Reading over one of my classmates’ blog, I fell upon an article on i>clicker. Ever heard of this? It is a brand which sells remote controls which can be used by students to answer to their teacher’s questions (there are a few other similar brands, but I will refer to this one as it is the most widespread). Their answers are then sent to the teacher’s computer, each remote control being identified with a number. Thus, instead of asking one student to raise his hand and answer, and without having to go through the tedious process of collecting the answers on sheets of paper, the teacher can easily know immediately who got each answer wrong or right. Useful? Necessary? Let’s find out!
I personally had the chance to use such remotes (I don’t know which brand they were, but they worked the same way as the i>clicker+, the most basic model from i>clicker) in a few Cégep classes. I found the experience very positive. They forced participation from everyone (the teacher could see who had answered), they made it easy to spot which questions made more people struggle and they added a bit of a fun, game-like aspect to the class (if even 18-year-olds liked using them, I suppose they must be a good motivation tool at lower levels!).
A lot of students seem to agree with the fact that those remotes are a big plus in certain classrooms; in an article on clickers, Leslie Intemann quotes a pilot participant on the subject: “So far, students seem to be enjoying the experience, and everyone is pleased with the ease of use and rapid response of the polling system.”
Of course those clickers, will not magically make any lesson perfect; as pointed out in this article, although they help to enhance interaction between the teacher and his class in contexts where this may otherwise be difficult, most clickers are limited to multiple choice questions. This presents a certain difficulty for teachers, who have to make relevant questions which can be answered with multiple choices.
Overall, the use of clickers is simple and does not require much preparation time or prior expertise in informatics. Thus, I think that they are an effective, useful tool that can make end of semester revision or quizzing a bit more lively and interactive. Really, their only downside is their price. But then, their isn’t a way to reach those goals without paying… or is there?
Depending on the resources already available in your school, you may realize that spending on such remotes is a bit of a waste; there are many other means to get many students’ answers across to the teacher in no time. Creating a Google Drive document, creating a class forum or asking the students to answer on a doodle or other polling website can be done with any computer that has access to internet. Thus, in schools where computers are easily available, clickers really aren’t necessary. A suggested in Mike Conley’s blog article on i>clicker, at levels where every student has their own cellphone or iPod touch (with the Text+ ap), you can even have them text answers to their teacher! For schools which follow the Bring Your Own Device way, this can be a free option.
The only problem with using cellphones or computers is that you expose yourself to the risk of having students use their device for other things, be it texting their friends or checking out other sites on the Internet. Thus, one basic choice arises: either run the risk of having students go off-topic, or pay the price for remote controls. Both options are defendable, it simply depends on how you consider the inclusion of ICTs in school!