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Is 'Active Participation' Worth the Costs to College Students?

As many classes expect students to not only purchase class texts but also "clickers" for attendance and classroom activities, students are left to make purchasing decisions that can impact their education.

"Clicker" apps, such as Top Hat and Turning Point, incorporate interactive polling software that is actively used in 187 countries and by 1,900 U.S. higher education organizations. Many classrooms at Miami use them for taking attendance in large lecture classes and for students to use to answer in-class questions.

In order to use Top Hat or Turning Point services, students must purchase subscriptions that cost around $25.

Todd Dupont, a professor in the geology and environmental earth science department, has been using "clicker" apps in the classroom for 12 years. Dupont said he appreciates the technology because it gives him a sense of what students understand and allows him to assess who is present for the lecture and slow down the lecture if needed.

"It's really hard to have a conversation when you have 90 students in the room," Dupont said. "It's easier to at least allow them to participate and to engage, as opposed to just passively sitting there."

A study conducted by Virginia Tech professors concluded that, "The average correctness rate for quizzes covering content delivered with CPPRS (cell phone-based personal response systems) was significantly higher than for content delivered without CPPRS."

Bill Even, an economics professor in the Farmer School of Business (FSB), noticed that attendance in his classes improved when he began using Turning Point, and that those who did better on the questions in class did better on the exams.

"[Students] appreciate the opportunity to interact with other learners as they're going through their problems," Even said. "[Turning Point] allows the students to stay more engaged in the class."

Before the clicker subscription services became prevalent, students only needed to have a manual clicker to answer questions. These manual clickers could be included in students' textbook orders and could be used in every class, regardless of the service being used.

But for some, the cost of clickers and apps is prohibitive. According to CBS, 65 percent of students decide not to purchase required texts at some point in their college career because of the lack of affordability.

"In one case I had a student who just said, 'I'm just going to have to suffer without that portion of my grade because I can't afford this,'" Dupont said.

At Miami, some students are even required to purchase both Turning Point and Top Hat, because two or more of their classes require different services.

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"I think that the professors here should come up with an easier way to track our attendance, rather than making us pay $25," Nico Londa, a sophomore athletic training and kinesiology major, said. "We practically are paying for our attendance grade."

A free alternative to clickers and apps is Kahoot, a free website where students can use their personal devices to answer questions game-show style. Kahoot could be a way to achieve the same goals without the added cost.

J0sh Plaster, a sophomore economics major, used Kahoot in one of his nutrition classes and believes professors should strive to use cost-free services like it as much as possible.

"Honestly I'd rather not use [Turning Point], especially if you have to pay for it," Plaster said. "I don't think the benefits outweigh the negatives that much."