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iClickers help science classes go interactive

A student demonstrating the use of a clicker issued by the Sciences Library.

Friday, February 1, 2008

What does a professor do when he has to teach about 200 students the importance of chemical structures of living organisms?

This semester professors in some biology and physics classes are trying to increase students’ participation – and interest – with the introduction of “iClickers,” devices that allow professors to ask students multiple-choice questions in class.

In class, students answer multiple choice questions posed by the professor using their iClickers, just like audience members on the television quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” They can work together to discuss the question and get credit for their answers when a green light shines, showing their answer has been submitted. The professor then immediately reviews the results of the quiz to see how students fared.

“The whole purpose was that as we added more and more technology people receded into electronic cocoons and only came out for tests. People stopped coming to class and section,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Arthur Salomon, who teaches BIOL0280: “Introductory Biochemistry.” The iClickers, which are free for students, are shaped like “a retro candy bar cell phone,” Salomon said.

“Usually people are falling asleep and drooling,” Salomon said. “Now in the middle of class they are brought to life arguing about the material.”

According to Ingrida Berberian, an administrative assistant at Computing and Information Services, CIS has ordered 500 iClickers. Students can pick up the devices at the Friedman Study Center after registering with their Banner ID, which means the professor knows which student has which iClicker.

“Typically the ones most confused don’t raise their hand. Now I can tailor my lecture in real time based on the quiz results,” Salomon said.

“I expected it to be a lot more intrusive, but we just use it once a class so it’s no big impact,” said Colin Feuille ’09, who is in Salomon’s biochemistry class. Feuille uses the iClickers in two of his other classes, BIOL1880: “Comparative Biology of the Vertebrates” and PHYS0040: “Basic Physics.”

“People immediately start talking and it gets loud in the room,” when students use the iClickers, Feuille added.

Samuel Terman ’09 also uses the iClicker in “Basic Physics” and “Introduction to Biochemistry.”

“It’s kind of fun, if you have an hour-and-a-half class and you break it up in the middle with a game, it wakes everyone up and keep people engaged,” he said.

Though Feuille is amenable to the new iClickers, Salomon says that he has had some complaints from students. Salomon is weighting the quizzes, which his students take every class, as equivalent to a midterm – meaning students need to go to class to get credit.

“One thing Brown students love is absolute freedom and control and in one sense we are requiring them to show up and discuss. They e-mail me saying, ‘What, we have to go to class?'” he said.

Though students and professors are still figuring out the mechanics of the iClickers, Salomon believes they’ll continue to improve his class.

“The students really dig it. I dig it,” he said.

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