Clickers give students incentive to go to class
This isn’t your typical science lecture. Around me, more than 80 students talk loudly with each other while a teaching assistant circulates through the room. Roland Stull, a professor of earth and ocean sciences, stands at the front smiling, visibly pleased with the noisy classroom. “Ten seconds!” he yells, and the din of voices gets louder as the students debate the answer to a question displayed by an overhead projector.
A student beside me explains how to use the clicker, a small device I’ve been given that looks like a remote control with fewer buttons. On her advice—since this second-year course about the science of storms is far beyond my comprehension—I press B, and a tally on the screen showing how many students have voted climbs by one. “And that’s it!” Stull shouts. He presses a button on his own clicker and a graph appears on the screen showing how many students selected each answer. Almost the entire class correctly chose B, so Stull goes over the answer only briefly before launching into the next concept.
When Stull started using clickers in his classes at the University of British Columbia last year, he joined a growing number of professors who have embraced the teaching aid. Clickers are most commonly found in large university classes, but they’re popping up in all sorts of contexts on postsecondary campuses, and even in elementary and high schools. Students use their clicker to answer questions during class, and software instantly tabulates their answers, immediately giving the teacher an idea of how well they’ve grasped a concept. With this information, teachers are able to adjust their lectures on the fly to address students’ needs.
Starting in 2008, Stull quit delivering traditional lectures in his popular class “The Meteorology of Storms” in favour of using technology to engage students in the classroom and identify their needs. Now, the evening before each class, students complete a brief quiz on-line based on textbook readings. The next morning, a TA reads the quizzes and provides Stull with a summary detailing which concepts require more instruction. A couple of hours before the class starts, Stull adjusts his lecture according to the report by adding new slides or in-class questions. But what ties it all together, Stull told the Georgia Straight, is the clicker.
Each 50-minute lecture is designed around clicker questions, and because the questions count for 20 percent of their total mark, every student answers—instead of just the few keeners who would respond in a traditional lecture. “It’s a lot more fun for me to teach the class,” Stull said in an interview in his UBC office. “Not only are the students interacting with themselves, but they are much more willing to ask me questions during class.”