Wouldn’t you think that a university classroom would be the last place that kids would be allowed to push buttons on electronic devices that they hold in their hands for the entire length of the class? Think again. Many colleges now give clickers to students to use in class. Unlike the smart phones that professors probably don’t like their students to hold in their hands during a lecture, these little remotes are often required.

Each student in the class has a remote with its own frequency. That way, the teacher can take attendance quickly. It has buttons to push so multiple-choice tests can be given easily. It’s also used so shy students who don’t want to raise their hands and say what’s on their minds can just push a button on their clicker to let their teacher know that they have a concern about a discussion or lesson.

I guess it’s just part of the proliferation of remotes. In my house, there are anywhere from three to five remotes in front of the television (but I can never find the one I want). The kind of remote I’m sure scientists will develop is the Life-TiVo. With it, you’d be able to go back in time, stop time, and just as you can speed through commercials with a regular TiVo, you could speed through the parts of your life that you’d rather not see.

However, I never thought I’d see a classroom clicker. Many educators decry the fact that young people spend so much time talking, tweeting, and texting on their phones. Yet here are some educators who are putting yet another electronic device in kids’ hands. Since they’re so good at multi-tasking, are students going to be answering a teacher’s question with one hand while using the other hand to watch last night’s “Dancing With The Stars?”

Don’t you think the college years would be a good time to introduce things like open discussions? With these clickers, the Socratic Method is being replaced by a flash drive. Does that sound like progress to you? That shy kid who doesn’t want to raise her hand is never going to get more confident if all she has to do is secretly push a button.

I just don’t understand how a clicker is an improvement over heated debates, provocative dialogue and passionate arguments. What does the professor say at the end of the class: “That was a very stimulating exchange of ideas demonstrated by the popularity of button number three?” Does that sound like something that’s going to mold minds and create intellectual memories that will last a lifetime?

I’m enough of a realist to know that if these clickers are in hundreds or even thousands of schools right now, they will soon be just as accepted as the notebook and pen that they replace. Many people were shocked when kids were allowed to use calculators in class and while doing their homework. Now they’re completely acceptable. I guess the theory is that when the kid grows up, he or she will have a calculator at work, so what’s the harm? The harm, of course, is that many students never learn things like multiplication tables. So, on that day at work when the big report is due and their calculator’s battery runs out, they’ll panic when faced with a scary question like, “What’s three times nine?”

Maybe I should give the classroom clickers a chance. After all, people learn in different ways, there are all kinds of knowledge, and one kind of knowledge isn’t necessarily better than another. It’s true that if you ask a third grader to tell you the tables of eight, she might not be able to. But she can fix your computer.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at lloydgarver@gmail.com. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.

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