Having a spare moment, I decided for whatever reason to see what had been written about the use of ‘clickers’ in the classroom. Quite a bit, as it turns out, but most seems to focus on how to use them effectively, with little discussion about how they should be used at all.
I find that Leslie M-B’s post on the subject gives a balanced summary of the issue, so I’ll point you there if you want to get the gist of what is going on.
From what I can tell, the only place where I can see clickers being of use is in very large classes where any kind of interpersonal interaction is impossible. I’m referring to classes of 100+ students. According to the Globe, the average number of students in a first-year class at McGill is 243, which is above the average across Canadian universities (194).
243, 194… it’s all insane.
The adoptions of clickers is a symptom of overcrowded classrooms.
Overcrowded classrooms are a symptom of problems with the economics of the university.
Universities are not allocating sufficient physical (classrooms, etc) and human (teachers) resources (i.e. classrooms and teachers, esp teachers) to teach the volume of students attending university. Why? I’ll simplify (if only because I don’t have time to investigate the details) and suggest that universities don’t have the money to provide these resources.
Universities, at least here in Quebec, receive funding in part based on the number of students attending. They should be able to acquire additional resources to meet the demand, at least on paper. Why not? Possible explanations:
- Funds recieved are sufficenct to cover incremental costs (ex hiring teachers), but do not allow for larger investments (i.e. new buildings, etc).
- Funds recieved are insufficient to meet need
- Funds recieved are not allocated to support teaching
I suspect that reality is some combination of these three factors.
This is what I think of every time I hear someone talking about clickers. In my opinion, trying to come up with ways to use clickers in the classroom is akin to rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. We should instead be focusing on the fundamental problem, rather then accepting the cramming of a few hundred students into a classroom as the norm, and coming up with ways to make it tolerable.