Engaging little lecture devices enter the mainstream

A campus group has recommended that instructors use InterWrite when ordering "clickers"--small, handheld devices that students can use to answer questions in class, or that vigilant instructors can use to see who's awake.

The group, which included faculty from the School of Veterinary Medicine and other departments, plus employees from Classroom Technology Services, chose the InterWrite devices by consensus this summer after reviewing five vendors.

The group liked InterWrite's simplicity, low cost, and 10 years of experience in the industry. The devices are also used at UCLA.

The decision is only a recommendation at UC Davis. Instructors can use other systems if they wish, although there are advantages to using one common system.

InterWrite clickers will cost UC Davis students $44.90, but they can recoup half of that amount by selling the unit back to the Campus Bookstore after they no longer need it.

InterWrite of Londonderry, N.H., has partnerships with major textbook publishers, and will offer a $20 rebate per clicker when the device is bundled with a new book.

On campus, clickers have gone through a pilot program. Introductory physics classes already use the devices. But the campus didn't have a standard for clickers or a common supplier until this summer.

Using just one clicker in various classrooms and instructional venues across campus will benefit students, said Jan Dickens, director for IET-Classroom Technology Services. A standardized approach will give the units resale value and remove the need for students to buy more than one kind of clicker.

Clickers, also known as "personal response systems," resemble pocket calculators. Each has a two-line display and an array of buttons for multiple-choice and true/false answers. The InterWrite system uses radio-frequency signals and can accommodate up to 2,000 students per central receiver.

Clickers provide a fast intermediary between students and teachers in large classrooms. For students in the back, shy and full of answers; for students in the middle, surrounded and drowned out; for students in the front, ignorant but conspicuous, clickers remove some barriers to classroom participation. For timid students, the discreet response eases the anxiety of answering wrong in public. That encourages participation.

Instructors, to gauge how well their lectures are going, can flash a key question on screen and then use the answers to determine what topics need more lecture time or clarification.

The company led a general training session on campus Sept. 22. The Teaching Resources Center is expected to help discuss the best ways to teach with them.

To order a system for a course, instructors need to tell the Campus Bookstore how many students they expect to enroll in that class. Students can buy clickers at the bookstore; InterWrite will send the instructor a central receiver that connects to a laptop.

For more about clickers, go to cts.ucdavis.edu/prs/. Please direct ordering questions to textbooks@ucdavis.edu.