The professor knows if you come to class...and if you're listening.
"Attendance is up and the number of students dozing off in class is down in J'e Calhouns economics classes at Florida State University (FSU). And thats despite an increase in class size recently, with new lecture halls that seat up to 500 students at a time.
Calhoun has had great success in boosting attendance and keeping students engaged through use of personal response systems, or PRS commonly called clickers that require students to answer periodic questions throughout class. Answers are totaled immediately, giving Calhoun the ability to gauge who is present, and when he needs to explain a topic more thoroughly.
The devices, InterWrite PRS clickers from GTCO CalComp, cost $50 per device. Each student is responsible for purchasing a clicker from the bookstore at the beginning of a school year. The bookstore guarantees it will purchase it back at years end for $25.
According to Calhoun, who is assistant director of the Stavros Center for Economic Education at FSU, and a lecturer in the Department of Economics, the devices have increased attendance in his classes from roughly 60 percent previously, to 85 percent or better now. Although hes quick to say hes made other modifications as well and thus cant attribute that 25 percent bump to the devices alone, theyve definitely had an impact.
Calhoun uses the clickers periodically during class to assess attendance, gauge understanding of a subject, ensure that students are paying attention, and simply make class more fun. Ten percent of grades come from PRS responses. He d'esnt want the devices to be any more important in grading than that, he says, since he intends them simply to be interactive and keep students engaged.
Since the PRS devices were successfully introduced into the economics department several semesters ago, FSU has extended them to ten of its lecture halls. Theyre now used at the university with a wide range of subjects, including physics, economics, math, biology, geography, sociology, geology, nursing, and chemistry.
The idea for the clickers came a year and a half ago, when the economics department moved into a new classroom building and shifted to offering consistently larger classes. To forestall issues around keeping student interest in large lecture halls, Calhoun and his colleagues discussed how to engage students better. None of use wanted to just walk into a room with 500 students, he says, lecture with [Microsoft] PowerPoint, and let them go at the end of the day.
After consulting with the IT department, Calhoun and his colleagues selected the InterWrite PRS device. During class, Calhouns PC runs InterWrite software; the devices connect to the PC via radio frequency, so theres no line-of-sight requirement, as with infrared clickers. Each PRS includes a small screen that tells students how theyve responded and lets them confirm their choice. Results are collected and pop up on Calhouns screen for display to the class within a minute and a half, he says.
Calhoun has found numerous advantages to using the instant response system. Not only can he measure whether students are paying attention, he can determine if hes explained a point well. Thats the secondary benefit, he says. Its feedback for me If only 40 percent answered the question correctly, maybe its just as much my fault as theirs.
He also uses the clickers to test out exam questions on studentssomething he tells them hell be doing throughout the course. Since posting the class response to a question often generates discussion, he can often determine whether a question or one of the answer choices was confusing. When [just] 30 percent answer correctly, Calhoun says, that tells him that maybe its a bad question or wasnt worded correctly. Thats happened quite a bit.
The devices also create a sort of class camaraderie. Calhoun says that displaying the classs responses to his questions he asks from four to eight during a typical class brings out a team spirit in students. When he posts a results graph that shows most students have answered his question correctly, a small cheer goes out. They really get vested in the results. "