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Electronic Student Response Technology

Special Session at 2004 Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America

November 7-10, 2004 - Denver CO

An engaging session with lively discussion about classroom handheld wireless response pads was held at the Geological Society of America's 2004 Annual Meeting (more info) in Denver, Colorado. The session, co-chaired by Lisa Greer (Washington and Lee) and Peter Heaney (Penn State), was themed "Electronic Student Response Technology in the Geoscience Classroom: Is it a Valuable Teaching and Learning Tool?" Co-sponsored by NAGT and GSA's Geoscience Education Division, twelve speakers contributed their experiences and outcomes using this innovative technology with their students.

Session Abstracts

Abstracts by contributors to this session can be found at http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2004AM/webprogram/Session12862.html (more info) .

Session Report

Overall, session presenters and attendees agreed that the technology acts as a tool, a facilitator to sound and well-developed pedagogical techniques. Other presenters said they do not use the wireless pads, nicknamed "clickers" by many, but either have the students raise their hands to provide the same feedback or have students record written responses collected at the end of class.


A variety of examples were presented on classroom integration of electronic response systems. Some instructors show a multiple-choice question in MS PowerPoint, have students submit individual responses, review the class responses, then encourage a peer discussion where students are allowed to enter a second response after sharing their arguments for the correct answer. Other instructors have only the group discussion and record the responses after the peer review. One presenter discussed how he has the students not only enter their responses but write down a 1-3 sentence rationale for each response.


A series of advantages were presented and recorded in classrooms across the presenting schools. Electronic student response technology has students apply what they have learned, making students think through questions instead of memorizing answers. Peer teaching and learning strategies are added benefits. For some of the large-enrollment courses, the clickers act as an attendance motivator. The questions asked can be used as a summation, extension, and application of materials learned, which allows the instructor to provide a check on learning. A direct benefit to the faculty member is that the questions can keep the instructor focused during lectures as well as the students. One presenter developed a challenge board for teams of students to compete in answering course-related questions while reviewing for exams.


Some disadvantages to using electronic student response systems were presented and were not unique to one institution. The biggest concern voiced was time- time needed to learn the system, to set it up, to develop the questions, to input the questions, and the time taken away from lecture for the polling and peer instruction. The cost of the system, whether students purchase the remotes or the department, was a concern. If a student purchases a remote but forgets to bring one to class, that student will not be able to get credit for participating - unless, as one university has done, have loaner clicks available for students that forget their own. One instructor that uses the electronic response technology did not like using the tool for quizzing, since it could only be used in class and students were not then able to get access to the quizzes outside of class and the instructor did not have a way to provide feedback. The speed of the clickers was a concern for some, but advancements in the handheld technology by the manufacturers should alleviate this issue.


This part of the technology implementation had the most variation. One instructor uses the electronic responses to provide overall feedback to the questions presented. He does not assign a particular remote to any student and does not record any individual responses. Other instructors use the responses as part of the final course grade. One example was for the electronic responses to be 10% of the final grade, with 5% for participation and 5% for correct responses. Another example was to provide extra credit for correct responses. Penn State offers the incentive of so many correct responses allowing students to be inducted into the "Order of the Oblelisk." There was no agreement in the session as to whether grading or not grading the student responses was a benefit or a motivator for learning.


The area that requires additional information is the assessment of student learning. Many of the electronic response technology adopters have collected qualitative data reported by students. Overall, the students feel they are learning more and enjoy using the clickers. But does the technology benefit and enhance student learning? An initial study discussed by one presenter did not show measurable improvement in overall test scores and averages before and after the clicker implementation. It was agreed upon by all that additional work must be done in this area to see if the same pedagogical presentation of course material enhanced by technology makes a difference in student learning.