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Just a click or two away

Students using clickers

It’s Thursday morning just before 11.  Dr. Adam Shapiro is preparing to deliver his Intro to Sociology lecture to an auditorium full of students. At the touch of a button, a huge screen descends from the ceiling and the lights dim. 


Backpacks, Starbucks cups and notebooks share the students’ desktop space with various electronic instruments, including one that looks like a TV remote.  It’s a new learning tool at UNF that allows instructors and students to engage in more interactive communication.


Known as the classroom clicker, the device is part of UNF’s newly adopted Classroom Response System (CRS), introduced in spring 2007.  The CRS tests students’ knowledge and surveys them in real-time, using radio frequencies to transmit signals from the students’ clickers to the instructors’ receiver.


Instructors opting to use the system receive free hardware, software and instructions. They formulate questions to display on a screen in class, where students are prompted to make a multiple-choice selection or enter a numeric value. The instructor asks a question and students respond by pressing buttons on the remote. Instantly tabulated results, including the number of students participating and the statistics for each selection, appear on the screen.


The clicker is just one teaching resource that UNF’s Center for Instruction and Research Technology offers faculty. Within a year of clickers being introduced, professors used them successfully in 50 classes, according to CIRT Director Deborah Miller.


“The primary advantage is that the system really engages students and it’s able to give them instant feedback in a variety of ways,” Miller said.


Shapiro has used the system in several classes and is generally pleased with the results. “You have to use it creatively to get value out of it,” he said.


Students like using clickers because they’re able to maintain anonymity while offering their opinions. “If the topic is something controversial, students may not be willing to speak up, especially if their opinion is something that’s wildly unpopular,” Miller said.


Once students weigh in, instructors discuss the results and ask others to share their opinions, generating further discussion.


Victoria Neubenger, a junior studying nursing, enrolled in two  summer classes that used the system. “I love the clickers. It’s great to be anonymous,” she said. “It’s also a good way for the professor to take attendance and to know what the students have learned.”


Additionally, instructors use the system to administer tests and instantly calculate test scores, eliminating the need to purchase and grade Scantron forms.


Although the system is free for instructors, students must purchase clickers from the UNF Bookstore for $20 and register them online each semester for $13. Students can later sell clickers back to the bookstore or to others for use in future classes.


So what’s the down side?  Some instructors find the system difficult to use and it requires some commitment to learn, Miller said.  “Like any new tool, there’s going to be a learning curve, but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”