Golub, E. (July 2014)
To point or click, that is the question!
Student response systems (SRS) have become a common classroom technology, whether as a
dedicated device or Internet-based, and an option that I have used for several years. However,
laser pointers are also an interesting, though less commonly used /discussed, SRS option [1, 2].
Rather than an indirect system of displaying questions and gathering the student responses
through server-based technologies, laser pointers support students (even in large classes) directly
pointing at their answer among those presented. While finding that the use of laser pointers
provides some interesting new interactions, this case study implies they do lack one strong
benefit; a positive impact on attendance and the benefits that improved class attendance can
bring to students.
I had taught a large-lecture course, introductory programming course, taken primarily by CS/CE
majors, but open to non/potential majors as well, for many years without any SRS before moving
to using "clickers" and then to laser pointers. The switch to using laser pointers was done in
order to personally explore how the classroom experience might be altered by replacing clickers
with them. Questions of pedagogy and practicality both arose. What does the use of laser
pointers allow that the typical clicker system does not and what clicker abilities are lost when
using laser pointers? What is gained or lost? While laser pointers could prove to be more
flexible in terms of dynamic interaction and flow, might students not engage as much due to the
removal of the accountability and tracking that clicker systems support?