Clickers not conducive to higher education

By now, the members of the University of Alabama’s incoming freshman class, sure to be the smartest in our history, have already crossed the threshold of high school graduation and are excitedly anticipating their move to Tuscaloosa in the fall. Flush with cash from graduation presents, they are also stocking up on the items they need to be successful college students.

But before they decide to spend some extra cash on a new phone, an iPad or maybe even a gameday flask, these students should make sure they grab the one item that is absolutely essential for academic success at UA but never mentioned at Bama Bound – the Turning Technologies Response Card XR, more commonly known as a clicker.

These handy devices, which sell for around $30 on Amazon.com, allow students to accumulate absolutely meaningless points toward their class grades by answering absolutely meaningless questions. Instructors simply post the questions on a screen at various points in class, and students select the answer on their clickers.

Most of the time, though, the responses students enter are irrelevant to the points they receive. Instructors who rely on clickers do so not to measure the information students retain, but to verify their physical presence in class. So, attendance points are awarded not for entering a correct answer, but for entering any answer at all.

Points for absolutely nothing besides showing up in class and entering random numbers probably sounds like a good deal – it did to me when I first learned about clickers. But there are reasons to be very, very weary of the clicker trap.

Most students aren’t able to buy all of their books and keep all of their notes on a personal electronic device, so they likely have many items to juggle throughout the day. ACT Cards, books, notebooks, computers, phones and keys are all important things new students – and all students – have to keep up with at all times. A clicker is another item in the mix. But unlike the other items, if you show up in class and realize you’ve forgotten it, you won’t get any attendance points for that class.

What instructor wants to call roll or let students sign in when clicker questions can be posed at the beginning, middle and end of class, ensuring students never sign in and skip out? With this innovation, instructors can assess attendance constantly, ensuring the customers paying their salary never leave their grasp.

But, like roll calls and sign-in sheets, no form of attendance verification is infallible – clickers perhaps least of all. While the absentminded among us may suffer for our irresponsibility when we leave our clickers back at the dorm, our slick peers can discretely juggle two or even three clickers at once, guaranteeing attendance points for themselves and an absent friend or two.

Even the most responsible students are subject to the clicker’s propensity to break. When this happens, a new clicker must be purchased at once, or attendance points will be foregone. Thankfully, everyone is willing to spare an extra $30 every few months so their instructors can constantly monitor their attendance, right?

While most UA instructors haven’t given into the clicker madness, in the basic classes that fill most freshman schedules, clickers are usually a necessity. But it isn’t just the low quality of the product, the hassle of keeping up with it and the ease of exploiting it that makes the clicker a total disgrace.

Clickers are just another example of assembly-line education, a cute technological device students raise in unison to answer questions in scenes one would expect to find in a more North Korean-like academic environment. It is the type of device instructors turn to when student enrollment exceeds their ability to facilitate a true education, not the type of device that comes with the quality growth we are aiming for at UA.

The clicker isn’t measuring the information students have retained or the thoughts they’ve devised; it’s verifying their whereabouts. Students are being granted and docked points based not on their ability to retain and process class material or produce new, useful research, but their ability to master the simple clicker.

It is unbecoming of a university that likes to think of itself as a national champion, not just in football, but also in everything else.

 

Tray Smith is the online editor of The Crimson White.

 

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