Opinion, Point vs. Counterpoint

Counterpoint: 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.

University can be a huge change from elementary and high school, where you had frequent, maybe daily assignments individually marked by teachers. The teacher knew everybody’s name, and was always there to help you when you encountered difficulties. But those days are gone.

As you go through your university career you will encounter many different teaching styles, levels of interaction between profs and students, and general approachability of the profs. You get that course where you are one of three hundred students packed into a lecture hall for a three hour night class, or you can get the course where you are one of fifteen people meeting for an hour at a time for a discussion based lecture. Both styles can be made better or worse by a great prof and the way they approach the course. Many profs are around for extended periods of time after their lecture ends, or throw the lesson plan out the window to ensure that people struggling have the support they need to grasp the topics that are floating just outside their reach.

The iClicker has become synonymous over the years with the monotony and classic stereotypes of university classes. There is nowhere where you are less of a person and more of a number when it comes to answering a few multiple choice answers along with your peers and seeing a little bar graph on screen of your performance. This kind of information doesn’t help the learning process in any way. Why? Because it doesn’t give any useful information. Why did 50% of the class get the question wrong? Did they misunderstand the question, were they flustered with the time limit and just picked a choice at random, was one student holding a number of iClickers in their pocket and picked the wrong answer for everyone (that group needs to rethink who they send to class), or were they struggling with one of a dozen concepts that all impact the possible answer? The only way for the prof to really know is for a student to ask a question directly and elaborate on what they are struggling with – so then what is the point of the iClicker?

So, what if the prof was to ask more involved questions in iClicker testing? “Solve this non-linear multi-variable equation in the next two minutes” Nope, somehow I don’t think that is going to work. Many profs sit down to write a midterm or final based first on the material the students should know, and second on how much time they have to write it. One prof once told my class that he had finished his own exam in forty minutes, so he figured we would need two hours, so he gave us three hours to be safe. This kind of testing actually allows people to think and reason, to get past that test anxiety and get down to work. Even a course that is entirely multiple choice based (CLAS 104 comes to mind) still needs to have an excess of time in which to answer questions. People need time to think about a question, maybe give up for a bit then come back to it later after they calm down and their mind processes things in the background. The iClicker does not allow for any of this thought process; you are put on the spot, with absolutely no time to think of anything, and forced to scramble for an answer, even if your learning style and memory retention do not work that way. iClickers are ineffective as a means of testing because they cater to only a small group of people with very specific retention skills, and can really only be used on simple questions.

Another common use of iClickers is for ‘participation marks’ – basically attendance. Any prof who is teaching a class to three hundred people and says that they are using iClickers for participation is just making that up. Answering a dozen multiple choice questions throughout a lecture is not a good measure of participation; it measures if people are still awake. If a prof is using iClickers to track attendance, is this really a good use of time and resources? Should the prof just do a roll call at the beginning of each lecture? In addition to that being a horrible waste of time, it is also useless. As stated before: This isn’t high school anymore. When you attended elementary and high school you weren’t paying directly to attend, your parents weren’t signing a cheque each September for you to start grade 4. Public schooling is paid for by the government, so attendance is a necessary measure to ensure that this money is actually being used and not wasted by someone skipping English because they hate Shakespeare or something. But, in University you are paying for your education (though a percentage is subsidized by government), so if you want to write that cheque to the university and never show up to a single lecture, then that is your choice (and if you are one of those people that comes to class and chats audibly through the entire thing – then please, I’m imploring you, please just stay home, the rest of us will thank you for it).

Overall, the concern is really not with the actual cost of the iClicker itself, it is about the extremely limited uses of this technology. The device cannot show a prof a student’s thought process in the same way a written assignment can, it cannot cater to all the learning styles that will inevitably occupy the lecture room, and the only task for which it is suited, taking attendance, is an entirely useless measure in a University setting. The iClicker is a waste of time and money, and will only promote shallow approaches to teaching, and denigrate people of varied learning styles, neither of which have any place in a university.

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