Technology for teaching: New electronic device enhances classroom

Walk into a classroom at La Jolla High School and you might find all the students with what look like television remote controls in hand. They’re not playing. They’re “responding.”

Students are using the small electronic devices, or “responders,” to answer questions. And by doing so, lessons are speeded up, students participate more, grading is easier, and paper is saved, according to La Jolla High School’s principal Dana Shelburne.

The responder system - La Jolla High uses one called Class Performance System made by eInstruction, but several other companies make similar products - can be used in different ways. Last week, David Mika, who teaches Advanced Placement art history, used the responders to give a short test.

He projected images onto a screen; then students identified them from a paper sheet of multiple choices. They entered and sent their answers on their responders, which immediately popped up on Mika’s computer.

When they finished, Mika’s computer aggregated the answers for each student. He was then able to see percentages and pie charts showing the class’s performance.

“Test results are usually up on the Internet by the time students get home,” he said.

What initially drew Shelburne to the responders, however, was not how they made grading a whirl for teachers.

“I loved how it kept every student actively involved in class,” he said. “There was no hiding out in the last row.”

As each student responds, a light comes up on the teacher’s computer, so the teacher is instantly aware of a student’s participation.

What do students think? “I was nervous at first. I felt like I needed a pencil in my hand,” said one.

But by now they’ve become very used to the gadgets. Mika said, “Some kids will beg for more questions because it’s kind of like a videogame.”

Another student recognized the environmental benefits: “They save paper.”

Mika agreed, saying he appreciates reducing his use of the photocopy machine.

Still, the cost is not insignificant-up to $3,000 for a class set of 35 responders, including the teacher’s receiver and software. La Jolla High now has 16 sets which it shares among departments.

“Responders are not something to be used every day in every class,” acknowledged Shelburne. “But we’ve found them highly useful especially in the math and social science departments.”