The Surly Subgroup: Teaching Tax — On Clickers and Laptops, by Sam Brunson (Loyola-Chicago):
I’ve used clickers in class ever since I started teaching. In fact, thanks to Paul Caron’s tireless advocacy, I’ve known I was going to use clickers since before I entered academia.
And, like Paul, both I and my students have found clickers tremendously helpful in the classroom. In my experience, they do three main things:
- They force all students to actively engage with the class. It’s easy enough to sit back in class and passively absorb (or not) the content. Sure, whomever I call on has to actively engage, but I can only call on a small portion of my class on any given day. But clicker questions allow students to not only listen, but actually answer, at least a handful of questions.
- They tell me how well the students grasp what I’m teaching. If most of the students get the right answer, I know my explanation and the discussion were helpful. If a significant portion get it wrong, I know that I need to go back and address it again (and, depending on the answers they choose, I may be able to figure out where I or they went wrong).
- They tell my students how well they grasp what I’m teaching. If most of the students get the problem right, a student who gets it wrong knows that she may need to go back and review the topic. Or ask a question. Or do something else.
But I have a problem: ...
This year, Loyola switched vendors. Now we use Top Hat. And honestly, Top Hat has great functionality. ... Rather than purchase a remote, students purchase a four-month, twelve-month, or lifetime subscription. And, while the pricing is kind of steep compared to a used remote, schools can apparently negotiate pricing with Top Hat to reduce the cost. With a subscription, students can use their laptops, phones, or tablets to answer questions. ...
Which leads to my problem: the evidence is becoming more and more compelling [more here] that students who take notes by hand learn, retain, and understand better than students who take notes on laptops.
Now, I’m not going to ban laptops in my class (though I may create a laptop-free zone in my classes so students who want to take notes by hand won’t be distracted by whatever their classmates are watching). Law students are adults, and I’m willing to let them make their own choices, though I will point them toward the studies, so that their decisions are informed.
But, while they can make their own decisions, I feel like using a response system that requires the students to use a laptop (or phone) in class puts a thumb on the scale. And that thumb is on the wrong side of pedagogy.