Clickers not just for couch

Adam Milasincic

New keypad technology may hit classrooms in the future

CPS remotes, now in the testing stage on campus, are being used by professors to take attendance, allow polls within the classroom and help professors administer quizzes.

Credit: Steve Schirra

A little piece of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is making its way into Kent State classrooms.

The same keypad technology that allows contestants to “ask the audience” and receive instant poll results is currently being tested by eight Kent State professors for its potential in facilitating quizzes, enforcing attendance and encouraging class participation.

If those tests pan out, the remote control-sized keypads could become a more familiar sight.

A five-member subcommittee of the University Council on Technology is considering ways to standardize the technology across campus so it costs less for students and is more user-friendly for professors.

The committee is surveying classes that used the keypads this semester before issuing a final report to Associate Provost Laura Davis, who will decide by fall on a single “automatic response system” for all professors who want one.

“Feedback has been pretty good,” said Mark Pike, assistant dean in the department of Libraries and Media Services and chairman of the committee. “By and large, they feel there is a real value to using these systems in the classroom, particularly to generate participation in lectures.”

Although many vendors offer the technology, Pike said the committee has narrowed its focus to two: Turning Technologies, the Youngstown-based maker of TurningPoint clickers, and eInstruction, a Texas company whose CPS keypads are used in more than 600 universities. The main differences between the products are related to size and administrative software, Pike said.

Despite generally positive reviews from the professors who have used the clickers, the infant technology has generated some student gripes over cost and scoring glitches.

Ronald Stolle, Goodyear executive professor in the College of Business Administration, said the keypads have allowed him to eliminate seating charts and Scantron quizzes in the year and a half he’s used them. He also said instant polls have made classes more interesting and revealed a broader spectrum of student opinion.

“What I don’t like is that it costs students to buy the clickers and register them,” Stolle said. “If the campus goes to this, cost could go down with the economy of scale.”

The CPS clickers are available in the campus bookstore for $16. Students must pay an additional $15 registration fee for each semester the keypad is used.

Pike said The Ohio State University negotiated a $36 price with Turning Technologies that included the keypad and lifetime registration. The same rate would be available at Kent State if at least 10 percent of students were required to purchase clickers, he said.

In addition to cost, there is some concern over the multi-stage online registration process required to activate each keypad. Stolle said four of his students last semester never registered and thus scored zeroes on in-class quizzes and attendance.

While some students had legitimate technical issues with the keypads, Stolle said, most were readily correctable. He said a “large volume” of student visits to his office concerned the keypads, but were resolved quickly through free help from the manufacturer’s Web site or toll-free hotline.

“There’s only so far we can go. Part of college is taking responsibility for assignments,” Stolle said. “What do you think would happen if you were hired for a job, and the boss said, ‘You need to register into our computer system,’ and five weeks later you haven’t done it?”

In one Introduction to Mass Communication class this semester, the bugs in a CPS system caused the instructor to cease using it. After initial registration hurdles, some students found their keypads still did not send the radio frequency signal necessary to log responses. When the problems persisted for several weeks, the keypads were scrapped. E-Instruction offered refunds for all purchase and registration fees.

Joe Gartrell, graduate student assistant for the class, said the errors led to substantial student frustration.

“It would be easier if it worked,” he said.

Pike invited students and professors with questions or comments about the keypad technology to contact him. He predicted most faculty will probably be slow to adopt the clickers, even with a standardized system in place.

If they do take hold, will push-button polls eventually overtake bubble sheet quizzes and raised hands?

That remains the million-dollar question.

Contact news correspondent Adam Milasincic at [email protected].