Academic Technology Staff Blog

AT staff members post thoughts and ideas about educational technology

John Martin's picture

What are clickers?

I confess that the first time I heard the word "Clickers" associated with education, I thought of dog training and was appalled at the idea.

Turns out they're a horse of a different color than the canine clickers, and are actually fantastic teaching and engagement devices in certain situations.

There was an interesting article — "Clickers in the Classroom at U Wisconsin Madison" — in Campus Technology last week that describes what they are, how they work, and how they can be used effectively — including examples from our very own UW-Madison. Here's a section of the article describing how they can be used. I encourage you to read the whole article for more thorough understanding. Again, DoIT's Academic Technology can help you get started with clickers in your large lecture classes.

How Clickers Are Used

Henriques said he typically asks four to six questions during a class period in which he uses the clickers for response. The purposes of the questions are many:

  • As a concept check to see what students understand about a topic. "This gives me immediate feedback on my teaching and allows me to see if I need to go over a concept again to help students understand the material better," he said. "Likewise, the clicker questions allow the students to assess their own understanding of the material, and they can see how they compare to their classmates. For instance, if they got a question wrong, were there many other students who also had difficulty with the material or were they one of the few who didn't understand the question?"
  • To describe a research study to the students and have them predict what the outcomes will be of the experiment. "This engages their critical thinking skills," Henriques explained. "Can they apply what they have learned in class to a research question? At other times [the poll] allows me to show students how a study's findings go against the commonsense explanation for what would happen. 
  • To demonstrate different psychological concepts. "I use this specifically in the area of cognition and problem solving, demonstrating ideas such as the availability heuristic by asking students if they think that there are more words in the English language that start with the letter 'k' or more words that have 'k' as the third letter," he said. "While it is easier to think of words that start with the letter 'k' and that leads us to conclude that there are more such words in the English language, it is the case that there are three to five times as many words that have 'k' as the third letter."
  • To get students thinking about the material they're about to cover in class. "For instance, I may ask them a question that they can't correctly answer prior to the lecture but should be able to understand and answer correctly once we finish covering the material," Henriques said. "Other times I will ask them to reflect on their own experiences as a way to help them understand how the different theories arose that we are about to discuss. I just did this in my lecture on emotion, asking students to think about the last time that they had a strong emotional response and whether the feeling of emotion preceded, followed, or coincided with the physiological feelings of emotion.
  • To give students practice with the types of questions that they are going to encounter on exams in the course."Oftentimes incoming students expect that college exams are going to be similar to high school exams--simple regurgitation of facts," he said. "But I want my students to be able to apply the ideas that we are talking about in class. These in-class questions can help them start thinking in those ways before they encounter their first exam.
  • To poll students about their behavior, "such as how many hours of sleep they get in a night as a lead-in to that course topic," Henriques explained.
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John Martin's picture

2010 Kaiser Report Blames Mobile

GENERATION M2 Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds A Kaiser Family Foundation Study JANUARY 2010


GENERATION M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds

A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. JANUARY 2010

My post headline is purposefully... what's the word? Inflammatory? Because this report is significant and important, and heralds in a much larger message beyond the report's main point that "Kids are consuming more media."

It's this important:

  • When the printing press was invented, there was a huge increase in the access to printed knowledge (and the participation in its sharing by those with a printing press)
  • The internet further enabled a huge increase in the sharing (and production) of knowledge, by those with networked computers
  • Internet-connected mobile devices are ushering in another massive increase in the personal production, sharing, and consumption of knowledge (in more and easier forms of media than were ever available to the individual thanks to built-in cameras, video and audio recorders, GPS, etc.).

This revolutionary device that lets you consume or produce knowledge is in your pocket all the time, not at the city printing press, not even in the computer lab at school, but at arm's length, and accessible whenever the urge or need to produce (or consume) hits!

This is amazing!

The Report

Just out this week, from, the reports dings Mobile devices as the new up-and-comer on the block that is increasing the recreational consumption of media in our kids (8 to 18 year olds). They spend more time than ever consuming media (the report does not go into how much media *production* has increased, but keep in mind that much of the media they are consuming includes time spent *creating* media that others are consuming — e.g. most of the Facebook media they're consuming is produced by their friends).

Since we're talking about 8-18 year olds, we're talking about the current practices of the next ten years' worth of college and university students. As a Learning Technology Consultant, my questions are:

  1. Are we, as educational institutions, evolving and adapting to this fast enough? (Answer: No.)
  2. How is this affecting the structure of our (human) thinking — and thus learning and teaching? (Answer: In significant ways, and the nature and business of the university will have to change if it is to remain relevant).

Main Headings

  • Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in media use among young people.
  • Youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment.
  • Children whose parents make an effort to limit media use—through the media environment they create in the home and the rules they set—spend less time with media than their peers.
  • Two groups of young people stand out for their high levels of media consumption: those in the tween and early teen years (11- to 14-year-olds), and Blacks and Hispanics.

Of Import to Educators

  • There's more access to, and ownership of, media in the car, the home (extending into the bedroom), and pockets (mobile media) of kids. They see the world, learn about it, and increasingly depend on media to understand the world (p. 9-10)
    Between the lines: If you try to ignore new media, you will be deemed irrelevant by them.

  • "On a typical day, 8- to 18-year-olds in this country spend more than 7½ hours (7:38) using media—almost the equivalent of a full work day, except that they are using media seven days a week instead of five" (p. 11).
    Between the lines: How does school compare against this media? Could it seem boring in comparison?

  • Physical activity has increased in the past 5 years (p.12).
    Between the lines: Is this because media is no longer tethered by cords, thanks to mobile.

  • Today, two-thirds (66%) of all 8- to 18-year-olds own their own cell phone, up from 39% five years ago (p. 18).
    Between the lines: most or all college freshmen for the next ten years probably will (at least) have smart phones and access much of their media content on the go. They will be used to getting information from their pocket. They will demand that their educators provide it.

  • Kids spend most of their recreational computer time on Social Networking, Video Games, and video sites like YouTube (p. 21).
    Between the lines: As we develop curriculum we need to consider What is it that they like to do? How can we engage them? What is important enough to them that they'll spend a lot of time and energy to do it?

  • The "digital divide" is narrowing, although now it's more about the quality/speed of access (p. 23).
    Between the lines: While we can't ignore that disparities still exist, we can no longer use disparity as an excuse to wait until all kids have equal access before we start engaging.

  • Time spent playing video games has increase almost threefold between 1999-2009 (p. 26).
    Between the lines: Games have always been great at conveying culture, beliefs, and other forms of knowledge. Instead of disparaging them as "not valid" forms of learning, we should further embrace them.

  • Listening to music is still very popular (p. 28)
    Between the lines: More money towards the arts.

There's more, on Print Media (kids are reading less); Multitasking (they're overlapping use of different forms of media): Media Rules (family rules affect all this); Race,Class, Gender, and "Parent's Education" (I wonder if the latter is their way of addressing class differences).

I'll let you download and read the report yourself, and tell me what your thoughts are.

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John Martin's picture

Use YouTube to learn stuff!

Honestly, one of the most fantastic eLearning tools is YouTube.

There are two reasons for this. First, there's a load of material out there to use as models. Second, you can add your own secret methods/better models to it. Both of these are great in learning.

Many Learning Options/Styles

If I want to learn how to do just about anything, I can probably find a number of conflicting and confirming video demonstrations on YouTube. Consider the simple, but somewhat arbitrary act of sharpening a lawnmower blade (or adding cool intros in iMovie, if you want something more eLearning-y). I type in "sharpen lawn mower..." and before I'm done typing it gives me a list to choose from. I select "how to sharpen lawn mower blades."

Almost immediately the list of results with title, description, thumbnail images, and ratings appears. I can sort by all kinds of options to find exactly what I need. I can choose by how recent something is, or highly it's been rated, etc. And I can quickly scan through them, starting and rejecting if they aren't "right " for me for whatever reason, rewinding and pausing as I try the action myself, considering multiple approaches (e.g. maybe I don't want to use the power grinder with the blade balanced on a gas can...).

It's brilliant, and it's personal, and it's often done with attitude (which is refreshing and typically missing from "official" tutorials). Which brings me to the second reason YouTube is a such a great Learning Tool—

Learn by Teaching

Many people like to teach, and they like to share (with total strangers at times) the really cool trick or shortcut that they've discovered — or conversely, the wisdom they've gleaned in their years of doing x or y, that there are no simple shortcuts to it. And they'll tell you with the type of attitude and personality that is peculiarly human. The personality that professional tutorial creators typically try to scrub from their tutorials, and the type that I suspect that we prefer to have (even though we don't always like some instances of them — lucky for me there are "about 100" tutorials on blade sharpening to choose from and I was able to find some that I liked).

The process of creating a YouTube tutorial requires a considerable exercise in

  • learning the process
  • organizing the steps
  • considering presentation
  • etc.

(all the things we try to teach in school). YouTube also provides examples (good and less good) that one can emulate, reject, and improve upon in the creation of one's own tutorial (evaluative skills).

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John Martin's picture

Library in Pocket: Notes from a Webinar

These are notes from the webinar I went to today (see it yourself here!). They may not be entirely accurate due to the imperfectness of my note-taking.

Today I attended:

EDUCAUSE Live! Web Seminar

January 20: Library in Your Pocket—Strategies and Techniques for Developing Successful Mobile Services

Speakers: David Woodbury, Libraries Fellow, North Carolina State University, and Jason Casden, Digital Technologies Development Librarian, North Carolina State University. January 20, 2010; 1:00 p.m. EST. More information on this free, hour-long EDUCAUSE Live! Web Seminar can be found on the event web site, Library in Your Pocket: Strategies and Techniques for Developing Successful Mobile Services. Find archives of past seminars and information about other upcoming events on the EDUCAUSE Live! website.

The NCSU mobile library site was discussed. It's pretty cool, but what made it brilliant is that it contains a prominent link to a webcam of the library's coffee shop lines, among other bits of info. The webcam is a hugely popular "hook" (~50% of usage) to lure students into using it, and then hopefully discover that there's other stuff on there too they might use, like:

  • library hours and maps
  • computer availability
  • catalog
  • askus (reference)
  • ability save book location to phone, so they can find books in stacks (vs. writing on scrap of paper)
  • they're going to soon add study room reservation, patron acct info, electronic reserves for classes, building wayfinding (videos and QR codes), tools for staff, initiative for mobile projects (feedback), user chat (who's in library with you).

They did it themselves vs. waiting for vendor to do it. Since they rolled it out, the've tracked a bunch of info on it, some of which is discussed on the MOBIweb project page.

  • iPhone/iPod Touch = ~75% of use
  • Blackberry = ~7%
  • Android = ~12%
  • 20k hits between introduction and January (200/day?)

Other notes from the webinar on the MOBIweb project

  • used MIT Mobile Web Open Source Project
  • don't get stuck on official guidelines and documents
  • design patterns still emerging
  • targeted high end phones, which followed iphone
  • Dreamweaver can emulate many mobile devices, but it doesn't accurately represent other limitations, such as processor, speed, etc.
  • Strategy: get stuff out there ASAP. refine later (Google's "BETA" strategy) (iterative design)
  • wurfl: a dataset that translates what the user-request came from (what device class)
  • they didn't use a login screen because that would have required working with the central IT enterprise people. The next iteration they want to do that... (proof of concept before dealing with IT people)
  • Wolf Walkers(?): an NCSU AR project tracks user location and shows them special resources based on it

Some resources shared:

Some mobilized library sites that were specifically shared (best viewed on a mobile device, of course...)

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John Martin's picture

News from CES

This article, The Internet Isn't Just for Computers Anymore, highlights the pace of change in technology. It notes that most of the websites that we take for granted and use daily (or many times a day, in some cases), did not exist 10 years ago.

But it also points out:

One thing that hasn’t changed in the last decade though has been that all of these great web apps have run primarily from the desktop.  We’re still chained to our laptops and desktops, but a new wave of innovation is changing that status quo rapidly.  In ten years, the computer will just be one of many ways we are connected to the web.

With this in mind, let's graph out how we, as educators (or as an educational institution), are adapting. How soon before we start to honor the pocket internet? What steps are we taking to prepare for it? How much of our time is being spent chained to our desktops, and why?

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