Buzzing Into the Future of Education Technology

With Smartphones and laptops being an ever-increasing distraction in lecture halls everywhere, professors are beginning to use technology to engage their students and ensure that all eyes are on the blackboard. According to a recent article in The New York Times, this fall more than a half-million college students are using hand-held wireless electronic devices on thousands of campuses across the country. These types of devices, known as "student clickers," are a part of an audience response system which requires students’ active participation in class as they use them to respond or answer questions in lectures.

Institutions of higher education like Harvard, University of Arizona, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern University are using these types of devices for various reasons, and they may be an instructor’s new best friend. Professors can get and give even more from their presentations and lectures by using these devices as data collection and assessment tools to receive instant student feedback and response. TAs everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief as they are no longer in charge of time consuming attendance taking methods like passing around a sign-in sheet, calling roll, or counting heads. By utilizing these devices, students can notify them that they are present at the beginning of class with only a click of a button. When it comes to pop quizzes, students don’t have to bother their neighbor for an extra sheet of paper or pencil anymore as multiple-choice quizzes can be taken electronically by selecting the correct numbered button on the device. They can also forget about raising their hand and waiting patiently for the professor to notice, as the device can be used to alert their professor if they have a question about course material.

Even though these devices have positive academic effects on students in class, as they give them little choice but to constantly pay attention, keep up with reading, and actively participate, feeling as if the instructor is constantly peering over their shoulder can have is downfalls. Being required to submit some sort of feedback every 10 to 15 minutes make it nearly impossible for them to catch a few moments of sleep, check their phones, or catch any other kind of mental break during lectures. And they are not completely fool proof for professors either, just as fellow students can sign each other in for class they can also give them their devices on days they plan on being absent. But there are pros and cons to just about every learning tool, and handheld electronic devices are no exception. While professors shouldn’t use technology to babysit students, they can use it to encourage them to get the most out of their educational experiences.

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