from the issue of February 23, 2006
| 'Clickers' continue to enhance campus classrooms
BY JOHN WILSON, INFORMATION SERVICES
Use of Personal Response System units, or "clickers," continues to grow in UNL classrooms.
Students using the remote control devices give instructors the ability to take instant polls, track learning and administer pop quizzes. Since being introduced to UNL, clicker use has expanded into 24 classrooms. More than 1,500 clickers were purchased this semester; over 1,800 last semester.
"PRS is very powerful, transforming technology," said Kevin Lee, research assistant professor of physics and astronomy. "It gives (an instructor) a snapshot of how a class is learning. You can teach a section, ask a few questions and find out instantly if your class understands. If there are problems, you can take measures then and there to fix it."
Clickers have been implemented at numerous universities across the nation. However, UNL has found the system more complicated than "plug and play."
"The challenges to the faculty were administering their rosters, dealing with dropping and adding students. There was also the task of registering the clickers," said Ron Roeber, associate vice chancellor for Facilities and Information Technology. "Information Services addressed these challenges - lowering the bar for the user - and designing as few steps as possible."
Information Services accomplished this by programming the clickers to talk to BlackBoard, the university's course management system.
The faculty first logs into the classroom computer via Active Directory. A button in BlackBoard is checked and the roster for the class appears
"It's a very slick set-up," said Lee. "The roster gets loaded, the student adds are in, the drops are out - it's always up to date."
Since the rosters are accessed via active directory and stored on an external drive, the student information is more secure and cannot be viewed by other faculty members.
Clickers, in order to show up in classroom polling results, need to be registered by the user. Information Services also simplified this step by placing computer stations in the bookstores where the clickers are purchased.
"Students merely swipe their NCard, press a button and they're registered," Roeber said. "It's all automatic and takes about 10 seconds per student."
Clickers remain registered to the student throughout their enrollment.
UNL's integration of clickers with BlackBoard as well as the use of wireless transceivers caught the attention of Northwestern University.
"Our names were given as a reference by our vendor," said Norm Schaeffer, instructional facilities manager. "Northwestern was particularly interested how we used a wireless daisy chain of PRS receivers in rooms where a hardwired solution wasn't possible - and doing it without interfering with the UNL computer network. This was an area we researched that hadn't been fully explored by the vendor."
Lee also had suggestions for developing curriculum for clicker-based learning.
"Number one, the instructor needs to develop good questions. Number two, they have to know how to manage the activity. And three, they have to learn the technology," Lee said.
Information Services offers faculty operational training on the clicker system on an as-needed basis.
Additional information is available online at http://www.itg.unl.edu/persys/.
GO TO: ISSUE OF FEBRUARY 23
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