Sometimes, it just clicks

A handheld response system that allows students to interact with their professors by clicking buttons on a wireless remote is making its way into more classrooms at Southern Oregon University this year.

Introduced to the school about four years ago, Turning Point Technologies' ResponseCard, or "clicker," signal a USB device in the teacher's laptop. The results can then be translated through PowerPoint and projected on a big screen in class.

About 200 members of the university's faculty and staff are trained to use the clicker system this year, said John Stevenson, user support manager for information technology at SOU. That's the most ever, and a big jump from the same time last year, he said, when the school only had about 100 trained users.

"And it's growing all the time," Stevenson said. "We promote their use for all types of events, not just the classroom. Although, they do fit in very good there."

Stevenson said the school's administration has used the 1-ounce keypads to poll groups of people from the community, as well as parents when they visit SOU for orientations.

Business professor Rene Ordonez, who uses the clickers frequently in his classes at SOU, introduced the system to his statistics class for the first time last Wednesday.

After a brief instruction, students watched 20 questions cycle across the projector screen in front of the class and made selections from a multiple-choice review quiz while at their desks.

After each question, a chart anonymously shows how each student answered. Instructors can either trace the answers back to students by assigning certain keypads, or leave the responses anonymous.

"Students came up to me after the session and said it was a great way to review the material," Ordonez said. "I like to hear that, because it works great for me."

Ordonez said he uses the clickers to monitor how well a class understands the material he is introducing as a term progresses. He doesn't use the clickers for graded tests, just informal quizzes.

"It gives me instantaneous feedback and active feedback as far as which part of the material students are getting or not getting well," he said. "For me as an instructor, that really highlights what I need to go back on and talk about."

The clicker's keypad is labeled zero through 9 and A through J, with a question mark key to query the teacher or presenter and another key to set the radio frequency. Clickers cost about $30 each, and the receiver costs $100. With the right application, Apple's iPhone and other smart phones can be synchronized with the system's receivers, allowing students to use those devices as a clicker.

"I think they're a good thing," said 20-year-old Breauna Blanning, who used the clickers for the first time in Ordonez' class Wednesday. "I guess I'm kind of indifferent at this point, but the first time using them went great."

Blanning, a junior majoring in business, said she looks forward to using the clicker more often in Ordonez' class.

There are about 400 clickers spread out at SOU, said Stevenson. The Information Technology Department has about 200 of them, with the remainder purchased by individual departments.

He said the Science, Business, and Foreign Language departments are where the clickers are most popular with professors.

Harriet Humphries, 22, a senior psychology major at SOU, said she used the clickers almost every week as a sophomore and junior in her Spanish classes at the university.

"It's pretty interesting to see everybody's answers up on the screen," she said. "I like that you can answer freely, without worrying about being totally wrong in front of the entire class, but it's also kind of impersonal."

Humphries said that while introducing new technology into the classroom is important, she hopes that professors at SOU will continue to rely on time-tested teaching methods.

"I like being called on and working out discussions in class. To me, that's what learning is all about," she said. "I don't think it (the clicker system) should be something that overtakes the old style of teaching, but it definitely should be incorporated."

Unlike some schools, SOU doesn't promote the use of the clickers for taking attendance or graded testing "yet," Stevenson said. There are too many risks of students cheating, he said.

He said in the near future, SOU students likely will be required to purchase the clickers along with books for certain classes.

The clicker's battery lasts about two years, said Stevenson, but some of his have lasted for as long as five years, depending on use. He said because the clickers are long-lasting and run on a program consistent throughout SOU, students would be able to sell their clickers back to the school after using them.

"As a teacher, I've seen what changes in technology have come over the last 20 years," said Ordonez. "I really think the clicker system can enhance the quality of instruction and the performance of students in the classroom."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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