Passing a Course: It’s Quicker with Clickers!

Clicker devices make it easier for students to cheat off what other classmates press into their device, or [to] answer… for another student if he or she was unable to attend class.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also believes clickers give students more opportunities to cheat and abuse the system.

In a Sept. 4 article, the Chronicle’s Jie Jenny Zou writes, “Students purchase remotes and register the devices in their names. Those who choose not to attend large classes can simply ask friends to bring along their clickers and get whatever credit the instructor assigns for showing up.”

But hell. That’s nothing compared to how you can cheat when the whole course is online.


Editorial, The Baylor Lariat

Clickers: Smashing.

From the Rutgers student newspaper:

“[Textbooks] come bundled with various technologies, including clicker technologies,” [a university technology specialist] said. “We still have not overcome the problem caused by different publishers using a variety of systems.”

Nick Arvaneni, a sophomore engineering student, said there is one type of clicker that is especially problematic.

“We had to buy a [personal response system] clicker. Right after that, the teacher said that we aren’t going to use them anymore. … You can’t resell the clicker and they’re more expensive than the others,” he said. “Once my teacher realized how complicated it was, she decided not to use the clicker — and now I’m stuck with it.”

Andrew Abdou, a University alumnus and information technology representative for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, thinks the clickers are more trouble than they are worth.

“The assortment of clickers you’ll collect is remarkable,” he said. “Clickers in general are just an advanced way of taking attendance. They don’t keep you any more engaged or provide a more interactive class experience.”

Clickers don’t stop students from skipping out on class.

“A lot of the time, students give their clickers to a friend to click for them,” Abdou said. “One time, a professor caught a girl doing that and he smashed the clickers against the wall.”…

The Consolations of Clickers

From a student at the University of Arizona:

[I]n some ways clickers are great: they add a new level of interactivity to big, soul-sucking lecture classes, forcing students to stay more involved. What sucks about the clicker, on the other hand, is that it’s basically an indication of the permanence of the large lecture teaching method. It’s hard to find any faculty member on this campus who’ll say that teaching a 500-person class is a great way for students to learn. One big issue is that big classes force the subjects being taught to regress; that is, to be simplified and standardized in such a way that there’s always a “right” answer amidst several wrong answers. Obviously, very few disciplines are that cut-and-dried, and so the true depth of the material is lost as it becomes more and more processed for mass consumption.

What most professors will say, however, is that it’s the value of undergraduate education that’s changing. It has become more a necessity than a privilege, a ubiquitous prerequisite for marginal success in life (and a decently paying job). So the crux here is that classes are just going to get bigger and bigger — we should be thankful that nobody at this University, as of yet, has to endure being the class of 2020.

Haven’t These People Heard of Clickers and Emoticons?

From today’s Yale Daily News.

Facebook stalking in class is no longer an option for a growing number of Yale students.

In an attempt to encourage students to pay attention to lectures and to facilitate class discussions, at least two dozen professors and teaching assistants have banned, or at least discouraged, laptop use since classrooms were outfitted with wireless in 2006. Despite the inconvenience the policy poses of taking notes by hand [God yes. The whole taking notes by hand thing. It’s like not having a dishwasher.], many of the professors said in interviews that they have not received any complaints about their no-laptops policies, and a handful of them even said they received positive feedback.

It’s no secret that students using laptops often multi-task in class — answering e-mails, instant messaging, reading the news and occasionally even taking notes.

… Five professors interviewed said laptops put up a literal barrier between students and the professor, hampering discussions and a sense of community within the classroom.

“I want to interact with the students. I want them to be paying attention,” said political science and religious studies professor Andrew March, who banned laptops from his Spring 2008 seminar, “Islamic Political Thought.” “It is impossible, even with the best intentions, to stay off e-mail, the Internet, Solitaire.”

… English and political science lecturer Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03, who is teaching “Classics of Political Journalism” this semester, said his policy against laptops is no different from any other classroom regulation a professor might have — such as no swearing and timeliness.

In discussion sections, laptops also make it difficult to read the teaching fellows’ or other students’ body language, said Robin Morris GRD ’11, a TF for “Terrorism in America 1865-2001” this semester.

“By looking at students’ faces during discussion, I can look for signs of confusion, disagreement, boredom, excitement — all signals that help me determine my next move in the classroom,” she said. [Why not trash all of online learning! Hasn’t this woman heard that faceless technology’s sweeping the nation? The Atlanta Journal Constitution quotes a distance educator who tells her students “Give me a smiley if you get it.]

Taking notes by hand not only eliminates the noise of typing — often distracting in a small seminar — but also forces students to filter information, instead of passively taking notes verbatim, Oppenheimer added.

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Shimon Anisfeld, who banned laptop use from his two courses this spring, “Water Resource Management” and “Organic Pollutants in the Environment,” even used a comic strip to illustrate his point that laptop use takes away from the atmosphere of the classroom. The strip, which Anisfield showed his class the first day, depicts a student having an online conversation in class — a humorous exaggeration of the consequences of classroom laptop use. [UD‘s gotta admit that if she found herself in Organic Pollutants she might seek some form of relief … I mean, Water Resource Management, okay, sounds riveting… But Organic Pollutants might pose a problem… ]

Since enacting the policy, professors said they have seen levels of classroom interaction and grades improve.

“I have seen marvelous results,” March said. “I was ambivalent at the beginning, but I would never go back to allowing laptops.”

And at least some students are warming up to the idea, too.

In his course evaluations for “Eastern Europe Since 1914” in Fall 2007, history professor Timothy Snyder asked students how they felt about his policy on laptops. He received unanimously positive responses. One student even asked why more Yale classes don’t enact a ban, he recalled.

“Dr. Venkatesh says this goes against much of what he hears at professional development workshops that stress interactive learning strategies, often using technology.”

Duh. All over the world university tech people are meeting and telling each other how obviously superior laptops and PowerPoints and cell phones and clickers are to a compelling, knowledgeable lecturer. At many schools, they’re really shoving this stuff down faculty throats.

But whenever people bother asking students whether they appreciate dragging this crap into the classroom and looking at a lecturer’s neck as she bends over her PowerPoint, they say no. Actually, no; they don’t appreciate it.


UD thanks Jack.

‘Though not all classroom situations are suited to the use of technology, there are times when having Internet access can benefit students, according to Christopher Waters, assistant CIO and director of Teaching and Learning Technologies. “If someone is a visual learner, they might engage differently with an online tool than someone who responds well to just hearing the material,” Waters said.’

Typical pro-laptop bs. Centuries ago, still images of Picassos and volcanoes were flashed on one screen in front of students via projectors – a cheap, perfectly adequate way of providing visual material. Waters doesn’t note in his comment that laptops are about one long endless private self-service image-stream. His comment doesn’t note that instead of occasionally drawing students’ attention to one image at the front of the room, the PowerPoint prof quite often spends the entire class session hunched over images and blocks of words, ignoring the class, which is of course in return ignoring her.

But anyway. Faculty gatherings like this one at Elon College are all about the lovely PowerPoint/laptop classroom synergy coming out of the closet.

As always, it’s honest students instructing cynical professors:

“There is no reason to use them in a discussion class,” [an Elon student] said. “That’s where they become more of a distraction, because students that use them during discussions are most likely on Facebook or Pinterest.”

And as for the massive, no-discussion lectures laptops are so terrific for — this form of education is becoming obsolete, since it makes absolutely no sense to do a class of this sort in real time. Just gather all the clickers and laptops and PowerPoints and films and cellphones that you’re dragging into the classroom and, you know, take your toys and go home. Only an idiot – or someone drawing a salary – would continue with this scenario.

“He’s a clicker-intellectual…”

… says the New Republic about “over-rated thinker” Frank Rich.

UD likes clicker-intellectual, and hopes it catches on. Here (scroll down) are UD‘s many posts about clickers in university classrooms.

“Cramming hundreds of students into rows upon rows of auditorium-style seating while they listen to a professor’s voice over a speaker system does not allow for the individualized instruction officials hope to provide with the new general education plan.”

The editorial board of the University of Maryland student newspaper knows irony when it sees it. A much-touted new building with a tech-heavy 500-student classroom will be called the Teaching and Learning Center.

How good can even the best available technologies be when used in such a massive room among 500 students? While electronic clickers seemed like a pretty viable solution at one point, most students disapprove of these devices and find them an outdated waste of money.

Officials understand the importance of small classes — especially ones that are specifically tailored to the learning objectives of students in them — and have proved their dedication to bringing these types of innovative courses to the university. This editorial board is then left puzzled by plans to construct large auditoriums …

Well, but small’s a matter of degree… The University of Arizona has a 1,200-person lecture hall. So maybe administrators at the University of Maryland think a 500-person lecture hall is small. It’s certainly smaller.

And what was that about clickers? I’m sorry, but UM students are jumping the gun on that one. We still have one or two academic years to go before that backlash. We’re well-launched on the PowerPoint backlash, and of course the backlash against laptops in class is in full swing… But type CLICKERS UNIVERSITY into Google News and eighty percent of what you get will still be faculty, tech staff, and administration peeing their pants with excitement over them.

Students? Yeah, students have been bitching about clickers from the word go. But we’re still in the students? huh? lalala i can’t hear you phase on clickers.

“[T]he students must read case studies with titles such as ‘When Good People Do Bad Things at Work,’ and sit through ethics PowerPoint presentations that have nearly doubled in length since last fall.”

Hapless, high-security, high-tech, humongously overcrowded University of Central Florida keeps piling on. Its response to manifold cheating scandals (UD will quote herself here: A zillion students attend UCF – lots of them take online courses, where the cheating (and dropout) rates are sky-high; lots of them take massively over-populated classroom courses, complete with PowerPoint, clickers, laptops, dimmed lights, high absenteeism, security cameras, and total pointlessness. When you experience university as a series of variously degrading, intrusive, and stupid experiences, you don’t respect your school, and you don’t feel inclined to act toward it with much integrity, since it doesn’t seem to be acting all that well in regard to you. ) is to flay students with doubleplusgood PowerPoints. This is so the answer to your problems, UCF!

“It’s almost spooky trying to address a room of people who[se] eyes are downcast and blank and who are zoned right out of their minds on addictive devices. The distracted users often have no sense whatsoever that they’re in a shared public space — they play loud games, huddle together in small groups to laugh at who knows what on the screen as though they’re alone, ask me to repeat information I just gave in a loud, clear voice because even though we were only metres apart at the time they were in dreamland…”

Well, we know all of this, and the only contribution the Canadian professor I’m quoting makes is a literary one: He puts a nice Edgar Allan Poe twist on the sheer creepiness of teaching to a laptop.

Creepier still is the way, sufficiently massed and sufficiently angry (think five hundred laptoppers herded together for PowerPoints and clicker tests), these students begin to stage a Revenge of the Zombies. The professor, for instance, is commenting on an article about an engineering class at Ryerson University:

Paper airplanes thrown at professors, music and movies played aloud on laptops and chattering cell phone users are causing engineering instructors to pack up and leave.

In an announcement posted on BlackBoard Oct. 19, first-year engineering instructors Robert Gossage and Andrew McWilliams announced two measures to deal with the “constant disruptions” in General Chemistry lectures.

The first was a three-strike policy. After three warnings the professor would walk out and it would be up to students to learn the rest of the lecture material on their own. The second was to make test and exam questions harder, since “the class appeared to know the material well enough so as not to listen during lecture.”

“Chemistry has been the worst,” said Adam Rupani, a first-year engineering student. “I was sitting in the first row and couldn’t hear the professor.”

Oh, but there’s some good news!

Rupani said lectures have been better since the removal of clicker tests that were at the end of each lecture. Students got bonus marks just for taking the test, but without it, some of the rowdier students decided to skip class.

“People won’t come if there’s nothing going on,” said Rupani.

Truly the introduction of enormous classes, PowerPoint, laptops, and clickers has been a boon.

To journalism. And to YouTube.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm

So sad, when a high-ranking administrator takes to the local paper to try to calm the populace.

In the wake of the University of Central Florida cheating scandal – brought on by the exquisite synergy of a professor who couldn’t be bothered to write his own exam (“Prof. Quinn barely created anything at all. He just pulled questions from a source that the students had access to as well and copied them verbatim. It would seem that, even if you think the students did wrong here, the Professor was equally negligent. Will he have to sit through an ethics class too?”), and students who, sensing he couldn’t be bothered, found the online exam he used and copied it – the school’s provost natters about how much integrity the school has, how this was an isolated incident, and how they’re going to “add to and improve upon our existing safeguards.”

A zillion students attend UCF – lots of them take online courses, where the cheating (and dropout) rates are sky-high; lots of them take massively over-populated classroom courses, complete with PowerPoint, clickers, laptops, dimmed lights, high absenteeism, security cameras, and total pointlessness. When you experience university as a series of variously degrading, intrusive, and stupid experiences, you don’t respect your school, and you don’t feel inclined to act toward it with much integrity, since it doesn’t seem to be acting all that well in regard to you.

UCF must sense how unpleasant its transformation into a Vegas casino, bristling with security cameras, is, since the provost lists all sorts of behavior-improvement initiatives on campus, but doesn’t mention this one. And this is the one that’s gotten the most press.

UCF is a failed enterprise. It has too many students, and professors can’t handle it. Pretty much everything it does reflects badly on the American university. It should shut its physical campus and enter fully into online oblivion.

Let them be human lives

University of Alabama students chose Lawrence Kohl, a history professor, to give this year’s Last Lecture.

… Kohl said scientific thinking dominates every other way of thinking. Many modern-day scientists know people will like what they discover or create because people now rely on technology, he said.

“Our age has become disillusioned and dissatisfied with what humans can do,” Kohl said.

According to Kohl, the 21st century is a time of competition — countries compete, humans compete and even schools compete…

Humans use drugs to increase athletic performance beyond their natural ability, Kohl said.

… Kohl discussed how educators now have a misguided worship of technology, where they prefer the new over the old and compare the real to the virtual. Also, instructors should trust students to be able to learn without all [the] new technology in the classroom.

… The scientific mind is reshaping education to make it more reductive, Kohl said. One example is the goals and objectives instructors have to put on the class syllabus. According to Kohl, it is wasteful, corrupting and destructive of proper teaching. Some instructors may even create goals which are easily achieved.

… He mentioned that the clickers many UA students use are a great example of the reductive scientific mindset. Every technique will not necessarily work for every class or for every set of students.

Kohl said he disagrees with educators who claim that young people are better at multitasking than older generations.

… He said most people think new is always better than old, and this can be destructive because people may accept educational techniques without looking at their usefulness, necessity and implications.

… Humanities and fine arts, especially, cannot replace an instructor with technology because technology can cause the course to lose its value to students, he said.

Kohl gave an example of students who may be looking forward to taking a class taught by Rick Bragg, only to discover he is teaching the course through pre-recorded videos. Kohl said students would likely be disappointed, and a lecture can be a life-changing experience.

“Much of my career has been shaped by those who have long passed away,” Kohl said. “We need to create an educational environment of, by and for human beings.”

Kohl pointed out instructors should live up to the University’s slogan, “Touching lives.”

“Let them be human lives, and let them be touched by human minds,” Kohl said…

What happened to being able to answer out loud?

A student at the University of Wisconsin River Falls talks about clickers.

What happened to raising your hand? What happened to being able to answer out loud? Reliance on technology may be the reason people with doctorates resort to PowerPoint and point and click in order to manage their classes. I understand the application in rooms of over 200 students. However, if no one else has noticed, our school holds a 30-1 ratio.

i heart clickerclass

… I have two classes involving PRS, and the bugs still haven’t been worked out. In fact, last week, the system did not work at all for my chemistry class, and in biology it took more than a few minutes until the system was up and running properly.

So, does this spending of extra money and effort mean enhanced learning? The PRS is supposed to let professors see if their lecture has “stuck” with students, and if not, adjust accordingly. It also stimulates classroom participation, but listening and interacting is still in the hands of the students. With the introduction of PRS, the focus is shifted from actually understanding the material to making sure you get an answer into the system to get credit for the day.

I see how the PRS is effective in bringing people to class, but having to sit through an entire lecture just to press a button is a bit ridiculous. The PRS does not enhance my ability in the classroom, it just makes me resent having to lug around another piece of technology while wasting time to get it to work when the professors should just be teaching. I have a hard enough time getting my lazy self to go to class. I don’t need to have to remember to bring this random clicker.

Luckily, most professors drop about 10 PRS grades over the span of the entire semester. This amounts to a lot after one takes into account how many times the system collapses on itself and forces professors to give out free points. Professors also find other ways to counteract the failings of PRS. In my biology class, the professor gave a survey for extra PRS points, and I expect other professors do the same. Professors try to accommodate … the faulty system, but it doesn’t always work.

… Fred Zinn, Sr., designer of instructional technology at the Office of Informational Technology at UMass, described possible reasons behind trouble with PRS reception in series of blogs. Although very helpful, the blogs suggest that incorporating PRS into a course is a huge burden.

According to Zinn’s blogs, PRS could be adversely affected by its receivers being too close to laptops, low batteries in the remotes of the students, and more than 200 students using the same receiver. The blogs also report faculty losing data by minor mistakes when using the system.

The web page suggests that instructors having difficulty should set up a one-on-one consultation with the Instructional Media Lab. Professors already have enough on their hands, it isn’t necessary to bog them down with even more.

As class sizes continually get larger, devices like the PRS will become more prevalent, even though this contributes to their failures. The only method of teaching proven to be glitch-free is writing notes on the board and taking notes with a pen and paper, and that is what we should be doing…

PowerPoint, laptops, clickers – universities cynically load them on “as class sizes continually get larger.” And it looks as though students are beginning to get the picture.

Are you and your professor being turned into robotic nullities?

Click A for Yes.

When you know you’re being cheated…

… you start to get militant. Here’s the Boston College student newspaper editorial board.

[A]n overload of technology in the classroom has become a hindrance rather than a help to the learning process and that a return to the basics of teaching and note taking methods would benefit all.

All too often, laptop screens flash Facebook news feeds, the latest from “The Sports Guy” on, or the newest headlines on The New York Times. These online activities are a distraction not only to the participants, but also to those in the surrounding seats.

The issue of technology abuse is happening both in the desks and behind the podium. Increasingly, professors are relying heavily on teaching aids such as PowerPoint instead of the classical and traditional method of lecturing. A professor’s use of technology in the classroom, if not utilized properly, can create a teaching crutch that may be indicative of a larger wound. Appropriate teaching with technology is possible, but it can only be undertaken and utilized by the professors who are already skilled and excellent communicators.

Concerns about the overuse of technology in the classroom have created a new and vocal “teach naked” movement spearheaded by educators like Jose Bowen at Southern Methodist University. Additionally, research presented in both The Chronicle of Higher Education and the British Educational Research Journal suggests that students are more disengaged when computers are used in the classroom, and it is the lively debate and round-table discussions with peers that they found most valuable and memorable.

If this is an issue for students watching a PowerPoint, just imagine the additional negative effects of retreating behind a personal computer screen.

Some may argue that taking notes with a computer allows one to be more thorough, as most of us can type faster than we write. In reality, however, laptop note-taking prompts students to mindlessly type word-for-word what professors say or project in a presentation. With a notebook, students are forced to process what the professors say, to fashion ideas in their own terms, to paraphrase. Computer note-taking provokes regurgitation; manual note-taking provokes thought.

[W]e as students need to consciously make the decision to set aside our Facebooks or “farms” during the time we spend in lectures.

It’s a sad sad situation… Though I’m sure we’ll be able to find some stuff to laugh about… Like…

Like the fact that many universities have committed gazillions of dollars to high-technifying every second of class time — making laptops mandatory onaccounta they’re so great; making everybody buy cartloads of clickers — and now students are in rebellion.

Like the fact that universities are going to have to start trotting out their technospecialists on staff to give speeches to the students about how it’s actually obviously in their best interests to be taught by technoids instead of people… Latest thing and all… you won’t be ready for the big bad world out there if you’re not a technoid too…

But the students won’t listen and they’ll keep getting more naked in the classroom and insisting on their professor being naked and the school will keep issuing the professor more techo-clothes and putting the professor in more how-to-teach-like-a-technoid workshops…

When all that technology outlay turns out to be wasted money… When students become human beings and professors become technoids… Well, it’ll be fun to watch is all I’m saying.

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