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JCAST Profs Engage Students with New Technology


I-Clickers have a unique code that identifies the user. Some owners use colorful skins to keep from confusing them with others.

Today s JCAST students enter the classroom with a variety of personal technological gadgets that professors typically ask them to turn off at the door, such as cell phones, iPods, or Blackberries, in order to prevent disruption of the learning environment. A growing number of professors in the college, though, are encouraging their students to turn on a new gadget upon entering class because they feel confident it is actually increasing engagement with the curriculum.

Dr. Katie Dyer (Child, Family, and Consumer Sciences), Mollie Smith (Food Science and Nutrition), and Dr. Andrew Lawson (Plant Science) are three JCAST instructors who began requiring students to use i>Clicker in their classes this fall. Similar to ones used on popular game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, i>Clicker is an audience response system. Students use a keypad device the clicker that resembles a tv remote control to answer multiple choice questions posed by the instructor, usually in a Power Point slide. Students press a button that sends a wireless message to a receiver connected to the professor s computer. The professor is then able to project the aggregated answers in graph form for the entire class to see. While there are a variety of audience response systems available, Fresno State formally adopted i>Clicker, designed by four college professors, in the fall so that students could purchase one clicker for use in multiple classes.

Dyer and Smith both used other audience response systems before adopting i>Clicker because they wanted to keep students more interested and engaged during class. And they haven t been disappointed.


Dr. Katie Dyer uses I-clicker as an interactive tool in her classes.

An assistant professor in her fifth year at Fresno State, Dyer realized early in her teaching career that expecting students to be motivated in straight lecture-format classes was asking too much. I teach to adults all day, she said. But I have a really hard time sitting and listening to things that are boring. It s ironic that I want that for my students. I want them to sit and do something that I can t really do very well myself! Therefore, Dyer is always looking for effective active learning techniques. She currently uses i>Clicker in a course on parenting, and has found that it fosters rich discussion. During every class, I ask questions that are mostly opinion kind of questions to start conversations on parenting topics such as family sleeping arrangements, she explained.

She appreciates the anonymity of the clickers, as students who might not volunteer their opinions are more likely to do so after they see in the graphs generated by i>Clicker that others have the same opinions or experiences. Students are always really surprised when they look around, and they re like, Oh my god, there s like seven people in here who slept with their parents until they were 10! This isn t the sort of thing that people usually share, so I like it for that reason, she said. Dyer has seen an increase in the number of students who will then talk openly about topics such as this in the discussion that follows.

Smith, a lecturer and Dietetic Internship Director in her tenth year at Fresno State, currently uses i>Clicker in a foundational course on nutrition intended for majors and non-majors. It s very science-oriented and not very consumer-oriented, and so it can be pretty dry, she said. The students are sitting there with their eyes glazed over and so I thought this maybe could make them pay attention in class. Rather than asking opinion questions, she uses questions that help her assess understanding of material just covered or covered in the previous class. I would use questions that were going to be coming up on the test, gauging how well they understood, she explained. If there was a big misunderstanding, I would talk more about it It really helps to reinforce the material. And though she hasn t done any formal research to test it, Smith believes that students are doing better in the class. I saw test scores go up, but that s just anecdotal It just seemed to me that students were doing better in the course because it s typically difficult Tests were a challenge for them and I felt like they did a little bit better.

Unlike Dyer and Smith, i>Clicker is the first audience response system used by Lawson, an associate professor in his eighth year at Fresno State. Though he is also keen on increasing student engagement, his initial reasons for trying it out in the fall were a little more specific. I think my primary motivation was probably trying to increase attendance and keeping up with the study, he recalled. I think that s where most of them [students] get into trouble not coming to class and not keeping up with the studying. He used the clickers in an economic entomology course, and like Smith, tied some points to their use.

Professors can require students to register their clickers on i>Clicker s website, which then enables them to keep track of students participation and even their specific answers.

Dyer does not require this registration, but both Lawson and Smith do. Smith periodically notes attendance by clicker use, giving some participation points. Lawson goes one step further. Because he wants students to study every week rather than cramming just before exams, he asks roughly three clicker questions on the material per class, essentially quizzing the students on information already covered and information about to be covered. For simply participating, students receive one point per question (attendance), but if they get the answer correct, they get an additional point. Right away, Lawson felt confident that this was changing the students behavior, causing them to attend more regularly and keep current on their readings. An informal poll he took at the end of the semester confirmed his impression. Large majorities of the students liked the clickers and felt the clickers made them more likely to attend class, and more involved during class, he said. They also said they were more likely to do the required reading.

While Dyer, Smith, and Lawson all say one of the things they like about i>Clickers is the simplicity of the actual technology It is sooo easy! Lawson said the fact remains that professors across JCAST and campus have varying levels of comfort with and even philosophies about incorporating new technologies into their teaching. Part of Dyer s philosophy includes a desire to find things that make class interesting for her students, and she s very open to exploring new technologies to accomplish that. I really just think that the more that they are eager to come to class, then the more they are going to learn when they are there, she said. And I think clickers are fun.

Smith admits she s not as comfortable with trying new technology as Dyer is. I don t use technology unless I feel comfortable with it, as challenges take time away from other tasks, she explained. It has to look easy to use for me to try it.

Lawson shares Dyer s general interest in new technologies. I would say that I enjoy new technologies, but I don t jump on every new one that comes along, he said. I have to believe it will improve the learning process before I adopt it.

Additionally, all three instructors acknowledge that, though it was easy to learn to use i>Clicker, creating questions to imbed in their lectures is time-consuming. They all feel confident, though, that the effort is worth it, and has improved the learning process in their classes. Their impressions were confirmed by a fall survey of 681 Fresno State students including Lawson s class conducted by the Teaching, Learning and Technology (TLT) Department. A majority of students agreed that the use of i>Clicker makes them feel more involved in class, more likely to respond to questions, and that their professors are asking questions that are important in their learning. And are they attending class more, as Lawson hoped? Forty-six percent said they agree with the statement that i>Clicker makes them more likely to attend class, and 33% said they somewhat agree with that statement.

So while Dyer, Smith, and Lawson s students might be disappointed at having to turn off their cell phones at the classroom door, the activation of their clickers appears to be more than compensating.

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