Tag: technology

Click it up a notch with i>clicker2

As some of may have heard, i>clicker is coming out with new hardware. UBC Classroom Services is already installing the new i>clicker2 receiver in many classrooms. I’ve been working with them to design a holder that mounts the receiver on the desktop so the receiver is 1) secure 2) visible.

iclicker2 receiver and UBC-designed mount
New i>clicker2 receiver mounted on classroom desktop with a base designed at UBC. The base swivels 359 degrees so the instructor can see the distribution from either side of the podium. That's a USB port on the base, where you plug in the chip with the i>clicker software and your class data. (Photo: Peter Newbury)
The i>clicker2 has more options, allowing for alpha-numeric responses in addition to the usual A thru E choices. (Image from iclicker.com)

This new receiver is fully compatible with the current i>clicker clickers, the simple, white A-E clickers we know and love.

No surprise, along with the new receiver comes a new i>clicker2 clicker.

Hold it, hold it! Don’t have a fit! Yes, there are more buttons and that seems to explicitly contradict i>clicker’s advertised simplicity. The first time I saw it, yes, I, er, had a fit.

However, I’ve since had a long chat with my colleague Roger Freedman (follow him on Twitter @RogerFreedman ) at UCSB. He’s a great educator, textbook author, avid clicker user, and i>clicker2 guinea pig. In his opinion, which I sincerely trust, i>clicker2 opens up new and powerful avenues for peer instruction. His favourite is ranking tasks which can be implemented without those awkward clicker questions with choices like A) 1>2=3>4 B) 1=2>3=4 …

Here’s the thing(s):

  • instructors could use the i>clicker2 to revert back to ineffective peer instruction questions
  • i>clicker2 opens up new options for peer instruction
  • they’re coming (though UBC has not declared when)

Conclusion Let’s be pro-active and prepared to train instructors when the i>clicker2 arrives.

The first step (after finishing your fit) is figuring out what the new clicker can do. And that’s the reason for this post. In 30 minutes – er, make that 11 minutes – I’ll be heading to a demo. The rest of this post will be written shortly…

(Image CC Pedro Moura Pinheiro on flickr)

It’s 3 hours later. I’m E X C I T E D! The demo with Roberto and Shannon was, well, they had a wide spectrum of audience members, from never held a clicker before to experienced users. I had a great chat with them afterwards, though. Details below, but first, some nice features of the i>clicker2 unit:

Click to enlarge. (Images: Peter Newbury)
  • (left) When you turn on the i>clicker2, it flashes the ID number. No more problems with the sticker getting rubbed off (though Roberto assures us they have better stickers now.)
  • (center) There are only 2 batteries (but still 200 hrs of use). See those 2 little sticky-outty things at the top? They’re rubber feet to stop the clicker from sliding off the desk. Nice touch.
  • (right) There’s a metal post for a lanyard. Good idea.

I won’t go into all the details about the features of the software. There are lots.   You can take the tour at iclicker.com.

The hard part

Those of us who have been using i>clickers for peer instruction have gotten pretty ingenious about asking good, discussion-promoting questions even though we’re limited to choices A–E. It’s going to take some thinking and discussion to figure out how to take advantage of the expanded capabilities of the i>clicker2. Ranking tasks are a great start: students can easily enter a string of letters like BCDEA to rank items. It’s going to take some testing. Which leads to…

The great part

Roberto and Shannon are going to lend me a class set of i>clicker2’s for the term! Eighty clickers to try out in the classes I work in. Suh-weet!

I was chatting with my friend Warren (@warcode) afterwards. He said, “When you asked Roberto to show you what i>clicker2 can do that i>clicker can’t, his response was, essentially, ‘Here’s a set clickers. You tell us.’ ”

Challenge accepted! Stay tuned!


Don’t forbid phones in class, embrace them

It’s not uncommon to hear, as I wander the halls at UBC, faculty complaining about students preoccupied with their computers and phones in class. The most common solution is to just ignore it (“if they don’t want to pay attention to the class, it’s their loss…”) Can’t disagree with that, as long as students aren’t distracting others who are trying to pay attention. Another solution is to ban computers and phones. Well, some students legitimately need their computers (students with disabilities, for example) so I know of a few instructors who ask these students to sit over there, off to the side.

But here’s another solution: don’t forbid phones in class, embrace them.

Naive? Perhaps. Impossible to faciliate? Ye— Ah! Not so fast!

The April 2011 issue of The Physics Teacher contains an article by Angela M. Kelly that describes a collection of iPod Touch apps (which should also on iPhone and iPad) and how to use them to teach Newton’s Laws of Motion.  Cool idea: use the games the students are already playing to teach them physics.

I want to add to her list my own favourite physics app. This one’s not a game so it might not – no, who am I kidding, will not –  have the same appeal. But xSensor (which, at the time I write this, is free!) is a great physics app because it gives a real-time readout of the accelerometer, in the x-, y- and z-directions. The pix below are screenshots from my iPhone (captured with that magical “click on/off and home buttons at the same time” feature.) Here are a couple of screenshots that show some cool physics. The app will also record the data in a log you can email yourself.

xSensor screenshot showing circular motion. The sinusoidal curves encode the constant centripetal force.

I made this one by putting my iPhone flat on my desk and swirling it around and around. The curves sweeps across the screen recording about 5 seconds of readings. The numbers on the screen, 0.02, -0.14 and -1.18 are the instantaneous accelerations measured in g’s.  The z-acceleration is pretty constant at -1 g. Can’t get rid of gravity… The accelerations in the x-direction and y-direction show beautiful sinusoidal motion, 90 degrees out-of-phase, encoding the centripetal force of the phone’s circular motion. It’s shaky because I can’t swirl my phone smoothly.

Okay, the “can’t get rid of gravity…” line was a strawman. Because you can. If you drop your phone. Which I did. Very carefully.

xSensor screenshot during free fall when, for a brief moment, the phone recorded zero acceleration.

These graphs show me holding my phone still. About halfway through the plot, I dropped it. For a short period of time, the acceleration in z-direction snaps up to zero g’s: free fall! Then there’s a big blip as I clumsily catch my phone and take the screenshot. But there, just for that moment in free fall, my phone appeared to be force free. That’s Einstein’s Principle of Equivalence: floating free in deep space is just like freely falling in a gravitational field. (That NASA link include the famous Apollo 15 hammer/feather drop video.) It’s not a Gedankenexperiment, though. It’s the real thing, right there in your hand! Well, you know what I mean.

So, don’t ban phones from your physics, astronomy or science classrooms: embrace them! Better yet, chuck ’em across the room!

Do you have a favourite physics app? Have you discovered another cool experiment you can do with xSensor? Hope you’ll share it with us.