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The past decade has seen the rise in popularity of the use of online tools for classroom teaching. Supporters have claimed to have seen users achieving higher teaching effectiveness as well as enhanced teacher-to-student and student-to-student interactions in classrooms. “Clickers” emerge afterwards as a generic term that refers to the use of any student response systems beneficial for teaching and learning.
Significant Impacts on Classroom Teaching
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Compared to traditional classroom teaching, most student response systems have appeared to have emphasised “user-friendly”, “engaging” and “live active learning” that are often labelled as some essential elements for modern education. Many of these systems support both multiple-choice and short answer questions so that students can share ideas with peers more easily. Such handy tools help to check students’ understanding and kick off class discussion independent of class size – and perhaps the bigger the size, the more obvious benefits teachers will see from mass collection and immediate dissemination of students’ feedback.
Using Clickers often requires no training for teachers who can get used to a system pretty quickly. All actions are instant that target at teaching and learning cultural change resulting in fast-paced classroom interactions. Whenever a particular function, such as photo sharing or mapping is found absent from current Clickers platforms, it is not difficult to find new apps that enable multiple more functions up on the horizon.
At PolyU, the PALMS (Pedagogic and Active Learning Mobile Solution) project in collaboration with other three local universities comprises one of the indicative development of Clickers that sees current impacts on classroom teaching as room for advancement. With learners having active control of learning in mind, the University tends to design, deploy and develop mobile learning applications and solutions to increase student-teacher and student-student engagement that conceives and turns innovative active pedagogies into practical mobile learning solutions.
My EUS Teaching with Clickers
Pedagogically similar, but comparatively different from other teachers who might have had a habit of sticking to one single student response system to deliver teaching in a subject, I tend to use multiple Clickers tools to engage the same group of EUS students throughout a semester. My overall goal is to help them review taught skills in a progressive manner.
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In EUS, a skill-based language-focused course where achieving the academic writing style (EUS: Unit 1) is usually introduced in the first lesson, I aim at reviewing relevant skills in the beginning of Lesson 2 using Word Cloud on “Poll Everywhere” with my students. This opinion-based text building feature enables each participant to key in a short text message on the system. The system displays these short texts by creating unique cloud art that can be captured as pictures for offline revision. By the end of the open-end question, I read each message aloud and point out what is worth-noting and highly important for academic writing.
Right after the first EUS in-class writing assessment in Weeks 7 and 8, my students are given two other Clickers sessions on “uReply” and “Kahoot” respectively. These sessions are associated with some commonly found problems such as referencing and language identified on their writing. With the use of multiple choice questions, students know how well their classmates have performed in the task and more importantly, they will avoid similar problems in their second writing assignment. Such Clickers-assisted learning in the lesson have enabled me to create teachable moments as important reminders.
In Week 12, my students have time to discuss issues related to delivering academic presentations (EUS: Unit 4) in pairs and choose the best practice (out of 4) on a “YoTeach” session. The session contains a total of 6 questions, each with 4 very short videos showing the same person with different practices in terms of eye contact, voice projection and the like. I have often found that my students have had better preparation before they attempt the final course assessment – Pair Oral Presentation – thanks to the Clickers session.
Observable Benefits Bought by Clickers
It has come to most Clickers users that a lesson with Clickers has usually been a guarantee of a responsible classroom. It adopts a more student-centered approach to learning; whereby, students leverage new mobile learning technologies that underpin active learning approaches and methodologies.
One key feature of Clickers that helps engage students more than traditional class discussion is associated with its “game approach”. They provide a mechanism for students to participate anonymously while actively engaging them during the entire game period that, in turn, gauges students’ level of understanding of the material being presented. These educational apps are designed to favour learning in fun, engaging and interactive ways in return for improved learning outcomes while students receive enhanced motivation.
Another advantage of Clickers is that they broaden student participation beyond the front row. Clickers may be one best solution for both classes comprised of both active learners who often aim to draw the teacher’s attention, and passive learners who prefer to stay silent during a lesson. With Clickers, teachers can receive feedback from the entire class with different individuals who may possess different thinking and ability as they are provided with an equal opportunity to participate. At university where student projects require a more collaborative approach, Clickers help encourage students to discuss questions with their peers achieving a very similar goal. Depending on the setting of a pre-assigned task that may require discussion and exchange of knowledge, Clickers welcomes disruption from lecturing that can lead to active learning.
The third benefit of Clickers is relevant to useful feedback provided for both students and their teachers. Results obtained from a live classroom session could help alert students to their learning progress when they compare with that of their peers. These student response systems may also help indicate any possible shortcoming due to a less effective mode of learning adopted by individual students. On the other hand, teachers may provide prompt feedback to students’ answers to improve overall learning outcomes such as increase in collaboration, lifelong learning skills and academic performance. In the long run, feedback collected occasionally could serve as an indication of class progress as well as a self-created reflection on teaching for those who aim to find out “what has been enough” and “what needs to be reinforced” with students. Overall, Clickers enable students to identify problems themselves more easily while teachers could design follow-up lessons to help tackle these students’ problems more purposefully.
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Though scholars and numerous front-line educators have evidently proven that Clickers could lead to educational benefits, the rise of Clickers might have undermined the belief of a few experienced teachers who have been used to traditional teaching approaches. They prefer having more face-to-face classroom engagement to having a technologically enhanced learning environment. Personally, turning traditional teaching into activities on phones requires time, practice and little empathy. I believe, as time goes by, the young will see visions of the experienced, and the experienced will be alert to changes in their teaching ecology.
About the author
Vincent joined the ELC’s Clickers team for EUS as one of the founder members in 2016. In addition to managing several Clickers platforms and answering everyday teacher enquiries, his role included examining possibilities for the integration of new Clickers into teaching English for Academic Studies (EUS), the ELC’s flagship subject. Vincent regularly delivered ELC staff development workshops that aimed at bringing in up-to-date techniques learned from his partner department, APSS, and sharing recent Clickers movement with fellow colleagues. In these workshops, Vincent emphasised “fun”, “improved interactions” and “the power of fingertips that has shaped today’s learning”.
Vincent, L Y SHEUNG KWUN
English Language Centre
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University