Opinion, Point vs. Counterpoint

Point: Should iClickers be a mandatory component of course participation?

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Often a big challenge for students while in a University program is the adjustment from the small, personal environment of secondary school, to the cold, large university setting. When class sizes get large, it can be difficult for some students to remain as engaged and successful in their studies as when they had more of the teacher’s personal attention.

One of the major components in this effect has to do with the heavy dependence on the student to work through practice problems on their own time and with their own discretion. While this is a very important skill for students to develop since it translates well into real work environments, it does cause some major drawbacks in what was their well-established learning process– the evaluation, feedback, and revision processes.

In a small-class environment, multiple means of evaluation can be implemented without too much difficulty. Quizzes, tests, projects, labs, presentations, and reports can be assigned to provide a situation where the students can test their knowledge and understanding of concepts and applications, and, more importantly, can be given feedback on their performance. They write a test, receive a grade, and can use their results as a standard for adjustments in their studies. They can see where they are likely to make mistakes, where they are strong and weak in each course, and can use their time more efficiently to study places of concern, and spend less time reviewing what they already know.

Much of this process relies on the repeatability of evaluations, as it is entirely a relative process of monitoring improvements or the lack thereof. If a student only takes one test throughout the whole year, they can only have one set of data to analyze and thus cannot make as accurate of conclusions about their skills and difficulties. To see a larger trend in data, multiple evaluations are needed; however, whenever class sizes reach sizes greater than 100 students, this becomes a serious task to do. To mark 150 individual assignments is very time-consuming, even with the help of multiple TA’s.

Often times, this intensive amount of work associated with grading is what will cause universities to have fewer assignments for each course, leaving students to study and review almost entirely independently. It also causes more of the academic weight to be placed on midterms and final evaluations. This compounds the effects that these large class sizes cause — since fewer assignments are marked and given to students to analyze, they have only an obscure idea of what they struggle with and thus study in ineffective ways. This can cause a poor grade on final examinations that, in turn, take up a larger percentage of their grade causing a notable decrease in their grades in comparison to secondary school.

The simple solution to this conundrum is to provide more opportunities for feedback on the students’ performances but without putting many more responsibilities on the already very busy professors and TA’s. iClickers provide a very feasible option — the teacher chooses a number of common or difficult problems for the students to attempt and then has only to provide a set of multiple answers for the students to choose from. When the questions are performed in class, they can give an idea of the time that should be required for the computation of the answer.   They develop the skills to manage that time well in preparation for tests and examinations, while dealing with the pressure of time constraints.

iClickers also allow for the confirmation of answers and processes that students cannot get when performing questions outside of the classroom environment. If the teacher helps them work through the problem, they can pin-point the errors of processes and computation that might occur, and ensure that they never just get ‘lucky answers’.

iClickers also work as a teaching aid for the professors, providing feedback that they could use to adjust their teaching to suit each individual class better; they can see student success rates for certain questions and where the understanding of material is weak for the entire class. This is very convenient since the data is available automatically, thereby not requiring manual input from written tests or assignments, and can again provide more data resources with minimal more effort required.

If iClickers were to be made mandatory for course participation, a portion of the students’ marks could be made based on this grade, thus allowing a grading scheme that slightly favours the students’ success. This relieves some of the tension associated with examinations while also promoting student activity and attendance in class in order to receive these marks.

Most clearly, the small amount of monetary and time investment required for iClickers, from both students and faculty, is worth the incredible potential that this system has for success in the post-secondary environment. If used correctly, iClickers could stimulate the significant improvement of examinational performance and study skills of many students, thus creating better-prepared professionals with less effort than previously implied.

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