Thursday, August 20, 2009

Clickers and Online Note Sharing

By: Matthew Denhart

CCAP has long supported the use of technology to enhance the dissemination of knowledge and lower costs of education. While full online courses and other online supplements for traditional classes (such as Blackboard, Aplia, and LON-CAPA) have gained in popularity and credibility, other innovations have not gotten as much recognition. Two that we have failed to discuss in any great detail are in-class ‘clickers’ and peer-to-peer note sharing. Both are exciting new approaches that could help increase student learning.

Clickers are small hand-held devices that allow instructors to gain instant feedback from students while in class. A professor incorporates a multiple choice question into a power-point type projection and then gives students 10 seconds or so to click the corresponding button for which they believe is the correct answer. The results from the entire class are instantly generated and displayed on the screen as bar graphs showing the percentage of students responding to each possible answer choice. Since each clicker is programmed specifically to an individual student, clickers can be used to give in-class quizzes or take attendance. This could save on costs for things like paper and wasted time handing out and grading quizzes.

However, this technology seemed to be used best in a geography class I had a few years back. The professor would post 5 or so questions at the beginning and end of the lecture. This allowed both the class and our professor to discern areas of misunderstanding or confusion. Questions that I had missed were areas that I dedicated some extra review before the following class; and questions that a large portion of the class missed were areas that the professor would cover again in class. This is an example of a simple technology both enhancing learning outcomes and saving money.

Peer-to-peer note sharing is another interesting technological innovation. Websites such as and (soon to be renamed Wise Campus) allow students to upload class notes to be downloaded by others. This promotes the democratization of higher education by allowing anyone to access new knowledge. While some argue that this exacerbates an already unacceptable level of laziness in today’s college kids, others believe that it actually helps make better students. I would tend to agree with the latter group. is run by McGraw-Hill and pays students for uploading their class notes based on their quality as determined by ratings from other users. This system creates incentives for students to take better notes themselves. Far from aiding students in their evil quest to skip class, being able to download another’s notes could be a helpful supplement to one’s own notes and useful in reviewing material and studying for exams. Those too lazy to attend class are unlikely to be the one’s using this service anyway. And even if they do it would seem to be a desirable thing—if your goal is to have an educated public why would you not want students taking advantage of any resource possible to learn? So long as having notes available does not lead students who normally do attend class to start skipping there seems to be no problem.

Others argue that posting one’s own notes for public use is a violation of a professor’s intellectual property rights. This argument fails to recognize that the notes belong to the students. They have paid to acquire the information and notes are never a direct translation of a professor’s words anyway. Rather they are a new product created as combination of a professor’s information and a student’s own interpretation of that information. Others worry about the increased potential for plagiarism or false information. These arguments have a striking similarity to complaints about Wikipedia. guards against plagiarism by teaming with plagiarism detector website Furthermore, note sharing is not intended to be a source to be officially documented in say a research paper, but rather as a study aid or a way to help one begin to find information on a subject.

Opponents of educational reform continually formulate largely unfounded criticisms of new approaches. Greater uses of technology seem to be a particularly fierce area of opposition. However, both clickers and online notes demonstrate the enormous potential for increased savings and enhanced learning. For those that actually care about improving education to America’s youth, these new technologies are an exciting and promising way to do so.


capeman said...

"both clickers and online notes demonstrate the enormous potential for increased savings and enhanced learning."

Enormous savings? This is so naive! There is no evidence that this stuff does anything but add to costs. How do I know? We use it! And we charge the students extra for it. It may be somewhat useful, some people think so, but a money-saver? No way.

And enhanced learning? I'd like to see the evidence! There are no easy roads to enhanced learning, there is only one road and it is called WORK.

Jenifer said...

There is no evidence that this stuff does anything but add to costs.

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