New technology clicks with classes

April 21, 2009

It happens all the time. A professor asks for a show of hands in response to a question, and instinctively students glance around to gauge everyone else’s answer. Some reluctantly raise their hands after sizing up where the majority is landing, while others hope to avoid being discovered for not answering at all.

No one wants to be the only wrong one in the bunch. But professors like Wendy Morris, who teaches psychology, said this natural reaction sometimes makes it difficult to gauge who has mastered a particular concept and who needs additional time on the subject.

Morris and other McDaniel professors and students may have a solution close at hand.

This school year, the Turning Technologies’ student response system – a new technology that involves a handheld wireless device called a “clicker” that is similar to a remote control – is being piloted in classes around campus.

The clicker system is used in conjunction with PowerPoint presentations and gives students a veil of anonymity, and presumably encourages “truer” responses, Morris said.

“It encourages more participation,” said Morris, who has used the clickers in her Social Psychology as well as her Research Methods and Statistics classes. “When they can give their answers anonymously, I get true responses. But when it isn’t anonymous, they tend to look around and see what others are doing.”

“It enables me to see how the students are learning, whether they are getting it or not,” Morris added.

Overall, Morris said, she has been pleased with the system. She said it has its ups and down, as with any emerging technology. For instance, during a recent class session, students were poised with clickers in hand to answer a series of questions, but none of the clickers were working.

In such situations, Morris said, it’s best to go the “old-fashioned way” and have students raise their hands.

According to Turning Technologies’ website, the student response system – also known as an audience response system – uses TurningPoint software that connects with PowerPoint software to enable instructors to reveal a question that students then use their clickers to register a response. The clicker sends either an infrared or radio signal to a wireless receiver that is attached to the computer running the PowerPoint presentation. Almost instantaneously, the instructor is able to display a graph or chart that indicates the proportion of students who gave which answers.

The college’s Department of Instructional Technology reports that it plans to explore other features that are available with the TurningPoint software, including the ability to link each clicker to a specific student. With this option, instructors can create quizzes or tests and the system would grade students based on their responses. It also would enable instructors to track who is participating and privately gauge each students’ comprehension of the material.

Christie Morley ’10, who has used the clicker system a few times in Morris’ Social Psychology class, said she enjoys using it. As a Psychology major, Morley said she has learned how others can influence each other in group settings. For that reason, she said, it’s good to have a system that encourages students to answer as truthfully as possible.

“It’s good because you have a chance to answer without the fear that others are judging you,” she said. “You don’t want to think that you could be easily influenced, but it’s just human nature.”