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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Clickers salvation of the mammoth class

For those who don’t know, the clicker is fast becoming integral to the teaching of undergraduate college students and, to a lesser extent, middle school and high school students as well. Further, the fanatical efficiency with which emergent learning technology like the clicker is to be implemented into classrooms is a consolatory act. By that I mean, as class sizes get bigger and bigger, the general outcry for better student/teacher engagement and interaction is going to grow too. There are two ways to handle criticism of the big class model: make classes smaller or enhance the format of big classes so that, in theory, an almost limitless number of students can at least feel like they’re engaged and “”getting it.””

Right now there are three kinds of clickers for sale in the UofA Bookstore. The “”iClicker”” in its big, sleek, sealed-so-as-to-be-impossible-to-open-without-the-jaws-of-life plastic case, sells for $37.50. The Interwrite personal response system, or PRS, which is far more modestly packaged than the iClicker, is priced at $52.00 and has pretty pink letters and a three-leafed insignia that splays like a dinosaur foot and looks vaguely like a marijuana plant. The Turning Technologies clicker’s box is printed with the phrase “”turning ideas into solutions”” and claims the highest price tag at $53.30.

The cool thing about the clicker (whichever brand you choose) is that it instantly gratifies. Anyone who’s had a big lecture class has probably used a clicker, especially those who have taken or are taking a lower-level science prerequisite. For those who’ve never encountered a clicker in practice before, a clicker is meant to work like this: a professor lectures ad nauseam on a certain topic, interspersing his or her PowerPoint presentations with review questions. These questions are designed to sync into a clicker system so that students can all read the question projecting at the front of the room and, using the clicker, select option A, B, C or D to answer. These answers are then converted into percentages and said percentages are turned into bar graphs/pie charts so that everyone can see what percentage of the class got the answer right. Also, the teacher gets to be made aware, with grinding mathematical efficiency, whether anyone other than the first two rows of the lecture hall actually get or are even engaged in what she’s talking about.

So in some ways clickers are great: they add a new level of interactivity to big, soul-sucking lecture classes, forcing students to stay more involved. What sucks about the clicker, on the other hand, is that it’s basically an indication of the permanence of the large lecture teaching method. It’s hard to find any faculty member on this campus who’ll say that teaching a 500-person class is a great way for students to learn. One big issue is that big classes force the subjects being taught to regress; that is, to be simplified and standardized in such a way that there’s always a “”right”” answer amidst several wrong answers. Obviously, very few disciplines are that cut-and-dried, and so the true depth of the material is lost as it becomes more and more processed for mass consumption.

What most professors will say, however, is that it’s the value of undergraduate education that’s changing. It has become more a necessity than a privilege, a ubiquitous prerequisite for marginal success in life (and a decently paying job). So the crux here is that classes are just going to get bigger and bigger — we should be thankful that nobody at this University, as of yet, has to endure being the class of 2020.

— James Carpenter is a senior and an English major. He can be reached at

letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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