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'Clickers' aid classroom feedback at SOU

ASHLAND — A new handheld wireless-remote device is taking interactivity between Southern Oregon University teachers and students to the next level, allowing instant polling about what students understand and letting them click if they have a question.

Called a ResponseCard or "clicker," the 1-ounce keypads signal a USB device in the teacher's laptop. The results are translated through PowerPoint and projected on a big screen in class.

Biology teacher Kathleen Page used the clickers Monday to give her immunology class a quiz. A bar graph appeared on the screen that showed 92 percent of students understood what she had just taught them about antibody toxicity.

In the past, she wouldn't have found any gaps in understanding until a formal test that affects students' grades, she said.

It's anonymous, so students' wrong answers aren't made public. Page can then explain why the answers were wrong.

"I get immediate feedback about what students understand and don't understand," she said.

"That's the beauty of it. You get your answer right away.

"They stay awake in class because they know there's going to be a little game at the end. I cover what we've been teaching all week and I find out what's getting across and what's not. It makes me a better teacher."

SOU started using the clickers two years ago and their use has blossomed. During orientation earlier this fall, parents used the clickers to choose from a list of options about what they want for their kids in higher education and many other issues, said John Stevenson, SOU information technology trainer.

"The (university) president uses them for community real-time feedback and it's anonymous, so people are more honest — a big advantage," Stevenson said. They are not used for graded tests because of past litigation in which students have claimed their clicker malfunctioned or was on the wrong radio frequency.

The remote clickers cost about $30 each, and the receiver costs $100. About 100 teachers have undergone the necessary training to use them, Stevenson said. The clickers stay in class. Stevenson noted that in the near future, they will become universal and students likely will purchase one at the university bookstore and sell it back when they leave.

The next step beyond that is interfacing iPhones or other advanced cell phone platforms to ResponseCard technology, Stevenson said.

"I love the clickers," said physical therapy senior Kelly Clark. "They're great for going over what we've learned, in a testing format. It also tells you what to expect on tests."

"They're good for review of material and she gives you examples of what test problems are going to be," said biology senior Will Price.

Their multiple channels, said Stevenson, allow a class to break into competing teams for trial quizzes.

The clicker's keypad is labeled zero through 9 and A through J, with a question mark key to query the teacher or presenter and another key to set the radio frequency. They're made by TurningTechnologies in Ohio.

The clickers carry a charge for up to a year, go to sleep when not in use, have channels for 82 different sessions (that won't interfere with each other), use Mac or PC, operate up to 200 feet away and don't need line-of-sight to receive, according to www.turningtechnologies.com.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Remote ResponseCards allow teachers to poll students on their understanding of a subject while in class. The instant feedback lets teachers know where there might be gaps or misunderstandings before formal tests, when grades are at stake. - Julia Moore