By Andrew Marciello
A humble professor walks into his first Anatomy and Physiology class in the science lecture hall in the Condike building and is faced with the daunting wall of about 100 students. Such was the experience of Thomas A. Schoenfeld, a professor in the biology and chemistry department here at Fitchburg State.
Looking for a way to engage his large classes, he turned to technology. Professor Schoenfeld is spearheading the use of new devices designed to allow teachers to monitor their students’ progress as a class: clickers. His success over the last few years has led the college to look into more widespread use of clickers, also known as classroom response systems.
“The clickers put the teacher in a position to better know and understand their class, a position to teach according to what they identified their class learning rather than what they expected their class to learn,” Schoenfeld says.
A clicker is a small white object that looks like a calculator, which allows student to tune in to the same channel as the teacher and answer questions anonymously. The model of clickers used at Fitchburg State possess the capability to perform large-scale polls of the class and much more. A clicker can be purchased at the bookstore for $56, or rented for $28.
Schoenfeld came to FSU in the fall of 2007 from UMass, where classes can include as many as 500 students. It was there that he witnessed the benefit of clickers for large classes.
“It removes the fear of raising your hand in a large intimidating class, a fear of being wrong, even a fear of being right,” Schoenfeld says. “Whatever the reason, this helps the students be involved anonymously.”
After Schoenfeld made presentations about the use of clickers to FSU faculty members, a survey showed about half of the professors expressed a significant level of interest. Currently there are 15 faculty members on campus employing clickers in their classes, but there are about 40 active confirmed users, meaning that next semester and next school year clicker use is likely to increase.
“It’s just another useful teaching tool,” Schoenfield explains. “The new technological tools aren’t for everyone, either. Clickers are just an effective option to allow teachers to better manage their classes.”