Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clickers, Participation, Assessment Outcomes, and Library Instruction

Clickers, or personal response systems, may encourage participation and help students enjoy library instruction more.  Emily Chan and Lorrie Knight, from the University of the Pacific,  conducted a study that discovered this to be true.  They also learned that assessment outcomes may not necessarily improve as a result of using clickers. 

Published in Communications in Information Literacy, their article "Clicking with Your Audience: Evaluating the Use of Personal Response Systems in Library Instruction" first identifies the makeup of college students participating in their study.  They belong to the Millennial generation who "tend to share these main character traits: feeling special, being sheltered, having confidence, preferring team or group activities, favoring the conventional, feeling pressured, and needing to achieve" (193).  They make the following claim: "Library instruction, often delivered through one-shot sessions, may seem out of touch to Millennials if it does not incorporate technology in a meaningful and entertaining manner" (193).  With this premise as their foundation, they propose the usage of personal response systems (PRS or clickers) to engage students.

Through their look at the literature they show that others have found that professional use of PRS helps students be involved in the classroom, promotes conversations, and enhances learning among students (193).  They note that PRS make the lectures and class activities more lively and less "stagnant" (193).  As mentioned elsewhere, clickers allow instructors to adjust in the moment they are teaching.  They can understand what the students know.  Therefore, an atmosphere of active engagement and learning may be easier to establish with clickers (193). 

Not enough has been written about the PRS and actual learning outcomes, so Chan and Knight worked to look at this with their study.  They cite Anne C. Osterman's 2008 article that identifies library instructors' two greatest fears: (1) boring students and (2) teaching above their heads.  At this point they refer to another article when they write: "The use of clickers can prompt greater classroom interactivity through an assessment of students' understanding of IL concepts" (194).  Additionally, they found another article that states the finding that clickers increase student involvement in the classroom as well as their usage of resources in the library (194).  To repeat myself once more, this study looks at student enjoyment, engagement, and achievement as they relate to the implementation of clickers in the classroom.

As with other studies, they prepare the reader by defining the constituents involved--in this case freshmen at the University of the Pacific--and explain the course objectives of the freshman seminar courses and the library evaluations gathered before the study took place.  "At the end of each library session, students completed a brief evaluation measuring their achievement of learning outcomes.  The Assessment Office tabulated and analyzed the results, which proved to be inconclusive" (195).  Librarians convinced their library dean to fund a second instruction room equipped with more technology, such as a smart board, a computer for all participants, and clickers.  This allowed the librarians to conduct an experiment to see if the technology influenced student learning outcomes. 

Surprisingly enough, they found that the classes without clickers scored slightly better than the ones with them.  They write: "The students in Classroom NC (non-clicker) scored significantly higher in the assessment than the students who had their library session in Classroom C (clickers) (P value < 0.001)" (197).  That is not to say that there were no positive outcomes for students taking the instruction with the clickers.  Chan and Knight write: "The students in the technology-rich Classroom C found the library sessions to be more enjoyable, organized, well-presented, and participatory" (197).  Perhaps these positive results would continue to justify the use of clickers in the classroom.

No doubt the authors must have been perplexed that the technology did not increase content retention; however, they offer some reasons why the students in technology-rich classroom may not have achieved higher scores on the assessment measures.  They do so by noting potential benefits of a paper assessment:
  1. Able to use the paper assessment as a resource
  2. Allows the student to self-regulate order and pace during the test time
  3. Lets them to see all the questions from the start (this is similar to reason #1 above)
  4. With paper exams students can review and correct their answers before turning them in to be graded
  5. A paper test gives students the opportunity to judge how they use their time; they are more in control of this than if the test is offered with technology, especially if the instructor changes the questions (198)
If librarians use the clicker technology to assess learning, these reasons may be worth remembering. 
Boulder Chain Lakes area in White Clouds of Idaho.  Lakes in photo may be of Sliderock Lake (l) and Shelf Lake (r) Photo by Spencer Jardine.  2010.
Here are a few other things worth mentioning from this article.  Classes with clickers seemed to enjoy the instruction more, felt it was more organized, well-presented, and participatory than those that did not have them (199).  Millenials may expect and want technology to be used.  Indeed, Chan and Knight also mention another study that suggests "the use of clickers can restart the attention span of students" (199).  Sometimes this is necessary to bring back students to the subject at hand. 

The authors see clickers as useful tools to invite participation, adjust to student needs, and as a means to get things going at the beginning of library instruction sessions.  They write: "With the clickers' ability instantly to poll the audience, library faculty used warm-up questions as icebreakers in order to foster a more collaborative and engaging environment" (199).  They had wanted the clickers to increase content retention, but the non-clicker classroom student out-performed their peers in the classroom with clickers.  Naturally, other researchers, just as the authors mention, should look to see how learning outcomes are influenced by the use of technology in the library instruction classroom.

Chan, Emily K., and Lorrie A. Knight.  "Clicking with Your Audience: Evaluating the Use of Personal Response Systems in Library Instruction."  Communications in Information Literacy 4.2 (2010): 192-201.  Print.

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