Clickers fall short in the classroom

From Smart Boards to document cameras and eBooks, technology has made its way into the college classroom to enhance learning. But are these gadgets really necessary and beneficial? While some of them may be worthwhile investments, one of them is not: the iclicker.

Professors in colleges nationwide have been using iclickers mainly to engage students in large classes and to encourage them to participate. When a question appears on the projector screen, students need to think about the material and test their knowledge by clicking in an answer.

Besides the fact that I feel like I’m living the dream of being on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” when I use the iclicker, this device doesn’t accomplish anything for me that more traditional teaching methods can’t.

In big classes without iclickers, professors have engaged students just as effectively by asking quiz questions and having students discuss the answers in partners or groups. Simply answering the questions on a piece of paper to hand in at the end of class is effective as well.

Apart from participation, iclickers have been said to be beneficial for professors in gaining feedback.

Lori Snyder, a geology professor  at UW-Eau Claire requires iclickers in her National Parks and Monuments class. She said the iclicker questions give her instant feedback of whether or not students are grasping main concepts and tell her if there are any misconceptions. However, this can be accomplished through D2L quizzes or through summaries of what students have learned.

Although iclickers may seem helpful because they quickly take attendance in Snyder’s class of over 100 students, an attendance sheet or two to pass around the room could suffice. Also, if an absent-minded student like me ever forgets to bring the iclicker to class, that person doesn’t get credit for being there. Oops.

One of the most important factors to consider is technology comes with a price. The iclicker costs $49.30 at the bookstore. Students can sometimes use a friend’s old iclicker or purchase a used one online, but often they will need to pay this full price. When a student usually only has a few classes which require the iclicker over the course of four or five years, it becomes a short-lasting and costly tool.

Andrea Powell, senior special education and elementary education major, said the iclicker may be handy for attendance and participation, but the cost is a big hindrance. A device that digitally answers questions for you is just not worth the price.

Another downside to the iclicker is its irritating tendency to malfunction. Technological issues including wrong frequencies and dead batteries are not uncommon and they continue to disrupt classes and annoy students.

The iclickers have caused problems with academic misconduct in the classroom as well. Students can easily take an absent friend’s clicker to class and use it as if the person were there. This issue is nearly impossible for a professor to monitor.

“I don’t see how that’s easy to control,” Snyder said. “I just have to trust that students realize that they are giving away their own information and their own time and they’re hurting themselves by not coming to class.”

Powell said it’s important to understand the consequences of using iclickers, so we are not using technology just to be able to say that we are making classes more digital and innovative.

Professors at Eau Clarie continue to use the iclicker in the classroom with few problems, but just because it works most of the time does not mean it is indispensable and worth the cost.

“It’s not essential,” Snyder said. “It’s simply one more tool.”