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IT and CTE pilot cloud-based 'clicker' system

By Maha Aziz     1/14/15 5:13pm

Rice Information Technology and the Center for Teaching Excellence are collaborating to implement a new cloud-based clicker system to replace existing iClickers. According to Carlyn Chatfield, Manager of Rice IT Technical Communications, the system will be university-wide by fall 2015.

The technology will allow students to use their own portable devices to submit answers and is currently undergoing pilot studies. The findings will be presented to faculty in April.

As the Thresher previously reported, undergraduate professors had tested TopHat and Polleverywhere, two student feedback programs, throughout fall 2014.

“The current pilot is a continuation of the process that started last semester,” Assistant Director of Academic Technology Services Carlos Solis said. “We are still looking at TopHat and Polleverywhere. We extended the pilot to this semester because we wanted to get wider participation from faculty and a richer set of experiences.”

Paul Dingus, a Baker College sophomore, said that a new system would be a beneficial change to some current systems, such as iClickers, available to students. The use of iClickers requires stuents to purchase a separate remote, as opposed to being able to use their own portable devices to respond.

“The iClickers often are lost, malfunction or never even acquired for some reason or another,” Dingus said. “If the new system can reduce these problems, and it is hard to imagine it not doing so, and reduce the price paid by students, then I support the change.”

Travis Kwee, a Baker College freshman, said he used Polleverywhere in his general chemistry class. Polleverywhere is similar to a group quiz in which students discuss concepts and work together to approach an answer and are graded on participation, according to Kwee.

“The big downside is that [Polleverywhere] is not 100 percent reliable because the mechanism sometimes does not catch everyone’s answers, so it does affect some people’s grades,” Kwee said. “There is no way to really tell which questions the student actually answered,” Kwee said he has also been a part of the pilot program with TopHat in his physics class.

“[TopHat] is not used for grading at all, so a lot of students change answers which at times disrupts the class,” Kwee said. “It is still useful because it is not graded and it encourages us to answer the questions so it is practice with no risk involved.”

According to Solis, since the new system will rely only on wifi instead of classroom infrastructure, it can be implemented in a variety of classes. Due to this flexibility, the system is being tested in many different classes.

“We essentially made a call for participation, and as long as the respondents were teaching a course during this semester, we accommodated them in the pilot,” Solis said. “We did not specify any particular instructional practices as criteria for participation, since we want to be able to capture as wide a set of pedagogies and subject matters as possible.”

Dingus said he believes every class can benefit from using clicker questions, whether these questions are open-ended or multiple-choice.

“I think other classes could benefit greatly from clickers,” Dingus said. “I cannot think of a class that would not have a use for them. It is always valuable to be able to gauge class opinion anonymously and visualize how well a class understands questions.”

Dingus said his first-year writing-intensive seminar used a system called Socrative that operates from a smartphone or computer. He said the system helped foster discussion in his class.

“Socrative can be used to provide long answers and answer a series of large multiple-choice questions all at once,” Dingus said. “This may be useful mainly for smaller classes, but that is the main demographic that do not already use clickers. Consequently, something like this might be employed in smaller humanities classes and such.”

Solis said the CTE will convene with the participating instructors and conduct a set of interviews to gather their opinions on the systems. Student feedback will also factor into the decision, which will be presented to faculty and all others interested.

“Combing faculty and student feedback, along with legal contracts for services and provider policies, we will forward a report for the final decision,” Solis said.

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