Why I'm giving up on clickers

Feb 28 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I mentioned this on twitter yesterday and several people were curious about my reasoning, so, FWIW, this is why I'm giving up on clickers:

First, some background. I am teaching a 30 student upper level class. I had slightly better use with clickers when I was teaching a class around 70 students, but in the smaller class it doesn't work as well. I also use several forms of classroom engagement, including think/pair/share and small group paper discussion followed by group presentations, etc.

- The primary reason is that they are too damn expensive. I was led to believe that every student would essentially have one because they supposedly use them in the early classes. In reality, only a small fraction of the students have the right model that works with the new software, so probably 60-70% of the class ends up buying them for my class. Considering that 85% of them are in their senior spring, this $60 seems like a poor investment.

- But wait, there's cheaper options! Yes, there are aps available that work with our system, but I honestly spend more time trouble shooting the connection than it is worth. Between getting it to work on my side and having them make sure they have it set on theirs, I get about half of the responses from those devices. And even when it's working, about two times during class the system will log me out and disrupt my slides.

- The information I get isn't as helpful as I had hoped. And this one might be on me, but I find that pretty much every question has about a 75% correct response rate. Perhaps I need to alter my questions to make them more challenging, but the idea of sinking a bunch more time into this technology I don't think is a huge benefit is not exactly enticing.

- Finally, the students aren't engaged by this method. They'll dutifully do it, but they either get the right or wrong answer and move on. On the rare occasion I find the class response to be closer to 50% correct, I already knew they were having trouble with a concept. Using the clickers to merely confirm what I can see on their faces is probably not the best use of technology.

So given my particular circumstance, I don't find the use of clickers in my class to be a major advantage, nor is it worth the monetary investment for my students. Therefore, I won't be using them next year.

12 responses so far

  • EarthSciProf says:

    When I do think-pair-share and want to get whole class feedback in upper- level courses (18-25 students), my low tech approach, borrowed from a forgotten source, are pieces of paper printed with different colors/A B C D in different quadrants.

    Thanks again for the helpful writeup for why you dropped clickers.

  • Alyssa says:

    Sounds like good reasons to me! It makes sense not to use them if it's not working for you and your class. Good rule of thumb for all new teaching techniques.

  • Alex says:

    This last point is often under-appreciated in discussions of teaching:
    - Finally, the students aren't engaged by this method. They'll dutifully do it, but they either get the right or wrong answer and move on. On the rare occasion I find the class response to be closer to 50% correct, I already knew they were having trouble with a concept. Using the clickers to merely confirm what I can see on their faces is probably not the best use of technology.

    All too often, student engagement with trendy things is not what the enthusiasts at the workshops claim. Also, you know how to read the room, how to figure out what people are responding to. There are many faculty who know how to work with a small class, how to get the pulse of what people are getting and respond appropriately, without formal adoption of some technique that has a name and a buzzword and a cohort of workshop presenters willing to sell them books and software. Despite that, there are faculty who will insist that they really need to adopt something formal, rather than just work with students and figure out what they are and aren't understanding.

    Kudos to you for going with how things are working for your students, rather than jumping on whatever you're supposed to be jumping on.

  • Naj says:

    Can you tell me more about think-pair-share? Maybe a separate post about it?

  • EarthSciProf says:

    I should say that I use clickers in larger classes (55-70). What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another, and what works for one person in a large class doesn't necessarily work for them in a small class (and vice versa).

    Excellent point a couple of posts ago about one's experience not being universally applicable. It's often hardest to remember that when one is excited about something new they've learned and/or as a new instructor/faculty member.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Cattle prods. The only way. Check it out.

  • […] am a little troubled by a recent article entitled Why I’m Giving Up On Clickers, posted on the blog of Prof-Like Substance (PLS), a junior faculty member at a US university. PLS […]

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    I'm with drugmonkey... cattleprods. But seriously, if you don't find em useful, ditch em. I would suggest giving one more clickerish type thing a try: http://www.polleverywhere.com/ If you have 40 or less students in a class, it's free. And students use their own devices (like phones, smart phones, tablets, computers) rather than the bulky, nasty devices that are a pain in the fuckin ass to set up and purchase. I find use in it, but you may or may not. It's been a good solution to the clicker problem for many of my colleagues... just thought I'd share 🙂

  • proflikesubstance says:

    While I'm waiting on the IRB approval for the cattle prods, I'll check it out.

  • Rat Mama says:

    I have had this same conflict with clickers. I teach entirely to classes of fewer than 20, and I've had colleagues tell me that I should use them in small classes. I'm an active participant in my university's scientific teaching efforts, so I was willing to try it, but I ran into the same issues. I still need ways of checking in on lecture success and getting students engaged, but this is not how I want to do it. The clickers get in the way.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Try TopHat, clickers with smart phones.

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