Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting ready for the new clickers

Today those of us who will be teaching BIOL 121 next term got together for a demo of the new 'radio frequency' (RF) clickers we'll be using, and of how to integrate the clicker questions into our PowerPoint slides. If you don't already know, clickers are remote response gadgets used to collect students answers in class to questions posed by the instructor (like in "Who wants to be a millionaire").

These new RF clickers are much better than the clunky old infrared ones we used last year. Now the students don't have to worry about whether the system received their answer, so they can relax a bit and think about the question.

Last year the clicker questions we did in class were worth 5% of the total marks for the course. This year I'm going to set it up a bit differently, allowing each student to choose, at the beginning of term, whether they want their clicker responses to count or not. If not, the midterm and final will together count 5% more. I can do this because I've figured out how to set up WebCT and Excel to automatically use the appropriate mark calculations for each student.

I like the idea of giving students more choice in how they will be graded. But I also think that clicker questions help students learn, and that students will take the questions more seriously if they count for marks, even though the mark value of each question is only about 0.05% (there will be about 100 questions over the term).

I like to think that most students will agree with me and choose to have their clicker questions count. Before making their decision they'll sensibly want to know the effect of the clicker marks on grades in last years' classes. So I just checked - on average students did a bit better on the clicker questions than they did on the midterm and final, so the clicker marks pulled their grades up a bit. Note that this doesn't address the question of whether doing clicker questions for marks helped students learn biology. Rather it reflects my decision to avoid giving clicker questions that were very challenging.

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