Saturday, September 17, 2011
From the Chronicle of Higher Ed.
As soon as the handheld gadgets called "clickers" hit the University of Colorado at Boulder, Douglas Duncan saw cheating.
The astronomy instructor and director of the Fiske Planetarium was observing a colleague's physics class in 2002, when the university introduced the electronic devices that students use to respond to in-class questions. He glanced at the first row and saw a student with four clickers spread out before him. It turned out that only one was his—the rest belonged to his sleeping roommates.
The student was planning to help his absentee classmates by "clicking in" for the sleepers to mark them present. The physics professor had to tell the student that what he was doing was cheating.
Clickers—and the cheating problems that accompany them—have become a lot more common since that day, many instructors say. Today, more than 1,000 colleges in the United States use the devices, which look like TV remotes.
At Boulder alone, about 20,000 clickers are in use among the university's 30,000 students. In addition to using them to take attendance, professors pose multiple-choice questions during class, students click answers, and software instantly projects the responses as charts at the front of the room. Particularly in large classes, that lets instructors assess student comprehension in a matter of seconds.
But the system can be abused. Students purchase remotes and register the devices in their names. Those who choose not to attend large classes can simply ask friends to bring along their clickers and get whatever credit the instructor assigns for showing up.
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Mr. Bruff, the clicker expert and a fan of the devices, says the concerns about cheating are not exaggerated: He sees students boasting about it on Twitter. "I saw one where a guy took a photo with his camera of the clickers he had on his desk—his and four of his friends'—and he was basically bragging about it." Mr. Bruff says he attends education-technology conferences throughout the country and is constantly asked how to curb abuse.
Certain situations lend themselves to wrongdoing, he says. "The larger the class size, the easier it is for students to get away with it, and so the more likely they are to do it." The way to deal with it is to keep the clicker stakes low and accountability for cheating high.
The 5% Principle
Low stakes, Mr. Bruff says, means that professors use clicker answers for 5 percent of the grade and no more. In his own courses, that level of incentive has raised attendance rates—real attendance, not clicker phantoms—by 20 percent. More important, he says, students in his class of 50 are participating and interacting on an individual level. That, he suggests, should be the primary reason for using the devices.
At Georgetown University, Matthew B. Hamilton, an associate professor of biology, adheres to the 5-percent limit. He also polices his students to see if they are using more than one clicker by having teaching assistants circulate the room during clicker quizzes.
And he, like Mr. Bruff, believes that the devices have real advantages. The interactivity of clickers outweighs the hassle of monitoring students and keeping of fresh batteries on hand, Mr. Hamilton says.
By specifically outlining for students how clicker cheating violates academic honor codes, Mr. Bruff says, universities can clarify the situation for students and bolster professors' positions. "The instructor can point to the honor code—the university has decided that this counts as cheating, so it's not just me being a tough guy. It's that this is commonly accepted as inappropriate," he says.
That kind of clarity works, says Mr. Duncan. At Boulder, the student-enforced honor code takes a strong stance against all forms of cheating. It's one reason that, since the first physics class he watched, he has used clickers for nearly a decade and has caught students cheating only twice.
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