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Professor’s use of i>clicker, Course Signals facilitates student engagement

Elliot Friedman
Elliot Friedman, assistant professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies

When Elliot Friedman, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, began teaching a 200-level lecture course on his field of research, he wanted to encourage as much interaction and engagement as a lecture hall with 300-plus students would allow.

“I didn’t want students to be absorbing the material passively,” Friedman says. “I wanted them to apply it, engage their brains, and see what they can do with it.”

To help spark a dialogue, Friedman turned to i>clicker, an ITaP-supported audience-response system that allows students to respond to in-class questions in real time. He uses the system multiple times each class to test students on previously covered material, gauge understanding of new concepts, and conduct in-class polls that serve as vehicles for thinking about human behavior.

 “Clickers help break the barrier of the traditional lecture environment by giving students something active to do,” Friedman says. “I’ve found one of the best ways to grab students’ attention with clickers during a lecture is to ask a question that has a counterintuitive answer.”

When conducting an i>clicker poll, Friedman asks students to measure their attitude toward a particular social norm, such as time spent exercising, and the perceived attitude of their peers. As students respond using the handheld devices, data is gathered on the classroom computer and can be projected to the class. The simple survey oftentimes reveals surprising variations in perception among the students, Friedman says, sparking students’ interest and discussion.    

Friedman, who teaches the course alongside colleague Zoe Taylor, also uses i>clicker to administer weekly low-stake quizzes and to ask in-class questions on key concepts, a practice that can benefit students and instructors alike.

“By responding to clicker questions, students get a sense of what concepts they’ve mastered and give me a sense, too. If there is a question most of the class got wrong, I know we need to spend more time on that topic,” Friedman says.

To personalize the course further, Friedman began using Course Signals in the fall 2013 semester to help provide quality feedback on students’ academic progress. Feedback can especially be helpful for first-year students still adjusting to the college environment.

Within Course Signals, Friedman crafted three different messages that students receive based on performance and quantifiable behavior in the course, such as how often a student logs into Blackboard. The three levels of messages correspond with Course Signals’ traffic signal metaphor – green for high likelihood of success, yellow for potential problems and red for risk of failure. The messages are automatically distributed to students via Blackboard when Friedman initiates each analysis.

“It’s not a time-intensive thing, and it gets the attention of some students who aren’t putting in the effort,” Friedman says. “I had one student who said he had never been in a course where an instructor had sent an email like that. The fact that it meant that much to him was worth the price of admission alone.”

To learn more about how to communicate effectively with digital tools in the classroom, check out ITaP’s new “Innovate” website or schedule a consultation with ITaP’s teaching and learning group by emailing tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Writer: Jonathan Hines, technology writer, ITaP, 765-496-7998, hines18@purdue.edu

Sources: Elliot Friedman, assistant professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, 765-496-6378, efriedman@purdue.edu

Last updated: Feb. 28, 2014