iClickers and UCSB Students Have a Love-Hate Relationship, Study Finds

Illustration by Kamran Yunus | Senior Copy Editor

Gwendolyn Wu

With thousands of students purchasing iClickers for class every year, one question seems to weigh heavily on many minds: why do students purchase handheld devices to get points for class?

Preliminary results from a survey of 1,632 UCSB students conducted by the Instructional Development (ID) department show that, despite expressing unhappiness with needing to buy an iClicker which costs $60.34 including tax at the UCSB bookstore students still found some value in using them.

“The strongest agreement was that the [iClickers] do motivate people to go to class, so they were effective in that sense,” said Lisa Berry, ID’s senior instructional consultant and one of the survey’s conductors, in an interview with The Bottom Line.

Of the students who replied via Gauchospace, humanities students said they were less likely to enjoy using iClickers than STEM or social science students. Furthermore, humanities students were less likely to say that the devices aided their understanding of course material, while STEM and social science students felt neutral about it.

Some students responded with ire to open-ended questions about cost, grading iClicker answers, and using them as attendance measures. “It stops working when it’s graded because instead of a learning experience it becomes frusterating [sic] some students don’t comprehend material immediately in lecture,” wrote one anonymous survey respondent.

On average, students across all majors felt that iClickers were best used when they marked participation points rather than in-class performance.

“I do feel like the iClickers motivate me to attend class because most of my professors who use them also use them to gauge attendance,” said Christian Walker, a fourth year communication major. “Overall, I think if a class requires them, we should be using them daily.”

Faculty members also felt positive about iClickers, saying that enforcing iClicker use has helped them shape their lectures. By posing iClicker questions about information discussed in class, it’s much easier to figure out what students are confused about and adjust lesson plans accordingly, said Roger Freedman and David Lea, professors in the physics and earth science departments, respectively.

“It’s an amazingly powerful tool for formative assessment — that is, for assessing in real time what my students do and do not understand, so that I can give them real-time feedback,” Freedman said.

Lea’s students have told him that incorporating iClickers into class time has helped them better prepare for exams.

“I believe this is so because [iClicker] questions convert class concepts, which sometimes can be overwhelming in their complexity, into discrete questions with clear answers,” Lea said.

Not all professors are a fan of iClickers, however. After using them for five years to take attendance and gauge student perspectives on social issues in lecture, sociology professor Victor Rios said that he stopped using iClickers in 2015 due to the price.

“Over the years I came to the conclusion that students were paying too much for a very basic piece of technology,” Rios wrote in an email to The Bottom Line. “I wanted to make sure my students were given an opportunity to find affordable course materials. I realized iClicker had established a monopoly on campus over other venues for digital learning.”

While it may be the technology of choice in the classroom, Berry said that she was surprised by what she called “misinformation” among students about the iClicker company’s financial relationship with UCSB.

“We have no contract with iClicker,” Berry said. “We don’t make any money off of using their technology.” The bookstore purchases iClickers through a distributor the same way it does with textbooks, she said.

Most students surveyed bought their iClickers new, but approximately 22.4 percent purchased used devices, presumably through channels like the Free and For Sale Facebook group.

An iClicker app also exists, but UCSB has not yet officially adopted the technology.

UCSB offers one alternative to buying iClickers new, which is to rent one from the Associated Students Ticket Office for $5 per quarter. The Ticket Office typically is out of stock after the first few days of the quarter.

“I do think iClickers are expensive, but depending on your major, it’s actually an investment for your time at UCSB,” said Ashley Roy, a third year biopsychology major who has used her iClicker every quarter so far. Roy added, however, that the university should increase the number of iClicker rentals it offers.

Meanwhile, Berry and the department will continue examining the results, with a final study report due in the coming month.

Rios and a portion of survey respondents were hopeful that a different technology will be implemented eventually. But for now, the problem with iClickers seems to be clear to students concerned with cost and its implementation on campus.

“There are free alternatives to iClickers so I kind of hate that we’re required to buy them at all,” an anonymous survey respondent wrote.