Inside Rensselaer
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I-Clicker Technology Engages Students
It’s the day before an exam in Calculus 2, and Clinical Assistant Professor Jennifer Blue is conducting a review. On screen, Blue displays a problem and a question: Is this an improper integral?

Yes or no,” she says. “A or B. Use your i-Clickers; 15 seconds.” Almost immediately, the students’ responses are depicted in two bar graphs on the screen. Of the 107 present, 104 or 97 percent have chosen B, the correct answer.

Throughout the 50-minute class, Blue displays 20 questions, and students respond via i-Clickers. Each question and answer is an opportunity to gauge students’ mastery of the material and, if necessary, to review key concepts.

This instant assessment is just one of the benefits of i-Clicker, a classroom response device that’s designed to provide a more engaging, interactive lecture setting. The professor asks a question, and each student responds by pressing a button on his or her i-Clicker, a handheld device that’s about the size of a small television remote.

The system uses a two-way radio frequency. Responses are transmitted from the i-Clickers to a receiver, which attaches to the professor’s laptop or personal computer via USB port. The receiver registers students’ responses within .01 seconds of transmission and makes the data available to the professor immediately.

“I think it allows the professor and students to judge if we’re getting the material, and it lets me know what I need to study,” said JP Trasatti, a freshman in Blue’s Calculus 2 class.

His classmate, Selena Willoughby, concurs. “It’s much more interesting than just sitting through a lecture,” she said. “It keeps you focused and let’s you see where you’re going wrong.”

The “clear winner” Classroom response devices are not new to Rensselaer. For several years, select professors have experimented with the devices, seeking ways to incorporate them into lectures. Among the stumbling blocks were the number of devices on the market and the lack of standardization. Rensselaer tackled those challenges by reviewing the options available and selecting several favorites for a pilot program in spring 2007. “That went very well, and i-Clicker was the clear winner,” said Bruce Laplante, associate director of the Anderson Center for Innovation in Undergraduate Education (CIUE). “The simplicity of it was very compelling. There’s no proprietary software, and professors can see students’ responses in real time. Plus, the amount of data that it gathers is impressive.”

As a result of the pilot, i-Clickers were distributed to all freshmen in fall 2007 as part of their laptop bundle. I-Clickers are being used in typical first-year courses — such as calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics — and in upper-level courses such as Signals and Systems.

Michael Wozny, a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, uses i-Clickers almost daily in his Signals and Systems class as a form of reinforcement. “The literature tells us that if you force students to recall information soon after it’s presented, they’re more likely to retain the material,” he said. “To me, that was a very valid reason to give i-Clickers a try.”

Wozny typically uses i-Clickers for five-question quizzes that can be completed in 10 minutes — much more quickly than it would take to administer a paper quiz. “The i-Clickers have stripped away all the passing out and collecting of papers,” he said, “allowing you to focus on the essence of what you’d like to achieve.”

In Wozny’s case, that means using the feedback which the i-Clickers provide to shape classroom discussions. For example, if too many students answer a question incorrectly, “right away we can discuss the misunderstanding that’s pointing them toward the wrong approach,” he said. “It’s this immediacy that makes the i-Clicker a very useful tool.”

Blue appreciates the i-Clicker’s speed and its flexibility, both of which support her dynamic approach to teaching. “If a student asks a question, I can write an example or demonstration on an overhead, and see how they respond,” she said. “Then, the rest of my class dynamically changes — the way I address the concept, whether I become more equation-oriented, etc.”

And, she has found another benefit for the devices. Blue says that when she uses the i-Clicker for a survey question to the lecture class — such as, “I know that homework is a required part of the course, although it is not turned in for a grade” — with yes/no i-Clicker response choices, “I have a recorded response from each student present as to their response. Thus, when students come to me saying they are not happy with their grades, I can ask them if they have worked all the assigned homework and then bring up their response to that particular i-Clicker question. Many students are unhappy with the grades in calculus, yet their verbal response in my office differs from the one they gave via i-Clicker.”

Since each i-Clicker is registered to a specific student, and registration information is transmitted each time the student uses i-Clicker to respond, Blue also uses the device to encourage attendance at lectures and recitations. At her request, Academic and Research Computing installed receivers in the recitation rooms used by Blue’s classes. “Now, participation in recitations has increased, and I have incredible attendance at lectures,” Blue said.
Professors who are interested in incorporating i-Clickers into their lectures should contact Bruce Laplante at laplab@rpi.edu or 276-4847.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 4, February 28, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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