Academic Technology & Classroom Response Systems

There has been a lot of talk lately about the use of classroom response systems (at UofT, we use iClickers) and the role they should play in higher education. They are useful tools for engagement, especially in large classes, but are some instructors relying too heavily on them? And, perhaps more importantly, are some students taking advantage of the technology and committing academic offences whether they realize it or not. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article – “With Cheating Only a Click Away, Professors Reduce the Incentive” – that renewed this conversation around the CTSI office. With clickers being used more and more, and class sizes on the increase, we asked ourselves when and how clickers should be used and when should they be left behind.

First of all, we need to remember that academic integrity is not only about plagiarism. As the Chronicle article points out, a major abuse of the clicker system happens when students bring in more than one device to ‘represent’ absent classmates. Students can still meet the attendance marks, or answer quiz questions, without stepping foot in the classroom thanks to helpful friends. While these students might understand that ‘helping’ each other in this way is cheating the system, they might not recognize that it’s an academic offence. This is a good reminder that 1) using clickers to check attendance is not a fail-safe method and 2) if we use engagement technology (like clickers) in the classroom we should be sure to explain the procedures and implications to our students.

The Chronicle article interviews Derek Bruff, a senior lecturer in mathematics at Vanderbilt University who has written extensively on the benefits and dangers of using clickers in the classroom. According to Bruff, concerns about clicker cheating are valid but there are ways to limit these activities. For instance, a professor at Trinity University in Texas uses clickers to test his students’ understanding of topics that can then guide his review of the material rather than attach a grade to their responses. In fact, Bruff recommends that if grades are attached to clicker use then they should amount to no more than 5% of the total grade.

As this is a subject that is near and dear to our hearts, CTSI has produced a number of resources on classroom response systems and academic integrity, including Academic Integrity & the Role of the Instructor and Grading and iClickers. We are also offering a workshop – Academic Integrity at the Uof T: Demystifying Academic Offences for You and Your Class – on Thursday, September 29th. This workshop will cover topics such as clickers in the classroom and using Turnitin, as well as methods of deterring plagiarism among our students. It will be an excellent opportunity to ask our resident experts everything you wanted to know about academic integrity and technology. Please join the conversation! Register for our workshop, bring your questions and share your in-class experiences.