I am not an all technology all the time kind of girl. I don’t believe in calculators on exams, or being in contact with my students via email 24 hours a day.
But I LOVE iClickers. IClickers are a student response system, like Wii-motes, that allow students to answer multiple choice questions in class, in real time, and be graded on their answer immediately.
Being on the job market this year, I’ve been working a lot on my teaching philosophy statement. The idea that kept coming up for me was that math is learned by doing. Students can watch the professor do 20 example problems and still go home and be confused because they never tried it on their own.
But it’s hard to get students to work in class. If you’re not there to keep them accountable, they’ll just play on their phone or talk about the weekend, waiting for the right answer to be handed to them. IClickers have solved this problem for me. They are held accountable for showing up and doing activities I assign in class. Ten percent of their grade was based on not just answering the questions, but answering them correctly. And the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Compared to the same course 2 years ago, my students did better on homework and emailed me far less. This could be because I have matured as an instructor, but I also thing part of it was that they knew when they didn’t understand something in class, and could ask their question right then. IClickers allowed for immediate intellectual gratification.
It also kept everyone more engaged. My advanced students would explain the problem to their peers after finishing, and lost students could get help from their peers. This social interaction led to far more out of class study groups than I have seen in other classes. I would circulate, answering questions. Then we would look at the answer. If everyone understood the concept, we would move on. If not, I would slowly work through the problem, answering questions. And there were questions, because people could identify exactly where they got lost.
There are drawbacks. There is set up time, to both write questions before class and setting up a laptop and the software in class. But the system is very plug and play, and simple to understand. I haven’t had any technical difficulties. Oh, and sorry Linux users, the software only works with Macs or PCs.
You also have to account for the fact that even the most responsible students will get sick, forget their iClicker or run out of batteries occasionally. I dealt with this by dropping their three lowest scores over the term. There’s a cost too. Here at UCSB, about 40% of my students either already had one or could borrow one from a friend. Used, the iClicker costs around 25 dollars, and a new one costs around 40 dollars.
As with every technology, I asked myself if the benefits out weighed the costs, and they did for me. I’ll be using these again in the future, and if you get the opportunity to try them out, I think you should too.