Engagement levels in a graphic design clicker class: Students? perceptions around attention, participation and peer learning

21 Nov 2016

Research into the uses of personal response systems or ?clickers? shows that their use increases students? engagement levels in the classroom. In South Africa, clicker usage is still in its infancy, with little research published in the field. This study reports on 37 Graphic Design students? perceptions of the use of clickers and their engagement levels (attention, participation, and active class discussion) in small clicker classes. Clickers were introduced in three interventions in the third term of the 2010 academic year in an attempt to improve students? participation in class discussions. The devices were used for individual and peer voting. Peer and class discussion either preceded or followed the voting process. The study employed a mixed method research design. Data was collected through open-ended student questionnaires, clicker questions during classes, and one focus group discussion. Drawing on cooperative learning theory, this paper discusses student engagement on three levels. Firstly, clickers seize students? attention through the simplicity, novelty factor, and fun element they bring to class. Secondly, they encourage student participation through the anonymity they offer, which is especially important when the language of learning and teaching is not the students? first language. Thirdly and most importantly, clickers encourage peer discussion. Students reported that by being confronted with opposing points of views, which lead to uncertainty or conceptual conflicts, they were propelled to re-conceptualise their own arguments, which then in turn led to more refined and thoughtful conclusions. This resonates with the central tenet of Johnson, Johnson, and Smith?s Controversy Theory (1998), which advocates the benefits of cooperative student learning. Students reported that peer discussions improved their confidence to participate in the class discussions.