Designing interactivity into large group learning spaces

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Professor Simon Lancaster’s article on the effective use of clickers is well worth reading and sharing. First, Simon’s general point is to caution against the general tendency to adopt novel technologies in order to tempt academics and students into new practices. My own experience is that this is strategically shortsighted. Attracting people to innovation has limited value if those participants are not driven by particular pedagogic challenges and, in those cases, developers need to work closely and honestly with academics to explore the technological advantage. Novelty alone is potentially dangerous if there is no pedagogic exigency. It can leave academics exposed and vulnerable a little way down the line when the technology is not bringing clear benefit to academic practice and learning. In a large classroom situation, such as the use of clickers in lecture theatres, we must think carefully about why it is good for students to click their clickers. It is much more than checking they are awake. It is about enlivening them.

This is Simon’s main point. Clicker interventions need to be very carefully thought through. Good interventions really do require a designer’s attitude and, arguably, have the potential to become the most significant pedagogic intervention in the lecture – more important than the dissemination of content. The right clicker intervention should be a challenge to the learner and one that will check their own thinking. That word ‘check’ has several meanings: ‘Am I right?’ ‘Why do I think that?’ ‘How do I apply that knowledge and that thinking?’ Clickers in lecture theatres should set the learning hares running. The design mind then should be asking, “How can we harness this engagement to take us deeper?”

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