Clicker or Ticket?

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As part of my continuing campaign to get my conservative credentials revoked, here’s another NYTimes article, this time about the [increased use of “clickers” to monitor attendance and participation in college courses.](

I’m sure we’ve all run into these annoying little devices at least once- the big econ classes use them, as do some introductory chem classes and physics lectures. And from what the Times tells us, professors around the nation are relying more and more on these little doohickeys to goad their students into coming to lecture, and participating once they’re present. In fact, we’re told that “more than a half-million students… on several thousand college campuses” are now using the devices.

The question here, of course, is clear: is “clicker” use a perfectly legitimate pedagogical strategy designed to boost accountability and foster engagement among perennially lazy college kids, or is it a domineering imposition of an artificial learning structure that interferes with students’ autonomy? Should we hope to see more Stanford profs employing these devices, or should we speak out against their use?

I tend to lean towards the latter, although I can sympathize with the frustrated professors who are employing these devices, and I understand that the benefits that flow from their use (as described in the article) are legitimate. I just can’t get past the fact that I, personally, learn just as well and much more efficiently when I am left to my own devices. In most subjects (not organic chemistry or computer science, sadly), I can easily pick up everything I need to know from posted course notes and/or textbooks, and I resent being forced to attend lectures that may not be the most effective use of my time in order to preserve my grade. This isn’t really true of upper-division classes, where I really do benefit from the professor’s explanations and expertise, but these “clickers” are almost always used in introductory lectures, for which I typically have little use.

But on the other hand, I may be in the minority. Perhaps most people do learn better by going to lecture. In that case, I can see how increased clicker use could be a good thing for the student body as a whole, since it might motivate students to take advantage of an educational resource that they would otherwise shun due to sleepiness, big homework loads, or a simple desire to play some ultimate Frisbee. And I can’t deny the usefulness of engaging students in a lecture by providing a means for feedback. I might just have to suck it up and realize that professors can’t always cater to my learning style.

So what do you think? I’ll be monitoring your responses, and our TAs will be deducting participation points from your grade if we don’t get an answer by the end of class.

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