A re-introduction to the world of academia, and other such useless trash


As many of you already know, I’ve returned to school to wrap up my B.A., having transferred my credits from UNC-Greensboro to UNC-Charlotte. I started back this month.

The transition has been easy enough. I’ve definitely learned great skills in the workplace which help me to manage my time, goals and expectations. And, this go ’round, I’ve found myself more committed to my coursework. After all, a few years of adulthood under your belt gives you an appreciation for just how much money you’re actually spending to achieve that degree you want so badly.

But no amount of time in the workplace can prepare you for the insanity and fiscal irresponsibility that seems to plague university administrations (and, admittedly, other unwieldy, behemoth bureaucracies as well) around the world.

I thought I’d share, certainly for the laugh factor, though here I primarily offer, with the letter below as all the evidence I need, an argument outlining a severe lack of judgment, a waste of both student and faculty time and a waste of student and taxpayer dollars.

What in the world ever happened to simply taking attendance, requiring students to take notes and complete papers and administering exams?

Geez.

January 25, 2011

UNC Charlotte Students,

Over the past decade, instructors at UNC Charlotte and across the country have been using “clickers” in their classrooms with increasing frequency. Clickers are instructional tools that elicit student interaction in real time by collecting and displaying student responses to questions posed by the instructor, either verbally or projected on a screen. The students respond by pressing a button on hand-held wireless transmitters, and receivers transmit that data to a computer. The clicker software tallies the responses, and the students and instructor can receive instant feedback in the form of histograms and detailed reports. Because each student transmitter has a unique signature that can be registered to its user, performance data can be tabulated to assess attendance, participation, and long-term progress.

As the technology has developed, a number of competing products have emerged. Five years ago, the university formed a committee of faculty, IT professionals, and staff from units that would be impacted by this technology and charged them with selecting a university standard for interactive classroom clicker usage and to plan its implementation. The selection of a single clicker for campus-wide use ensured that students would only need to purchase one device for all of their classes, and has enabled the Office of Classroom Support to provide the support necessary for increasing usage.

The Clicker Selection Committee recommended the Interwrite Personal Response System (PRS), which was the only product on the market at that time that met all of our goals (especially when it came to accessibility issues). About a year after this standard was approved and implemented, Interwrite was bought out by a company called eInstruction, which offers a competing clicker system called the Classroom Performance System (CPS). In the summer of 2010, eInstruction notified the university that they would no longer offer the PRS clickers after spring 2011. This created a number of problems, namely 1) new software would need to be installed across the entire university, software which still does not fix any of the issues that have plagued clicker users throughout recent updates, and 2) the new clickers would require new receivers for every classroom, which would be incompatible with the clickers currently in use.

Since it is now, regrettably, that students will be required to purchase new clickers, and that these new clickers will, in turn, require new receivers and new software, a new Clicker Selection Committee has been convened to examine the clicker technologies that have emerged since the initial recommendation. After careful consideration, the committee is recommending products from two leading companies: I


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5 Responses to “A re-introduction to the world of academia, and other such useless trash”
  1. Not so many years ago, a project was initiated at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro called, humorously enough, the Palm Pilot Pilot Program (the two “pilots”), which was intended to provide similar functionality in terms of student participation, measurement of engagement/understanding, long term continuous feedback, and easy quizzing using WiFi capable Palm Pilot devices and a custom application. While the program did not go swimmingly (it was after all a pilot program), there were really only issues in two key areas: WiFi connectivity reliability and some bugs in the software.

    I long assumed that this would be the next wave in education, it sounds like companies have sprung up with a closed circuit software/hardware solution to meet this demand. As you have pointed out, this isn’t a sustainable approach.

    It is understandable, from a profit standpoint, for a company to create a closed circuit system such as this, and from a general IT standpoint to want to utilize it. These types of systems are common in environment where there is limited capacity to take on additional support demands, and provides a hands off way of meeting a demand, without having to adopt support of that service beyond the equipment owned and maintained by the institution. For a comparison, this is the difference between buying a car, which requires that you pay for the vehicle and all of it’s maintenance, and renting a car that you just need to put gas in.

    While it seems like a major expenditure in tax and student dollars, all of which are going to a single company instead of creating jobs within the educational institution, it is very likely that his was a solution implemented as a least cost solution to the demand. While it may seem expensive, some external solutions such as this can easily be less expensive (assuming the company doesn’t discontinue the service+hardware+support solution) versus developing one in house or pursuing a different opportunity with a higher level of user support requirements.

    Effectively, in cases like these, you are looking at both the good (up front and long term cost savings), and the bad (discontinued service offerings, lack of control over the offering, and unanticipated costs to maintain the offering), of outsourcing.

  2. Sam says:

    The other thing you must consider with all this is that money for technology projects is politically easy to justify (who doesn’t love gadgets) but money for professors and TA’s is difficult. I mean those professors are dirty communist hippies we shouldn’t employ them. 🙂

  3. Matt Comer says:

    Joseph said, “While it seems like a major expenditure in tax and student dollars, all of which are going to a single company instead of creating jobs within the educational institution, it is very likely that his was a solution implemented as a least cost solution to the demand. While it may seem expensive, some external solutions such as this can easily be less expensive (assuming the company doesn’t discontinue the service+hardware+support solution) versus developing one in house or pursuing a different opportunity with a higher level of user support requirements.”

    I get all that. Really, I do. But I find it hard to justify spending hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars on gadgets when there are far more important line items in need of funding.

  4. Derek Bruff says:

    Before you knock clickers as a waste of money, it’s worth considering their pedagogical benefits. Clickers can help make classes more interactive and engaging, provide instructors with useful information about student learning that can be leveraged on the spot, and give students frequent feedback on their own learning.

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out the frequently with which classroom response systems are mentioned in the comments on this ProfHacker post about teaching large classes:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/teaching-extra-large-classes-and-the-role-of-technology

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  1. […] we shouldn’t forget: Stop spending money on ridiculous, unnecessary things like “clickers.” About the Author: Matt ComerMatt Comer, 24, is a journalist, blogger and progressive, LGBT […]



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