Clickers – why we should have them permanently fixed in one or two lecture rooms

The following re-visits the discussion of clickers permanently fixed in lecture theatres, in particular the large lecturing spaces (over 300 people). I’ll be arguing for the longer term effective use of clickers in teaching and learning it is better in the short term not to fix clickers in one room, and use the money to provide a much more flexible solution at the Dept level.

Previously, I’ve argued that it is simply too expensive to kit out all the very large lecture theatres. This would be required as you can’t be guaranteed to get the room you need (i.e., timetabling may have different priorities than just technology requirements).

The next question is, would a fixed solution in a few rooms be the most effective way of promoting the effective use of clickers in teaching and learning? Given it’s not across the board, the following suggests no.

The first point is we are still very earlier on with the use of clickers, so the more flexible the provision the better. Yes, in large classes people argue the effort to set up is relatively high, however, this isn’t a show stopper as local strategies might be employed by giving students more responsibility to manage the distribution and collection.

Secondly, the initial phase (last 18 months) has highlighted a number of trends which are likely to continue, for instance, the growing need / desire to include more functionality in the question (free text responses), tracking responses (login), and use on summative assessment (peer reviewed group presentations). This has meant over the last 12 months providers are continually enhancing the features, and we (e-leanring) are looking at a wider range of tools and software. Consequently, the solution today is very unlikley  be the solution tomorrow. There have been some interesting developments in terms of using technologies in the students pockets, i.e., phones (sms), laptops etc., This might result in a convergence over the next few years. Overall, the shelf life of a fixed solution maybe relatively short, and the high investment level is going to increase the need to make this solution work, i.e., less innovation as we don’t want to be faced with high sunk costs we’ll not be able to recoup.

A third issue is AV at capacity. We’ve had talks with AV in the past and they are full capacity with clickers. So we can’t simply add another few hundred to be booked via them.

So given this thoughts, who might we enable larger groups and better embedding? Two approaches spring to mind, both of which involve supporting the use at Departmental level, and empowering them to make more effective use in the spaces where their students go.

1.    help fund the local provision and management of clickers. For instance, help fund Dept x purchasing 350 clickers, for them to manage from their Dept Offices (this model becomes even more appealing with the emergence of Faculty structures and offices). This is likely to increase the utilisation of the hardware / software, and remove bottlenecks. The awareness of these can be coordinated with AV and e-learning. Also the concern about all using the same technologies in the short term because of software installation / version control can be supported. For instance, Chemistry have purchased a different system, but many of their staff are looking at the TurningPoint cross campus system.
2.    provide a system where students pay a deposit for the clicker, and it is theirs for the duration of the semester. When they hand it in, they get the deposit back.

Both of these need to be coordinated with Depts to ensure they have a plan for how the hardware / software will be used across a number of units the student is studying within the Department. For these to work (and the student to actually bring them to the session), they have to be used regularly. Hence, the unit leaders and teaching staff need to be given the opportunity to work together to ensure a universal deployment.

The solution which provides the lowest stress levels of the staff (in terms of time to manage in the classroom) is the student paying a deposit (about £30) for the handset.

This model will allow us to manage the innovative change, as new handsets are rolled out (with more functionality – free text etc.,) we can re-cycle handsets to other departments / units who are just starting with clickers and have designed learning activities which do not require the new functionality.


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