Next to interactive white boards, clickers seem to be today’s technology of choice for many classrooms. Buy a batch of these little gadgets, hand them out to your students, and the world will be a better place. Or at least that’s what those who hawk this expensive technology want us to think. A recent experience did nothing to convince me.
I was in a seminar with 200 or so other educators from around the world. Every table was supplied with a set of clickers. At the beginning of the meeting, one of the moderators posed a series of questions and asked us to reply by means of our clickers. After each question, we could see the collective results on the Big Screen. Ooooo. Ahhhhh. Until the trouble began.
First, one of the participants said, “How do you want me to answer that question? Two of the choices are true for me, but this only allows me to choose one or the other.” The question was, “What time zone do you live in?” The response options were: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, and Not in U.S. “I live in Canada,” said the frustrated fellow, “not the U.S., but I’m in Central time zone.”
Clearly, having a set of clickers instead of a pile of Scantron forms does nothing to change the fact that constructing sound closed-end questions is a challenging task. But the next clicker faux pas was even more embarrassing. Mysteriously, when we would view the collective results for questions that had “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” as the response options, the results display kept showing us that a significant number of people had chosen “E.” At that point, the moderator wisely decided it was time to put the clickers away and hear what the first panelist had to say.
Back in Paleolithic times, when I learned to teach, we didn’t have clickers, but we did have a variety of student response systems. Ice cream sticks, each marked with a different letter, were one example. Individual student slates were another, and they worked really well for open-ended questions. And of course, there was the simplest solution of all: thumbs up for yes, thumbs down for no, and—if you wanted to get sophisticated—thumbs sideways for “not sure.” True, these methods would not have been useful in a room packed with 200 students, but then neither were the clickers on this occasion.