I can always get myself into trouble - given half a chance. And so last week I picked up a free copy of the Lansing State Journal
while eating lunch in the International Centre at MSU
and came across a column complaining about the high cost to students of having to buy multiple "clickers"
(Student Response System remotes) for MSU courses. I read it (I've included the full column below
), finished my "Panda Bowl
" (contains no actual panda), went back to my office and quickly - always too quickly - emailed a response to the column's author. Which - in turn - created a Saturday column
by the same author quoting me and demanding answers to my concerns from university administrators.
Here's my email:"Your column today on classroom clickers at MSU was depressing. Once again we find a Michigan educational institution wasting vast sums of money (the taxpayers' money and the students' money) by embracing already antiquated technology in pursuit of antiquated teaching practices.
"Everything that a "clicker" can do, can, of course, simply be done by embracing the mobile phone and text message capabilities almost all students carry with them. This kind of sophisticated classroom interaction via the mobile phone is in use in many nations, either by using basic text-message capabilities or through small bluetooth receivers attached to instructor computers. These systems can, however, do so much more - allowing things other than guessed multiple choice answers to be transmitted. Short answers, even mini-essays, math solutions, all easily flow through text messaging.
"But what is worse than the waste of money is the way that the clicker reinforces all the worst instructional and evaluation practices, emphasizing the mini-quiz rather than the search for authentic evaluation of student learning and the kind of differentiated instruction which is the key to expanding access to higher education.
"So, the multiple clickers aren't just silly and wasteful. They are destructive to the goals the State of Michigan should have for Michigan State University."
As a friend noted in an email in response
, "We had a demo of our clicker system at the [institution where he works], and it was magical how people felt empowered by having any input in a classroom at all. It was demoed with a class full of teachers, and they were so energized it was sad to see, because it shows how used they are to being passive vessels in learning. It is clearly a transitional technology, and a more politic guy would have found a way to say that, rather than jumping in their face. But that's why America
Yes, of course, but my anger with the growing "clicker culture" at places like Michigan State University is that if universities with "top ten
" schools of education are not leading the way in educational practice, who is? And the problem with transitional technologies in education is that they all too often become permanent - technology adoption in schools being as painfully slow as it is.
But this really isn't just a tech question - it is an education question. "Clickers" feign interactivity - sort of the way the Iraqi Government of today feigns sovereignty. These remotes offer a single-direction communication system - based in purely faculty (or more often, textbook publisher) created content and context. The clickers do not ask questions, they can only respond within faculty or textbook publisher created restraints.
My friend, however, seems right. Preszler, Dawe, Shuster and Shuster
(2007) found that first and second year university students preferred lecture courses with clickers to lecture courses without clickers, and that, when "clicking counted" (that is, "clicks" became part of the grade), attendance increased, and, standardised test responses may have increased as well. In other words, something is better than nothing. Just - to extend the metaphor - as Iraqis prefer the fig leaf of their current "protectorate" status to direct imperial rule.
Which brings us back to the question, doesn't it? Or even further back. Is the lecture (as a course model, not an occasional dip into a great illuminating academic performance) still a legitimate learning model? If it is - if we are to continue to dehumanise (de-individualise) education this way - shouldn't we be jumping ahead to the best possible systems? And whatever that decision, shouldn't we be (if only on cost or environmental bases) using ubiquitous technology to do this? Shouldn't we be using (at least) individualisable technology to do this? (if only on equity grounds for students with differing capabilities)
The clicker is, of course, an instant anachronism. It is one more try by the educational powers-that-be to limit the capabilities of technology, and to enforce control. Texting on your mobile is seen as "dangerous" because students might "be distracted" or "do other things" or - is it - because they might engage in "back-channel" learning - choosing to learn other things or the same things in other ways. And texting is more difficult for lecturers because they might have to deal with the range of difficulties or concerns students were having instead of simply taking a quick poll.
With mobiles (as the alternative) the instructor effort required is significantly greater, but the changes wrought in the classroom might be significantly greater as well, "The line between specific educational applications
uses of the mobile abilities for educational purposes is not always all that clear. This is due to the fact that the mobile phone is a multi application system, and as such, enables educational application to use other utilities of the cellular phone (for example: communication utilities). Thus, the cellular utilities can be seen as building blocks of the global educational application. An example is the Mobile Author application
(Virvou, 2004), which helps teachers create and author their computerbased courses. It allows teachers to insert domain data into the application (lessons, assessment tests etc). The data documents are html documents. Both students and the teacher have access to the databases of the application, and they communicate with each other via SMS, email or the databases. All can be done via the mobile phone. Students can read their assignments, do their tests and send them to the teacher for him or her to check them. Throughout teachers stay informed of the progress of their students wherever they may be and whenever they want. Results show that the majority of teachers found the mobile facilities both useful and user friendly (especially those teachers without previous experience with computers)." (Yerushalmy and Ben-Zaken, 2004)
So my problem remains - "clickers" are not just wasteful, they encourage preservation of a system which really does not work, by making it, oh just so slightly less awful. But that gets us back to that eternal question... are you so satisfied with education-as-it-is that you simply want to tinker, or are you so angry that you want to revolutionise?
but perhaps not as engaged as we hoped... as we look closer
(and P.S. to the Lansing State Journal commenter who assumed I owned "stock in Verizon" - well, no, but not in a textbook publisher either. Just as a price comparison - a Verizon Mobile customer could add 250 texts a month to their plan for $5 - so seven months, almost two semesters, for the price of just one clicker. And that's expensive. My unlimited texting plan costs me $5 monthly.)
- Ira Socol
see previous post on Mobiles in the Classroom
.both columns - in reverse order...
Schneider: Classroom clickers already out of date, MSU scholar says
Lansing State Journal
EAST LANSING - Regarding those classroom clickers I wrote about Wednesday, at least one fan of technology at Michigan State University isn't buying them at any price.
In response to Wednesday's column, I heard from Ira David Socol, the College of Education's special education technology scholar.
Socol, a graduate student, was unequivocal in his disdain for the gadgets.
"The multiple clickers aren't just silly and wasteful," he wrote. "They are destructive to the goals the state of Michigan should have for MSU."
Clickers are the informal name for Student Response Systems. They're hand-held gadgets that look like TV remote controls. They allow students to give instant feedback to instructors. Think of the audience in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" voting for the correct answer to a question.
In Wednesday's column, the father of a student complained that his son had to buy three clickers (at $35 to $40 each) for three classes. Why, the dad wondered, couldn't the instructors get on the same wavelength?
In his response to my inquiry, David Gift, MSU's vice provost for technology, among other things, said MSU is working toward clicker consolidation, but defended clickers as "remarkably useful teaching tools ..."
Remarkably ridiculous, says Socol.
Here's more of what he wrote:
"Your column on classroom clickers was depressing. Once again, we find a Michigan educational institution wasting vast sums of money (the taxpayers' money and the students' money) by embracing already antiquated technology in pursuit of antiquated teaching practices.
"Everything a clicker can do, can, of course, simply be done by embracing the mobile phone and text message capabilities almost all students carry with them. This kind of sophisticated classroom interaction via the mobile phone is in use in many nations. ..."
And, Socol added, the cell phone technology can do so much more, "allowing things other than guessed multiple choice answers to be transmitted. Short answers, even mini-essays, math solutions, all easily flow through text messaging."
Socol went on to say that clickers are worse than anachronistic - they're contrary to the mission of education.
"What is worse than the waste of money is the way the clicker reinforces all the worst instructional and evaluation practices, emphasizing the mini-quiz rather than the search for authentic evaluation of student learning and the kind of differentiated instruction which is the key to expanding access to higher education."
In fact, clickers, Socol says, are practically un-American.
"This is just one more way U.S. education continues to fall behind that of other nations - a failure to embrace transformative technologies," Socol wrote.
Responding to Socol's comments, MSU spokesman Terry Denbow sent me an e-mail that he said reflected the views of various education technology specialists at MSU. It said, in part:
"Technology changes fast, and we don't know where clickers will be tomorrow, but they can be very useful if an instructor incorporates them in smart, meaningful ways.
"Mobile technology is quickly becoming another option for this purpose in classrooms, and, yes, text messages can be used in similar ways. We need to be considering all options, while keeping in mind the potential technical issues."
Lansing State Journal
EAST LANSING - If you're like MSU spokesman Terry Denbow and me, the only "clicker" you ever carried to college was a ball-point pen, described by Denbow as "a wonderful 'new' invention that precluded all the quills from dropping all over my mid-terms."
Denbow was responding to an inquiry I forwarded him from Tony Sporer of Portland, who wanted to know why his son, an MSU student, had to buy a separate clicker (at $35-$40 apiece) for each of his three classes.
The electronic gadgets allow students to give instructors instant classroom feedback.
Now, compared to tuition and textbooks, 35-40 bucks per class may sound like small change, but, as the beleaguered Sporer sees it, college is expensive enough without the nickel-and-diming.
Sporer is hardly anti-MSU. He pointed out that he, his wife and his daughter have six MSU degrees among them. But sending kids to MSU these days, Sporer said, gives "Go Green" a whole new meaning.
"This feels," he wrote, "like another example of MSU's seemingly callous attitude regarding the cost of a college education ... How difficult would it be to standardize the university so that only one of these programmable devices is required?"
Before I answer that question, I must address a more urgent one: What the heck is a clicker?
It's a hand-held gizmo about the size of a TV remote control. Typically, it's used in conjunction with a PowerPoint slide show. It allows instantaneous electronic "conversation" between students and instructors.
It could make the raised hand obsolete, if it hasn't already.
Although clickers can be used, for example, to conduct in-class quizzes, most instructors employ them to gauge how well students are grasping the ideas they're teaching.
As for Sporer's implication that MSU could, if it wanted to, create a universal clicker, Denbow handed that one off to David Gift, MSU's vice provost for libraries, computing and technology.
In his e-mail to me, Gift wrote: "We have heard this message from students, and have responded; the current state of play is NOT a result of inattention, callousness or inefficiency."
It's the result, instead, Gift said, of a variety of factors, including:
• Clicker technology is racing forward so fast that MSU officials have been reluctant to pick a winner.
• Some early clickers required the installation of expensive receiver systems in classrooms that would have become obsolete within three years.
• Clickers, and their software, often get bundled with textbooks. Instructors are inclined to use the clicker that comes with a textbooks they choose.
That's not to say it's a closed issue. Last spring, MSU officials began recommending that faculty members choose from one of two products that, together, pretty much cover all the instructional bases.
"It will take some time," Gift wrote, "for the older clickers to wash out of the system - and the competitive marketplace will always drive more choices - but we seem to be heading quickly toward a situation where the cost to students of clickers will be better controlled, and faculty will still have the ability to select the best tools for their classrooms."
SMS in the Classroom - "Pls Turn Ur Mobile On" (Ireland - Open Access)
Mobiles in the Classroom (Israel - Open Access)
SMS in a Literature Course (Germany)
SMS messaging in microeconomics experiments (Australia - Open Access)
Mobile Learning in Distance Education (Norway - Open Access)
Testing using SMS messaging (New Zealand)
Cell Phones in the L2 Classroom (Korea)
Instantaneous Feedback in the Interactive Classroom (Singapore - Open Access)
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