Smart phone clickers in the classroom

iphone-clicker.pngJennifer Shaner, our campus CERTI Coordinator recently brought to my attention an article she found in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how students at Abilene Christian University (ACU) use iPhones for their clicker-enabled classes.

Apparently, the iPhone application for supporting clickers was developed in-house by ACU programmers. The iPhones (and iPod Touch units) were distributed to all of the first-year students.

However, ACU is not the first, nor the only university to experiment with using smart-phone technology to support clickers. Missouri S&T is also piloting the use of smart-phone technology in conjunction with an application provided by TurningPoint to use integrated clicker/smart-phones in the classroom. The main advantage to using a smart-phone is that many students already have smart-phones, so they would simply need to obtain a copy of the clicker application to run on their smart-phone. It also eliminates the need for students to carry multiple devices, instead relying on a single device which they also use for many of their other communication tasks like email, text-messaging, and web-browsing (and, on occasion, calling their friends and family).

The downside to insisting on using smart-phones for clickers is that not all students can afford to have a smart-phone. The technology may not be available for some brands of smart-phones or on certain smart-phone plans. It is certainly possible to have both standard RF clickers and smart-phone clickers in the same classroom.

One of the more interesting aspects of ACU’s implementation is the ability to display student responses in a “word cloud”, which means students and instructors can see the responses as a random cloud of words (see the image above for an example of what a word cloud might look like). This doesn’t sound particularly useful at first, but the words that students submitted the most will be displayed in larger font. Words that have only one or two submissions will be in correspondingly smaller font. Thus, if you are asking an opinion-oriented question about a topic, you can see at a glance which option students seem to prefer over others. For instance, the word cloud in the image above might reflect the responses to the question, “What is one of the most important events of the 20th Century?”

You can, of course, achieve the same result using a more “standard” clicker question with a bar graph–the word cloud just looks different and may work more effectively for some audiences.