Steven Anderson wrote a post today titled, “Some Thoughts On The Current State Of Edtech…” I agree with many of the things he said, but I take issue with the following statement. He wrote:

If these kids are not walking into a classroom where they can use a laptop, or cellphone or iPod or clickers, or interactive whiteboard, they are behind. If these kids are only tested in their ability to take a multiple choice test and that is the only measure we are using to see if they are learning, we are subjecting them to a limiting education.

The point on differentiated assessment is spot on, but I do not think we should put clickers and cell phones in the same category as laptops or mobile computing platforms like the iPod Touch. Some educational technology conference vendors may cringe when they read this: No one in education should “just” be an advocate for all things digital. Personally I am NOT a big fan of clickers. Clickers don’t promote creativity. Clickers don’t empower learners to create and share content, or collaborate. I have been in many classrooms equipped with electronic whiteboards and even clickers, where the ISTE NETS were not being met AT ALL.

I think Steven and I agree on the main point of his post, which is that we need to focus on learning goals as well as student engagement– not just tools. The language in his post which seems to equate laptops with clickers seemed to justify a response, however.

What do you think?

— Awkwardly posted from my iPad using Blogpress (Which does support copy and paste, unlike the current WordPress iPad app.)

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12 Responses to Don’t put clickers in the same basket as laptops

  1. I’m with you — put clickers in the same basket as the other single-use devices that were replaced by common sense.

    Bring on Poll Everywhere!

  2. Clickers are appalling. Give me laptops and wikis, please, instead. Or laptops and blogging software. Or iPads. Or netbooks. Or something where there’s creative software of some kind. Any kind.

  3. I have to agree. I was given a free set of clickers when I was an efellow. I tried to use them myself, I tried to palm them off on primary teachers, I finally palmed them off on a secondary school where they, I am sure, have been placed in a store room. A thousand dollars worth of tech and I couldn’t give it away.

  4. I agree with the post, besides, with laptops in 1:1 scenario you can replace functionality of clickers easily with very simple app.

  5. Andrew Whittaker says:

    “Clickers don’t empower learners to create and share content, or collaborate.” That is your failure then. There are many examples of collaboration and creativity out there if you look. Start with Eric Mazur and Derek Bruff and maybe your students will benefit a little.

  6. Wesley Fryer says:

    Andrew: Do you have links to classroom or professional websites for Eric Mazur and Derek Bruff? I’d love to see and learn more about what they are doing with clickers. I haven’t seen classroom clickers used in creative or collaborative ways, or used to share content, so if they have those uses figured out it would be great to learn from them.

  7. Dean Loberg says:

    I agree with the basics of the post, clickers are, by and large, not about creating, sharing, or collaboration. They are a ‘dumb’ tool. But…
    I would love it if every school had the funds to go 1:1, or if every teacher had the desire to make use of the computers that they have available to them, but unfortunately that is not the case in many schools. As for tools like Poll Everywhere, it does not work with cell phones if students can not afford them, or if they have no cell coverage, which is the case in most of my schools. Clickers allow teachers who have a traditional ‘stand and deliver’ style to get some feedback from students and hopefully become more responsive to their needs. My job is to help these teachers become more interactive with the students and stop standing at the front of the class and, for some, clickers are the first step in that journey. Clickers give students instant feedback on what they know and, when used correctly, students enjoy them. I’ve never handed students back a test where they got excited about what they got right or wrong, but I have used clickers in the classroom to assess learning only to have things turn into a game show where the students were enjoying themselves and learning. Clickers are about assessment for learning, and hopefully we all know that teaching and learning takes many different forms. It is not ALWAYS about creating and collaborating and sharing. Content delivery is a part of every great classroom and I would much rather have it happen with a clicker and a pen in students hands.
    Are clickers as useful as laptops? No, but no one said that they were. Do they belong in a list of Tech tools that can be used to engage students and help teachers become better at teaching? Absolutely.

  8. Wesley Fryer says:

    Dean: Thanks for chiming in here.

    Given the very limited budgets schools typically have for technology, however, I think it’s worth considering whether a $70 clicker is worth the investment, when a netbook can be purchased for $200 that can not only provide the polling feedback / interaction you’re advocating in your comment, but so much more… including tasks involving creating, collaborating, and sharing. Given the zero sum nature of school budgets, I don’t think clickers are worth the investment.

    The main reason is that clickers simply help sustain the traditional paradigm of teaching, with the teacher in front and kids sitting at their desks, being largely passive. Clicking multiple choice answers during a lesson does get the student more involved than s/he might be just sitting in their desk listening and/or taking notes, but I don’t think that is the learning model we want to champion. You argue that clickers move teachers forward in their use of digital tools, but my problem is that even with clickers they are not encouraged to become facilitators of learning– they are still standing and delivering.

    You’re right about lecture of course– there is a time and a place for it… but with laptops or more powerful mobile computers, lecture time can not only be supplemented by audience/class input but WORK time can become much more interactive as students work together and create products.

    Without creation there can be no creativity. I believe technology in the classroom should help promote student creativity, and clickers don’t.

  9. Dean Loberg says:

    I agree the we need to look at it from a cost-benefit perspective and in that light netbooks are a better investment, but keep in mind that the number of clickers required is no where near 1-to-1. I deal with very small k-12 schools with 200-400 students. We can easily accommodate that size of school with around 30-40 clickers which costs us under $2000. If it was my classroom I would prefer the 10 netbooks, but for many of my teachers it is scary to imagine having that many computers in the room. I am dealing with a very traditional group of teacher who are just learning words like blog and wiki (wait until net year when we introduce them to inquiry based learning!). I can not force them, in one year, to go from their traditional style to an entirely new model of education, even if it is my ultimate goal. Maybe I am jaded, but I think of myself as a realist with dreams.
    I know that clickers are not the ultimate in ed tech, but just like you would not expect a student to go from adding one day to advanced algebra the next, I do not expect my teachers to go from lecturing in every class for years to an advanced tech integrated, teacher assisted, independent/group learning style classroom in one year. I know from reading your blog that we have similar goals and views on several things, the biggest difference is probably in the how and how fast we reach the goal.

  10. Derek Bruff says:

    Dean Loberg makes some great points above about the use of clickers as a faculty development tool, giving faculty members an easy way to become more student-centered in their learning. It’s true, as Wesley Fryer points out, that for a few hundred dollars, you can purchase a netbook that replicates the function of a clicker while also allowing a larger set of rich interactions. However, basic clicker models run closer to $25 than $70, so clickers can be cheaper by a factor of 10.

    Furthermore, shifting from “stand and deliver” teaching to a mode of teaching that leverages the interactive capabilities of a class full of networks is a big shift in one’s teaching. That shift might not be an easy one or even an appropriate one for all teachers in all teaching contexts. Polling students to gauge their understanding during a lecture makes sense to most instructors used to the “stand and deliver” method. Since clickers are surprisingly flexible instructional tools, instructors who adopt them for use in very limited ways often find more interactive, student-centered ways to use them.

    How can clickers be used to foster student creativity and collaboration? I think the key idea here is to think about using clickers to ask questions you wouldn’t put on an exam. Imagine providing students with four or five contribution factors to a particular historical event, then asking them to select the factor that was most significant. This kind of question wouldn’t work on an exam, unless you had an essay question to accompany it in which students justified their answers. However, this is a great clicker question, since it asks each student to evaluate the given options and commit to his or her answer, creating conditions for a fantastic classwide discussion of the question. Having students pair up to discuss their answers before voting adds even more to the collaborative dynamic. And knowing the distribution of student responses to this question gives the instructor useful data for making the discussion more relevant and responsive to the students.

    I blog regularly about teaching with clickers. If this topic interests you, you might start with my recent post on using clickers to teach critical thinking.

  11. […] Fryer, on his “Moving at the Speed of Creativity” blog, recently argued that clickers shouldn’t be put in the same basket as laptops or netbooks when it comes to […]

  12. At the Univ. of Colorado laptop use by students in lecture has been documented to DECREASE learning (compared to taking note on paper). Use of clickers documented to increase learning. It is not the clickers, of course, it is the peer discussions and good questions that increase the learning.

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