(RALEIGH) – What good is technology if it sits on a shelf? That’s been a persistent question for administrators juggling budgets and deciding whether interactive tools are worth the price. Amid budget cuts and belt tightening, no one wants to spend precious dollars on tools that aren’t effective. But instructional leaders are desperately looking for solutions that help teachers manage and effectively teacher larger and ever more diverse groups of students. Student response systems, or clickers, are one such tool, when they’re used purposefully to increase engagement and assess student understanding.
Helping teachers make the most of interactive tools is the focus of our NCTIES Conference presentation “Dust Off Your Clickers and Polish Student Performance.” QTL instructional specialists Theresa Bell, Rachel Porter and Steve Puls are leading participants through an interactive session using Qwizdom clickers. The participants are first being quizzed about how satisfied they are with their own level of student engagement. The consensus, on a scale of 1-5, is right in the middle. These are teachers who already have a strong awareness of the importance of engagement, and a desire to get their students interested in what they’re learning. They’re always looking for ways to do it better.
The Qwizdom personal response systems we’re using today can be used for quizzing, polling or even interactive discussion. Participants are now being polled on whether they have clickers, and if so, how they currently use them. Steve is discussing effective use of clickers for engagement, assessment, performance feedback, midcourse corrections, and collecting data for differentiation. He’s talking about how the tool can assist teachers with each of those, helping them actively involve students, assess what they have learned, and adjust instruction to make sure the class is ready to move on.
Sometimes students need to engage with the content, not just interact with the teacher. Student response systems can focus students on what is being taught. It allows for overt responses, measurable information that is more accurate and meaningful than a nodding head. With the typical call and response used in classrooms, a teacher asks a question and students raise their hands if they “know” the answer. But even if every student raises their hand, the teacher can ask for a verbal answer and typically only find out whether one student truly knows the answer. Student response systems can give accurate percentages of how many students understand the content.
Rachel adds that assessment can be formative or summative, formal or informal. It can measure skills or interests. Student response systems can do all of those, and in many formats: multiple choice, true or false, matching short answer or fill-in-the-blank, and essay or performance.
“We know that 21st Century assessment goes beyond pen and paper to online exams,” Rachel says. “But they’re also focused on the learning process, not just the outcome.
“End-of-grade tests work a little like an autopsy… it’s too late to help. But if you are assessing during the process, you can adjust and make sure you’re advancing toward your goals.”
Building thinking skills is critical for 21st Century learning, meaning teachers need to incorporate strategies like discussion prompts, raising confidence, voting problem solving, raising questions without clear right answers, and getting opinions. Interactive technology makes these possible in a modern, crowded classroom.
To illustrate the point, Steve is showing an old “Saturday Night Live” clip of Jerry Seinfeld teaching history (watch it here). The ‘students’ are a who’s who of early 90s comedy, and the clip is amusing. But aside from that, the contrast between old style student engagement and what is now possible with technology is stark. As Seinfeld struggles to get correct and appropriate answers from the class, the group mentality makes it impossible to figure out whether anyone actually knows anything. How would interactive tools have changed that? And what skills would the teacher need to make the most of the technology’s potential?
Great questions for the 21st Century school, and this group has clearly been thinking about them. Asked for ideas to improve the lesson today, suggestions include using the 10/2 approach (ten minutes of teaching, then two minutes to allow students to do something with what they’ve learned), using technology to ‘chunk’ the content, testing prior knowledge, using cooperative learning, having students write the questions, and a dozen other great ideas.
New tech tools can be useful in implementing any of those ideas. Some of these educators have that technology available in their classrooms, and some don’t. But they all seem to have a good head start just by virtue of the fact that they’re thinking through strategies and using some creativity. That’s what we aim to help more teachers do through our programs, and it’s always encouraging to see what good teachers bring to the table.