Right Click: Hand Held Devices Help Keep Students Engaged

At colleges across the country, students are using hand-held devices known as 'clickers' to check in to class, answer pop quizzes and give instant feedback. While some students complain that the devices feel like 'Big Brother,' professors find that they've raised attendance, class participation and even grades. Schools offering Computer Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Student Clicker

Class Clicker

For many professors, mobile devices are their classroom enemies. Cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, iPads - they all drain student attention away from the task at hand: learning. But some instructors are now harnessing the Millennial generation's love for hand-held technology to bring student focus back to the classroom.

The rapidly growing world of educational technology has introduced a series of 'classroom response systems' (CRS) that use technology to actively engage students during class. One of the more popular CRS options is known as the 'clicker.'

Clickers are hand-held devices that students carry into class. The first thing they do is register that a learner is present, eliminating lengthy roll calls and making students more accountable for being present and on time.

During class, students use the clickers to answer multiple choice quizzes that pop up throughout the period. The devices also allow students to signal that they're confused or falling behind with a single click.

The clickers are doing a great job of using a familiar style of technology to get students more engaged in the classroom. (Students with BlackBerrys and iPads can even download a clicker app.) Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) found that physics students who used clickers to answer multiple choice questions during lectures scored 10% higher than those who didn't - that's a full letter grade of improvement.


The clickers even seemed to close the persistent male-female performance gap in disciplines like physics. Male and female students in classes using clickers did equally well on tests, while in comparable classes without clickers male students continued to outperform their female classmates.

These impressive findings suggest that the devices really do increase student engagement. Part of this effect comes from the interactive nature of the multiple choice quizzes, which seem to help cement course materials for students as they're learning. But it also comes from the fact that the clickers make it difficult to pursue other distractions. Napping, emailing, texting - all of these things get a lot more difficult when you have a clicker tracking your participation.

The clickers even promote old fashioned class participation: Student discussion. After many learners gave the same response to a multiple choice quiz in one class, students suddenly started raising their hands to discuss the issue. Seeing that they were in the majority gave students the confidence to speak without fear of ridicule in front of their peers.

Unsurprisingly, many students are uncomfortable with the 'Big Brother' aspect of the devices. Having an electronic device track your presence and attention feels a little bit like having a babysitter. But annoying as they are, the clickers work. When asked about this concern in an interview with The New York Times, Professor Bill White just smiled and commented, 'They should walk in with them in their hands, on time, ready to go.'

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