something of an advocate for the laissez faire approach to learning, and this brings me to my diplomatic disagreement with iClickers.

Gone are the days of presence; reigning are the days of participation. It used to be that I felt pride and joy at simply arriving to class. At lecture’s end, I departed with a full heart, secure in the knowledge that I renounced my humble sleeping quarters and embraced the intellectual journey. Now, happiness has become costlier in a world at the mercy of iClickers. I must also engage — I must conquer the lecture, and I must conquer my classmates — to feel this same utility. Quite frankly, iClickers go beyond their advertised duty of incentivizing active learning in a barbaric manner. They make sheep out of students, wolves out of professors and pulp out of our self-esteems.

It doesn’t end there. Within seconds, you are reduced to a statistic, stripped of your humanity. I shudder to think how insulting it must be to the ancestry of mankind to utilize our snazzy opposable thumbs in this capacity: applying pressure to a slightly raised surface to decide whether we’ll be sitting under a halo or horns for the hour. In one moment, the wealth of information that you have worked all your life to gather is deemed either correct or incorrect. The color drains out of the scene, and the class is divided into the saints in white and the sinners in black. iClickers abandon the movement towards integration and reinvigorate the historical facets of classism.

Unassuming as they seem, Buttons A through E are not innocent bystanders in this scheme. Yes, these iClickers, mobile devices fueled by alkaline batteries and raw fear, bear the bulk of the blame, but its component parts contribute tremendously to the violation of the lecture hall. One wrong click could detonate your collegiate career: you become a puppet in the play of slackers. You notice sideward peeks from your peers; you are no longer the recipient of inquisitive comments, for you have nothing to offer but wrong answers. Saddest of all, you lose faith in yourself.

Let us also not forget about REEF Polling, the less flashy but equally pretentious alternative to traditional iClickers. Testing the very limits of temptation, the applet version entices you with distractions. Would you rather click a button or peruse your social media accounts, perhaps send a return email or two? With a new body but an identical mission, REEF Polling infuses charged sentiment into the previously apolitical cellular phone.

iClicker: solution for everyone. Increase participation. Confirm understanding. Measure performance. This is what an iClicker claims to do, and I know that deep down, at its core, the iClicker is trying. It’s really trying. But Planet Earth is no place for a device with such naively optimistic, lofty goals. In this ecosystem, the cast of the educational system operates on reading lecture slides after class and cramming for exams. The mandate of expression is neither divine nor powerful — there is hardly a need for evaluating progress on a daily, numerical scale. (By the same logic, how do we feel about outlawing exams?) Assembling the mental artillery is a beautifully self-driven, forgiving, noncompetitive and definitely nonlinear process.

I’m not lobbying for anything drastic here — merely the repositioning of the learning space as a sanctuary instead of a warzone, through the complete and utter obliteration of all iClickers and their offspring. But, if this is too troublesome to execute, the administration will be thrilled to know that I am not impossible to please. Certainly, there are ways to convince me of the valuable insights and benefits that iClickers bestow upon malleable, college-aged individuals. After very little thought, I reach a simple solution: if, somehow, the software were programmed in such a way that I, a receptive and sensible Student™, would always get every question right, then I suppose iClickers would not be so bad after all.

 

Priya Kankanhalli is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com. Matters of Fact appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.