Tuesday, September 16, 2008

To iClick or not to iClick

A couple years ago I sat in on a lecture at UIC where the instructor was using technology that allowed her to poll her students during class.  She would ask a multiple-choice question, which was duplicated on the overhead projector, and then her students would punch in A, B, C, D or E on their hand held clickers before the timer expired. Within seconds, the results of the poll flashed on the screen—eerily reminiscent of a Who Wants to be a Millionaire lifeline. I was hooked instantly. Not only do I love gadgets, Millionaire and statistics of every kind, but it also seemed like an ideal method for communicating with students in large lectures. Any teacher worth their salt continually asks themselves, “are they getting it?” Some are even brave enough to ask out loud even though they know the question will likely be regarded as rhetorical and disappear into the echoes of the lecture hall. What better way to find out then a reliable polling system such as iClicker?
You are wondering, of course, how this topic is relevant to the laboratory courses blog. In truth, it isn’t; however, next Spring I will be teaching one lecture of CHEM 232 (Organic I) and I am considering using this system. I’ve considered many of the advantages and disadvantages from my perspective. What I don’t know, however, is what students at UIC think are the primary strengths and weaknesses of this system. I would welcome any comments you have. Some key questions that must be considered are:

• What are good and bad polling questions?
• Should the system be mandatory?
• Should the questions be worth points? If yes, what percentage of the course?
• How many questions are too many in one lecture, one semester?
• Is the technology reliable? Is record keeping feasible?
• Will students remember to bring their clickers?
• How much do the clickers cost? Is this a financial burden?

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