Clickity Click! Part 2: Designed By The Professor… July 10, 2006Posted by gordonwatts in university.
As I mentioned in the last post, the clicker system the physics department has been using has given me some difficulty. There is one other bit I left out of that story. The physics department is no longer the only one using clickers in the classroom. Chemistry and Biology I know are, and I suspect there are other departments around the university. If each department uses a different technology, the student will be forced to purchase a new clicker for each class. That runs them about $30 bucks a clicker (they can often get steep discounts from book publishers). It would make a lot of sense for the university to pick a common clicker system used across all departments and supported by the university.
It has. It is from a company called Turning Technologies (warning: sound!). I’ve never used this system, though chemistry has (and I consider it suspect since it web site starts talking to me without my permission). The other thing that makes me suspicious is that it is designed for business training, which is very different from the higher-education market. My understanding is that the universities 3’ year deal with them includes the promise from them of substantial software upgrades.
But, what I really wanted to talk about when I started these two posts is iClicker (how long before they are sued by Apple??). Note the low-tech web site. We had a demo by a Kate Zehnacker a few weeks ago. The demo left my jaw on the table: this is what a clicker system is supposed to be. But, heh, guess who designed it? That’s right. An ex-high energy physicist! First of all, the system is radio-frequency based, not infrared. This means there is no pointing, and there is only a single sensor at the front of the room. Second, there is direct feedback from the base to the student to let them know their answer has registered at the base. Third, the software that runs the devices is open source: you can integrate it into your grading system however you want (i.e. hire a hot-shot undergraduate to write the program). Fourth, software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux (unlike Turning, but similar to H-ITT). Fifth, if you don’t want to, you don’t need a computer to run the system: just bring in the base station and off you go: it stores all its answers on a USB memory stick! Take it back to your office and plug it into your office machine and… whoop, there are your answers (just don’t lose it).
In all fairness, I’ve not used Turning’s system or even seen a demo yet, but this iClicker appeals to me on so many levels. Sadly, we will probably not use it as UW has already cut a deal with Turning, and charging the students a bunch of extra $$ just so I can make my life a bit simpler doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, we will be meeting with the person in charge of the Turning negotiations at the U to try to get a few new features into the Turning system. Sigh. Good luck, Gary – I hope iClicker is still around three years from now when we have to figure out if we are going to stick with Turning.