As previously noted, I’m planning to do more active-learning stuff in my intro mechanics courses this fall (starting next Tuesday), and as a result have been reading/ watching a lot of material on this (which, by the way, includes far too many slickly produced sales videos and not nearly enough “here’s an example video of a full class using this technique”). This is doing little to make me less apprehensive– most of these assume both a leisurely semester calendar and TA-led recitation sections for teaching problem-solving– but I still like the idea, and want to give it a go.
One of the factors I’m thinking about with the adaptation involves the class size. Most of the active-learning resources I’ve run across talk specifically about the use of “clickers” to record student responses in large lecture halls. Which sounds great, but also feels kind of silly in a class of 15-18. I think we do have one of those systems here, but I also feel a little bad about the idea of making them pay another $20-ish for another gadget. However, it’s also well known that just asking students to raise their hands in class is highly sub-optimal, and I’ve seen a bunch of stuff showing that you need to make students really commit to an answer in order to really directly engage with their misconceptions, which is one of the things clickers help with.
So, I’ve been thinking about clicker alternatives.
I know some people use colored index cards to poll the class, but I have no confidence in students remembering to bring them to class, and I don’t want to have to make replacements all the time. I suppose I could make one set, and have them leave the cards in the classroom (which would work because I’m the only one teaching in there this term…). That doesn’t provide any record of the answers, though, beyond my somewhat spotty memory. And I would like to have some kind of record, so I can evaluate how well the questions work, and whether discussion with classmates actually moves students from wrong answers to right ones.
So, I was thinking of doing this on paper. That is, giving each student a scrap of paper (probably a quarter-sheet cut from the vast pile of leftover book drafts in my office), and asking them to write down their individual answer, followed by the answer arrived at after group discussion. I could collect these at the end of the class (probably without names), and use that information to check how things are going. This would also allow for the “write one sentence about the main point of today’s class” thing that can also be useful for getting a sense of what they think.
My question, for those who do this sort of thing, is whether this is a useful clicker alternative, or just re-inventing the flat tire? That is, is this idea subject to a huge pitfall that I’m not aware of? If it is, I’d rather not waste my time, and will do something else.