Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Use of Clickers as Coercive Technology: Misuse vs. Appropriate Use

I read a very thought -stimulating post by Ira Socol this morning on Coercive Technology. He shares his commentary on a comment-debate that broke out between several professors who supported or didn't support the use of Clickers as a mandatory practice in university level classes. They were being used for attendance taking and monitor and adjust type activities. Ira's comment was that if he is in a higher ed course and the professor has everyone use Clickers to answer multiple choice questions, he is out of there. I agree. Once you are in college, it is time to get into higher levels of learning, extrapolation and application. This reminds me of my own life-experience at college I have to share...
I went to a liberal arts college, a Christian college that my father used to teach in, my brother and sister graduated from and most of my cousins went to also. Our home was 4 blocks from campus so I could live at home and attend at a lower cost than going off somewhere else. Also, I received grants and loans which made most of what it cost very manageable for me and for my parents.
I had grown up going to Sunday services, Sunday school, youth group on Sunday evening and then Sunday night service. Sundays for us were a no-holds-barred, worship fest of the most coercive family pressure you could imagine. I attended, against my will a lot of the time, no less than 4 church-related services on Sunday, and if there was a pot luck or visiting missionary there were more.
The college I attended was tied to this church and so all of the local church-going kids were channeled on into the college life. The services continued. We had chapel on Monday, Wednesday AND Friday at 8:30 in the morning. This was before the age of Clickers, so there were girls stationed at all entrances and exits to the auditorium (the chapel Gestapo) and you had to have their color of paper to sign your name on - and you only got one - no fair turning in a slip for someone else too tired to attend because of cramming for a test.
All the slips of paper were collected and the attendance was taken on each student. If you missed more than 1 time a week (we were told if you attended 2 mornings a week, it would average out and you would be fine) you were put on chapel probation the next term. If you were on probation and missed again, you were issued a warning that if it happened again, you would be expelled. I was in and out of probationary status even though I was on honor roll most every term -I know because I had an aunt who always cut the college honor roll list out of the paper every term, mailed it to me in a letter and let me know how proud she was of me. She was the media/librarian teacher I had that I have commented on before who has brain injury issues now. She understood that the education was more important than chapel attendance.
There was one rebel in my graduating class that eventually did get expelled because he didn't comply. Later in life he returned to be the chaplain!
The Clickers would have worked great to enforce that system back then, it just wasn't available yet at that time.
Okay, my point here is not to blast chapel practices at Christian Universities - if students choose to go there and agree to the system, then they need to be willing to follow along with the rules of that campus. Parents who want a more restrictive environment so their kids won't party and learn all kinds of vices, can send them to a school like the one I went to. That still doesn't guarantee that these young adults won't find a party if that is what they want to find. Believe me, there were plenty when I went there and that was a LONG time ago!
I look back and I turned out fine, I am not scarred for life. I actual have a solid faith and believe system that supports what I do. But what does this have to do with education? This is my thought on the debate of the clickers. I believe that any technology tool can be used for good somehow, the issue is how it is used - misuse or appropriate use.
Clickers can be viewed as a tool to control college attendance and be used for a nominal educational experience OR they can be viewed as technology that can be applied in a way that brings a new energy to learning and a way to assess what kids know. My experience with clickers has only been in the elementary classroom. I have seen children be able to use a clicker to answer a question and not be afraid that they will stick out if they answer wrong. I have seen interesting polls and surveys taken where the results immediately were shown on the screen to the class. To me, it all depends on what the tool is being used for, who is using it and how and how often they are using it.
I visited a high school this year where the teacher was the beneficiary of a new data projector. She used it as an overhead. She had a chapter summary worksheet shining on a white board and she used a marker to fill in the answers on the white board as the students looked up the answers in the chapter. The topic was Japan and America/ war and economics of trade. I can think of many exciting ways to make that subject come alive, and the projector on a white board wouldn't be one. This is an example of misuse of technology. Any tool can be misused just as well as have a proper function that can enhance learning.
I am excited about the new technologies that come down the pike every day. We have to be responsible to use these tools in ways that enhance, support and create a learning environment for all students to learn - and hopefully make it a joy and delight - not an experiment in force and coercion.
If the clicker concept/tool is new to you, here is the "EInstruction" site to check out what they are. They are just one company that makes this tool.
Thanks Ira for your post - I enjoyed it so much. There was so much to it and my discussion is not really doing it justice.

All the best to you!


narrator said...


Thanks for the context you create. Despite the way the debate unfolded, I need to say this about "clickers." I am sure they can be used in interesting ways. But I suggested that, probably in secondary and absolutely in higher education, if you were going to use a response system of this sort, the mobile phone-based systems are not just much cheaper, they allow actual interaction (what I called "the unanticipated question" and "the unanticipated answer") - with students able to not just say "A-B-C-D-E" or "true/false" but also, "What about?" or "Have you considered..." So, if the purpose is to add interaction into the dreaded university lecture hall (which was the argument of clicker proponents), I suggested adding actual interaction rather than building a stealth attendance system (that I actually got one professor to debate the cost/benefit ratio of enforcing attendance with clickers vs. electronic monitoring ankle bracelets was just icing on the cake).

For those interested in the mobile phone based systems, one vendor you can Google is "poll everywhere."

Lon said...

I love it Ira! Thanks for the ideas on the cell phone and the poll service.