An honors student at Ohio State, a kid in a fifth-grade science class in Kentucky and a deaf student in England, all begin their learning experience the same way: with their hand wrapped around a remote control.
Not a TV remote, but rather one that connects a student with everyone else in the class, with the instructor and with the subject at hand.
Hundreds of colleges, high schools and even middle schools are using ``clickers'' _ as even manufacturers call them. A moderator can pose a question and within seconds the respondents' answers are anonymously logged on a laptop at the front of the room.
``This is the MTV era,'' said Neal H. Hooker, an Ohio State professor who uses the technology in his agricultural economics course. ``It's the instant gratification generation. They don't like doing a quiz and hearing the responses in three days. They want to see if they've got it right or wrong right then.''
Interwrite, a clicker manufacturer in Columbia, Md., has over a half million remotes in use, most in classrooms.
The clicker itself isn't different in size or shape from the one that enables you to switch from ``Fear Factor'' to ``Nova'' at home. Software logs the students' answers enabling the teacher to determine if students understand the topic as the topic is being discussed. Teachers can post a true-false or multiple-choice quiz at the front of the room and, within seconds, the students' responses are logged, their scores tabulated and a grade is assigned to each.
``My mom taught middle-school math for years,'' said Rob Meissner, the vice president of marketing for Interwrite. ``And everyday she started with a 10-question drill assignment. If you could do that and have those things graded in 10 seconds versus bringing them home at night, that's a phenomenally efficient tool.''
Teachers can readily determine which students need immediate help _ and in what areas _ as the class progresses. The system actually encourages more class discussion, prodding even shy students to get involved as responses are debated.
Christina Grimsley, 16, a junior at Coeur d'Alene High School in Idaho, first used the clicker during a third-year Spanish class earlier this academic year. She said instantaneous feedback was a huge advantage.
``You don't have to wait for someone to sit down and grade them by hand,'' she said of class assignments. ``Right away you're able to get your answers back.''
Hooker said the new technology saves reams of paper that he used to use on quizzes. About the only paperwork now are individual grade sheets.
``I don't grade,'' he said. ``It is, simply, done. And I can't make a grading mistake _ it all comes out on the spreadsheet. I just have to cut and paste and put it in my grade sheet and it's done. So it's foolproof.''
College bookstores sell the clickers for between $10 and $40 apiece to students, depending on a range of functions. Most schools provide a basic system, including a receiver and software, which runs around $1,500. Bigger systems with higher-end equipment can cost $25,000, according to Rick Baker, CEO of clicker-maker Meridia Audience Response near Philadelphia.
At the end of an academic term, a college student can sell the clicker to the kid down the hall in his dorm or can keep it for future classes.
More book publishers are tailoring their textbooks to provide exams and quizzes for classes with hand-held remotes to meet the growing demand, said Donald Yocum, a social studies teacher and technology specialist at King Middle School is in rural Harrodsburg, Ky.
Yocum's school has five sets of mutually compatible clicker sets _ all won at state or national teachers conventions.
Many clicker-makers hand out the systems as prizes. Their thinking is that once teachers and students see how cool the systems are, the word will spread.
``All of the kids like it,'' Yocum said. ``It helps the ones who don't like the traditional way of doing things, who don't like to sit there and write out their answers on a piece of paper. This way, through an interactive system, they stay engaged.''
Many feel that the ideal use of clickers is in larger classes at universities, where sometimes hundreds of students jam lecture halls to hear a distant figure at the front of the class talk in a monotone until the class ends. Clickers are also becoming popular in various business uses, such as seminars and conventions.
``It's not like an hour-long lecture where the professor is droning on and everybody goes to sleep because they don't know what's important,'' University of Southern California physics and astronomy professor Christopher Gould said. ``It lets the lecture turn into a two-way conversation.''
Teachers who have used clickers believe students learn more when using the remotes.
``The class that I just taught using it was possibly the best performing class I've had in the five years I've been teaching it,'' Hooker said. ``They understood the material well and the students really like it.''
Mike Nelson, Grimsley's Spanish teacher in Coeur d'Alene, said he had proof that clickers enhance the lessons.
``I have noticed about a 15 to 20 percent increase in their oral grades and their quiz grades, because now I don't need to guess whether kids know it to the best of their ability,'' he said. ``I can actually see it now.''