Those of you who know me are aware of my professional interest in the use of technology in the classroom.  I enjoy trying out new hard/software into my classrooms and occasionally am able to do some real research on the effectiveness of these tools.  Two tools that I am recently interested in is the use of student response systems (clickers) and e-books.

There has been a deluge of research on the use of clickers in the classroom.  It is actually beginning to be a bit annoying that at nearly every teaching conference that there is at least a half a dozen presentations on the different uses of these tools.  From what I have gathered it appears that the hopeful message that use of these clickers would consistently improve student performance is not supported.  Rather, there appears to be more of an effect on student engagement and enjoyment of these toys.  My own research has also supported this lack of an effect on performance.  This does not suggest that I believe clickers to be useless.  I am currently trying to find a way to suggest that the use of clickers might change how one approaches teaching.  I know it did for me, but I am still hammering this one out.

One consistent finding that I do have, anecdotally, is that student enjoy using the clickers.  Nearly every class where I introduce the clickers, there is a noticeable change in the students.  They giggle a bit, are interested in the ability to see immediate class results, and search to find just the right way to point their remote to activate their answers.  I also have students comment on my course evaluation forms that they liked the clicker questions and report that it helped them to pay better attention during lecture.

However, recently a colleague of mine used a slightly different version of a response system (one that worked through the student laptops and wireless network) and he reported that the students did not enjoy using this technology.  I am interested to know some of the reasons behind this because there has been suggestion of going the laptop route if Morningside chooses to adopt a response system institutionally.  Was it the technology?  Was it more difficult to use?  Were the questions not ‘fun’ or seen as ‘useful’ by the students?  Experiences that differ so greatly as my own and my colleagues raises very interesting and very practical questions.

The other technology that is becoming more popular is the e-book.  More and more publishers are offering e-book versions of their textbooks and these are often marketed as less expensive options to buying the actual paper and cardboard textbooks.  Personally I have been reluctant to offer an e-book exclusively.  I do let my students know about the option, but have not done anything formally with our bookstore to offer the students an e-book.  Part of this is from my own difficulty in reading from a screen and the other part is a desire for my students (especially majors) to be able to keep a resource for themselves (I know, how many will actually crack open their textbook later in life).

With new technologies like the Kindle and the upcoming Apple Tablet, perhaps it will be worth investigating the use of an e-book and student response to these books.  As with the contradicting experiences with the response systems (possibly due to differences in platform) perhaps there are differences in having an e-book on one’s laptop versus a more text-friendly technology.

I hope to have the possibility of doing some sort of systematic research to attempt to answer this question.  This appears to be more of a Human Factors than an Ed Psych question, but in all honesty, comfort with the material and ease of use is an important part of integrating technology into the classroom.  Students need to be able to focus their attention on the content and developing their thinking of the material, not trying to figure out or focus too much energy on the technology.  At least this is my personal point of view.

I will let you know if I am able to answer the e-book and clicker platform question.  It is an interesting one.  Perhaps there is a new study on the horizon.

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