Professors use electronicdevices to increase class participation

  • Clickers, or student response systems, are expanding to higher education classrooms
  • Professors said clickers help engage large lecture halls and provide instant feedback
  • Clickers can help combat the passive atmosphere in lecture halls as well as check attendance and give exams
  • Student responses are mixed about clickers, and some do not like paying extra money in class

Click. Thirty seconds on the clock.

Students furiously punch a number into their Star Trek-like clicker, waiting for their answer to send.

Ta-da! A graph appears on the screen—more than half of the 159 students were right. Shouts of, "Yes!" float through the rows.

No, Marquette students aren't training for "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire," but they're using student response systems, more commonly referred to as "clickers," in Ruth Howes's Physics 009 class.

Professors in the science and nursing departments at Marquette and at universities around the country have been using radio frequency clickers in class to help better engage students.

At Marquette, the clickers are used to take attendance, make class more interactive and keep students awake, Howes said.

Large classes can be very impersonal, she said, but the clickers can help change that.

The clickers "allow you to participate in the class a bit more," Howes said.

At Texas A&M University, in College Station, library instructors use clickers to teach students how to research and look up books.

Christina Gola, coordinator for undergraduate instruction at Texas A&M, said the library began using clickers in 2004. When students learn research methods in 15-minute sessions, it's hard to know how much information students retain, she said. The clickers jog students' memory, Gola said.

"One of the questions is, 'What floor would you find this in?' and we make it all anonymous so everyone gets to interact," Gola said.

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, she added. Gola said she surveyed around 900 students about clickers last year and only about 4 percent did not like the gadgets.

Jeff Henriques, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said when he first used clickers in 2004, he thought they would be gimmicks. Most students are reluctant to raise their hands in lecture halls, but with clickers, Henriques said students are more likely to respond.

Now Henriques uses clickers in his two classes, one with 350 students.

"I can go back and re-explain to students," Henriques said. "I get to see what classmates know and don't know."

Matt Stortz, a sophomore at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said the clicker response in his macroeconomics class is worth 5 percent of his grade. He said it helps students pay a bit more attention in class.

"It's a good thing because it almost forces kids to go to class," Stortz said.

Makers of student response systems said the clickers are quickly expanding into college markets.

Jaci Hendricks, public relations coordinator for Qwizdom, a company that manufactures the clickers, said although clickers were originally geared toward K-12 classrooms, more universities are purchasing the clickers. Out of 750,000 clickers sold, college students purchased 500,000.

"Clickers have caught on in the university level," Hendricks said. "It keeps growing and growing, and we keep getting more and more competitors."

But Peter Burke, a senior at Marquette in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he did not like paying extra money for the clickers.

Marquette uses a standard clicker from eInstruction, which costs about $20 at the bookstore and an additional $15 to register online.

"It's a nice way to get involved and active in class," Burke said. "But there are other ways of doing that without having us spend $35 for an electronic clicker."