tophatmonocleIn classrooms, e-books are sort of top-down, one-way communication tools. You buy the book, you read what it says. But what if the same device you use for e-books could also be used to respond to the professor in your classroom?

Ki Mae Heussner has an interesting piece at GigaOm on Top Hat Monocle, a company that pitches “clicker” software, compatible with smartphones, tablets, and laptops, to professors to use in their classes, with students paying $20 per semester for a subscription to use the software. Hardware “clicker” devices to let students provide feedback in class have apparently come into vogue in the last few years (I wish this stuff had been around when I was in school!), but they cost money, and the software can be used on the devices students already have.

The software offers more versatility than traditional clickers, allowing instant-response quizzes and collaborative discussions, and it also turns technology that could otherwise be distracting (what laptop-user hasn’t surfed the net in classes lately?) toward a beneficial use.

Though for basic discussions, I tend to wonder why something that costs this much is even necessary. At one of the panels I attended at ConQuesT, a panelist got out her netbook, gave out a Twitter hashtag, and asked that people with questions use it to field them. Though it was really kind of a small panel for that sort of thing to be necessary, it worked well in theory. Professors could also set up Facebook pages, Skype chatrooms, or any of a number of other free social forums.

Still, if it works as well as advertised, and helps participation and learning in class, it’s a neat way to leverage the technology you’re already going to be using for reading e-textbooks toward discussing what’s actually in those e-textbooks.


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