Clickers crash classrooms

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September 16, 2011

12:57 AM

Higher education has incorporated many new technological innovations, but professors’ adoption of classroom clickers may create more opportunities for students to cheat the system.

Larger classes have increased the need for clickers, devices resembling television remote controls, which are registered to students and used by instructors for a variety of purposes in class, including taking attendance and answering questions.

“Clickers, although not perfect, can really help to accomplish several things in the class,” sociology professor Thomas Linneman said. “In sociology, you’re talking about controversial issues, and if you want to take a poll on how a class feels about something, a show of hands can be very uncomfortable sometimes, but a clicker allows for that in-class anonymity.”

According to technical support engineer Joseph Cunningham in the IT office, there are at least three professors currently using clickers, primarily for larger classes in which it can be difficult for professors to keep tabs on student behavior.

A drawback of the clickers is the potential for truant students to give clickers to friends who attend the class, creating the illusion that they are present and answering questions. This could be a problem for faculty who use clicker participation to calculate students’ grades.

“With something like clickers, there definitely is the potential [for cheating],” Cunningham said. “But the benefits for professors and students would outweigh that, and students who choose to do that are only hurting themselves.”

Linneman said he has not had problems with the clickers and cited the Honor Code.

“I’ve never encountered a problem like that,” Linneman said. “I state in my syllabus that coming to class with your clicker and your friend’s or roommate’s clicker would be considered an Honor Code violation. It is a possibility, but I really hope that would be an anomaly, for a student to come with an armful of clickers.”

Though the likelihood of such an event as cheating is possible, the College’s emphasis on integrity counteracts it.

“I just feel like kids here are really responsible, and I just feel like people who bring in their friend’s clicker and stuff, if they have to do that continuously that’s just going to be a massive burden on them,” Aditya Yellajosyula ’13 said. “I feel like most students wouldn’t agree … kids that go here have a good sense of what do to in a situation.”

A study performed earlier this year by psychology professor Danielle Dallaire focused on the effectiveness of clickers in classes at the College. The results indicated students benefitted academically from clicker use, but only when the devices were used in a limited and relevant manner.

“It’s not a causal study, it’s all correlational, but the association is there and if students think they’re wasting their time doing these other types of activities and it’s not necessarily connected to the academic content of the class, then you might see some students not doing as well,” Dallaire said.

Having utilized clickers for classes before, Dallaire focused on educational opportunities.

“Develop a question where students think they know the right answer to it, and it may be a fairly straightforward question, but in the end … 50 percent answer in one way and 50 percent answer in another way, and then you use that as a point of discussion,” Dallaire said. “And you have students talk to each other about it as well as with the professor.”

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