Clickers can't replace lecturing abilitity

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Using a clicker in class

Jonas Hrebeniuk

THEY WON'T LET US PLAY NINTENDO IN CLASS, BUT CLICKERS ARE FINE. Back in the day, we were getting high scores on these babies. Now they allow professors to slack off in lecture.

In a recent edition of the Western News, the paper once again ran a story emphasizing the pedagogical benefits of classroom clickers.

In the final sentence of the story, the professor interviewed provided the following rationale for why he likes using the devices in his teaching:

“I’m not a good enough lecturer to just talk for 50 minutes,” he said.

Whether or not this statement was made in jest, it requires some further introspection.

According to Western’s “40-40-20” rating system, professors are assessed by equal merit on their teaching and research, with less emphasis placed on their committee work.

By definition, any professor on the tenure track, or who has secured a full-time position, should be spending an equal amount of time making their lectures as interesting as possible as they do publishing papers.

With the realities of larger class sizes and disinterested students, many professors have turned to alternative methods to engage students, such as using PowerPoint presentations to present their material.

While there be may some merit in arguing how some forms of technology can assist students with their learning, it is highly debatable how much impact a clicker can have on this process.

Although some students may be induced to attend their lectures to acquire requisite participation marks, it is unlikely they are really more “engaged” by clicking a button a few times per lecture.

Furthermore, while I have never had to use a clicker in any of my classes, I have never heard anyone provide a testimonial on how using a clicker has made them any more interested in the material they studied.

I have, however, heard many people discuss how a particular professor has influenced their decision to pursue a particular field due to the passion they regularly demonstrated over their subject material each lecture.

It seems, then, no matter how much technology is introduced or “innovative methods for engaging students” are suggested, nothing can ultimately replace a passionate lecturer for students.

Technology, while perhaps a necessity in the modern classroom, should always be secondary to the lecture professors devise.

Until this mentality is fully embraced and promoted by Western’s administration, the so-called equal weighting the school places on its teaching and research should be regarded as no more than rhetoric.

In the future, rather than promoting classroom clickers, Western should seek out professors whose students can attest to their ability to lecture for a full 50 minutes.

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