March 27, 2007

Profs Find Clickers Useful in Class

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Clicker — a remote control used to channel surf on television? Maybe to some, but many students and faculty at Cornell do not think of television when they think of the word clicker. What comes to mind instead are classrooms, lectures and grades. Within the past few years, more and more faculty members have incorporated clicker questions into their classes. This new technology has allowed them to make their larger lectures more interactive and more captivating. According to some professors, students no longer have as strong a tendency to doze off in the middle of a 500 person class as they may have had before the inclusion of clicker questions.

Prof. David Winkler, ecology and evolutionary biology, has been using clickers in his lectures over the span of the past four years. Winkler incorporates the clicker questions into his grading system. Once the students accumulate a certain amount of points for their attendance, they receive a 100 percent for the “clicker” part of their grades. According to Winkler, clickers have been very beneficial to professors, especially those who teach large lectures.

“In a really big class, clickers allow you to keep in touch with all the students. They give you a lot of feedback in terms of how well the material is getting across,” Winkler said.
According to Winkler, professors are able to receive much more comprehensive feedback with the clicker questions than simply by a class survey with a show of hands.
Not only do clickers allow professors to gain feedback from students, but they also help involve students in many lectures.

Prof. John Marohn, chemistry and chemical biology, utilizes the clicker questions “to challenge the students’ common sense.” Marohn, however, does not include the questions into his grading system. “I use them as a way to get the students engaged in lecture,” said Marohn.

He considers the clicker questions to be a very effective learning tool. According to Marohn, “They force the students to try to digest what I’m telling them as I’m telling them. They force them to get out of passive note-taking.”

Despite all their benefits, clickers also provide certain drawbacks.

In some cases, especially when being graded, students are able to hand off their clickers to other students in the class to still receive credit despite not attending the lecture.

According to Winkler, “Clickers are another way in which a very small proportion of students can get a grade and not learn.”

Marohn also finds other disadvantages of using clickers.

According to Marohn, “Clicker questions are very important, but they can take away a lot of time from the lecture. I like to do a demonstration for every class, and I feel I have to choose between that and a clicker question. And that’s a difficult choice because they both teach a lot.”

Students are divided over whether or not clickers should be used in classes.

Risa Vecker ’10 said, “I get really discouraged when I’m trying to learn the information during lecture and I get the clicker questions wrong because some people don’t show up and pass their clickers on to someone else in the class. They can be getting points for their clickers when they’re not even there.”

Other students, however, are in favor of the clickers being incorporated into their lectures.

According to Melanie Gudesblatt ’09, “My professor used the questions to keep us on our toes. We wouldn’t daydream as much because we always knew a clicker question might be coming up. I also really like the fact that the answers are anonymous.”