Wielding stylish white remote controls, Leon Khalsa’s psychology and sociology students at Pierce College Puyallup are tuning in to a new way to actively engage with the learning process, provide immediate feedback for their instructor and even get a glimpse into the minds of their classmates.
The system Khalsa is trying out this quarter for the first time is called iClicker, a plug-and-play remote computer polling system designed especially for classroom use. Khalsa projects a slide with a question — such as ‘How well do you feel you understand the concepts of Chapter 7?’ — students “vote” for one of five options with their remote controls and the class gets immediate, charted responses, from both the shier students in the room as well as the usual extroverts.
“This is as close to 100 percent participation in the classroom as I’ve ever had,” Khalsa said. “As an instructor, I get feedback in real time and that gives me a close read on what students need now, to leave the day’s class with the knowledge and information they should have.
“This technology allows for participation by every student, regardless of how shy he or she may be. And the students take to this technology without a hitch — it’s transparent to them,” he said.
“I think it’s cool,” said Amanda Wheat, one of Khalsa’s psychology students. “I think of it in the same technological vein as (unrelated Apple products) iPods or iPhones. I wish I had one at home. It’s very useful when the graphs of our responses come up, and you can see what others thought about something.”
A colleague at an Arizona university who studied immediate feedback systems in the classroom suggested the iClicker to Khalsa. He said the most important thing iClicker does is enhance classroom interactivity, sparking discussion on topics students have responded to with the remote.
“This technology allows me to do better what I already do: maintain an active exchange in the classroom. Passive learning is weak learning. Active learning leads to much better retention for the student,” he said.
Judah Heimlich, another of Khalsa’s students, said at first he wasn’t too sure how much the system would benefit the class, “but it’s really interesting. You see the active interaction we get by using the iClicker four or five times a class,” Heimlich said of the iClicker’s role in facilitating discussion. “It shows what everyone is thinking.”
The psychology instructor, 54, has been with Pierce College nine years and in that time, Khalsa has noted that for a variety of reasons, many students have a hard time speaking up and saying one of two statements: “I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand that,” and “Excuse me, but I have a question.” He said his initial impression is that the iClicker system seems to eliminate much of the fear of asking those questions out loud, in front of classmates.
Khalsa also said the value of students being able to immediately see a graph of the class’s responses cannot be underestimated. Students get a chance to see where everyone else is at regarding a given question.
“… If half of the class answers 20 percent or not at all to whether they understand a key concept, they not only see that they’re not alone, but get some social validation. It also allows me to react on the fly, either reviewing the material immediately, or planning to do so in our next class,” Khalsa said.
Initially, Khalsa only used four options per poll, A through D, feeling that five might be too many gradations of choice. But inevitably, he said with a smile, some clever student would always push the E button. Of course, with each iClicker sporting its own unique identification signal, Khalsa knew who the comedian was.
One unintended benefit of using iClicker in the classroom has been a decline in students coming in a bit late or leaving a bit early, Khalsa noted: students must pick up their iClicker remote at the beginning of class and wait until the end to return it to its case.
“Basically, I’ve had very high participation and zero complaints. It took less than a day to set up the equipment and get things running well. It’s easy to use, practical and efficient. For very little additional effort I get much greater feedback,” he said, all the while providing a deeper — and more participatory — learning experience for his students.