It’s just a tool

June 29, 2009

This past year I have conducted a research study using the student response system technology.  If you are unfamiliar, this is an easy to use technology that is basically like the ‘Poll the Audience’ life line on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” I have used this technology in the past a I really enjoy it.  It allows students to respond to questions in an anonymous fashion and also gives me feedback as to whether or not my students understood  concept that I was teaching.

This technology has really boomed and several major universities have dedicated to using the technology.  They have purchased the systems, installed them in the classrooms, and spent a large amount of money on the software, components, and training. This is great for those that enjoy to use the technology and use it well, however, it can be a source of pressure for those that do not wish to use this technology in their classroom.

When I presented my work at a couple of recent large conferences, I had many people praising me on my work and the design of my study.  I compared two of my own classrooms, one used the clicker system, the other did not.  I found no significant differences in course performance (exams and final grade) or student engagement (an admittedly poor questionnaire from a previous author).  These people were prasing me because I was taking the stance that it is the PEDAGOGY of the instructor, not the method of delivering it that might created differences in classroom.

The research that does suggest that using clickers increases course performance all have evidence that the pedagogy is somehow different from the comparison group.

So I feel vindicated in my stance and attitude toward the use of technology.  It is simply a tool.  However, it can be a tool that makes it easier or more quick to use the effective pedagogical techniques that have been hailed for years (immediate feedback, quick corrections of mistakes, active participation, etc).  I am currently trying to publish this work.

So yet another blog for me to update.  I have one other blog right now that is mostly me just describing my experiences in life, but perhaps I can use this blog to publish some of my more professional thoughts, experiences, and ruminations.

Let’s start with rumination #1:  Working in a world of ideas!

I absolutely love the job that I have.  I have always been that odd person that would ask questions that probably did not have an answer (yet).  I love bouncing around possibly solutions to complex problems or creative ways of looking at an issue.  I enjoy speculating on the causes of events, often contradicting myself in the process.  Working within a college allows me such freedom to ask questions like this of others and what is even more great is that my colleagues here love to think about ideas as well.

I have learned that this way of thinking about the world is probably not the norm.  In my own family, I find that when I ask weird and complex questions about topics that are sort of off base, I often will get a funny look or the simple response of “I don’t know!  Why would you even ask a question like that?”  And then the fun ends…

I have always been a very curious person.  I am a skeptic at heart often looking for other explanations for events or ideas.  This approach can often frustrate others.  It seems that I am always against them, when in reality I am just thinking of the possible alternatives.  I am a believer that you can fully entertain and think about an idea without actually subscribing to the position that you are taking.

This is why I love my job.  I am paid to get others to think about ideas in ways that they may not have otherwise.  I also am in a field where ideas are put to the test empirically.

So this is my first post.  I hope that I am able to better update this blog than I have others in the past.