If you are a student at the University of Illinois, you are eventually going to encounter an i-clicker. Abby mentioned it in her post about large classes and it might seem like a strange device, but believe me it is useful. If you’re wondering why it’s called an i-clicker, it’s not because it is an over-priced brainchild of Steve Jobs (iPod, iPhone, iMac). The “i” actually stands for Illinois because it was invented right on this campus. All engineering students are required to take PHYS211, and that’s where the story of the i-clicker begins.
As you walk into your first 211 Lecture, you will probably encounter Professor Timothy Steltzer or Professor Mats Selen. They are great teachers because they are actually participants of a Physics Education Research group, whose intent is to determine the best methods for instructing introductory physics concepts. It was this group’s idea to introduce a method for students to give feedback on the concepts in class to help a teacher regulate the pace. You can buy an i-clicker at the bookstore new or used. It has a registration number on the back that you can link to your net-id and then use it for as many classes if you want, so if three classes use i-clickers you don’t need three separate devices.
Generally the i-clickers are incorporated in the lectures as a way of making sure students are listening. Some professors actually grade the answers whereas others will give you full points as long as you participate. There are six buttons on the device (A, B, C, D, E, ON/OFF). The professor will ask a multiple choice question and give the students about a minute or two to respond. After closing the vote, they usually display the results in bar graph form. If the majority of the class gets the right answer, then the lecture continues. If the results are split, then the topic gets a little more consideration. If the majority of the class is wrong, then the professor knows something is up and repeats the topic with more explanation.
These points from i-clickers are usually very small in comparison to homework, quizzes and tests, so if you need to skip a lecture from time to time it won’t affect your grade. However, getting the i-clicker points could be the difference between a B+ and an A-. Therefore it’s not uncommon to see one student with the i-clickers of five friends who don’t feel like going to lecture but still want the points. In that situation all I have to say is you may get the 2% i-clicker points but you’re still going to do badly on the test if you don’t go to lecture. I-clickers are an integral part of the learning experience at Illinois and I hope you get the experience to use one.