A New Way to Use iClicker: Contact Tracing in Large Enrollment Classes

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A New Way to Use iClicker: Contact Tracing in Large Enrollment Classes

Over the years, instructors have come up with new and clever ways to use iClicker in their classes. Far from being just a polling app, iClicker can be used for attendance, asynchronous polls, and low-stakes quizzing -- and now for contact tracing.

How one professor used iClicker for student contact tracing

When her university asked instructors to keep attendance to protect the students and college community, Professor Christychristy.jpg Bagwill, an Instructor and Coordinator for Organic Chemistry and Principles of Chemistry Laboratory Courses at Saint Louis University, came up with the idea to use iClicker. In her large-enrollment class, she came up with a creative solution that allows students flexibility to sit where they wanted, but offers a reliable way to identify and alert students if they’ve been exposed.

Essentially, Professor Bagwill decided to use iClicker’s polling functionality - specifically the short answer option - to have students respond with their table location as the first question in class every day, that way she captured their attendance and seating location in one easy step. She shares more about this new method and how it came about in the first of our series discussing how iClicker is helping to solve problems caused by the pandemic.

The university asked you to keep attendance and map where students were sitting for COVID contact tracing purposes. What made you think of using iClicker? And how did you set this up?

I have been using iClicker in my large enrollment lecture class for several years.  I usually use the platform to give in-class quizzes or just a check to see where the class is on a topic.  I will give some multiple choice or true/false questions, but other times I will ask the students to enter a short numerical/alphabetical response. Honestly I haven’t used iClicker in the past to take attendance, I just give unannounced quizzes and that keeps student attendance high, but I knew that the attendance option was a popular usage for other instructors.  I think it was my familiarity with iClicker that helped cultivate the idea.  

When the university made the announcement, the first thing that came to mind was attendance paired with a short answer question asking students to identify their seat location. I was just unsure how to retrieve individual answers to short questions so I contacted my Macmillan Learning team to see what options were available.  

As we were planning how to take attendance and record seating charts, many options were floated by faculty members. Most included assigned seats, so seating charts would only have to be made one time in the semester. This freed the instructor to just take attendance, which can easily be done using a Google form. However, it was apparent to me that having students in a large enrollment lecture course complete a Google form for each class period would be a daunting task -- also, I teach freshmen and I knew that their group of friends would fluctuate throughout the semester. I wanted to be able to mirror what was happening outside the learning environment, inside the classroom. I wanted to give them the freedom inside the class to choose who they sat with at their tables, who was in their groups during active learning sessions. So to that end, I decided to use iClicker to just run a short answer question, asking students for their seating location. It allowed me to capture attendance and seat location, as well as give students the flexibility to sit where & with whom they wanted. Ultimately, I had decided to use iClicker in the classroom so the addition of one short answer question just made sense.

Have you had any COVID scares where you needed to reference your contact tracing data (attendance/seat maps)? If so, how did it go? 

So far in my class we have not had any scares that I needed to provide the data but if needed it is there.  We are a highly-vaccinated campus and masks are required in buildings/classrooms.

What advice would you give to others looking to do contact tracing with iClicker? 

Our biggest struggle in a large enrollment lecture class was labeling seating locations. In my particular room, we labeled each table round with an element symbol so all students had to do was enter a one or two letter response. Other advice I would give would be to remember to download your attendance/short answer data and have it easily accessible, as the turn around for contact tracing is around 12 hours. Also, I would recommend having enough access points for our wifi, so students don’t have a problem connecting to the app to enter answers.

How have your students responded to this level of safety/monitoring?

Our students have responded very well to this level of safety/monitoring using the mobile app. Most seem to appreciate the flexibility to sit where they want to for the class.

How else has COVID changed teaching and learning in your classroom?

We originally had to remove most of the active learning modules in the curriculum, but we have returned that now. I teach using partial-flipped pedagogy, so it hasn’t changed significantly now that we are back in-person. I record pre-lecture videos that they watch, I lecture a little bit in class, and we work on problems together. I have always recorded my in-class lectures so students could review the information again at their own pace.  

Our campus requires vaccines for faculty, staff, and students which has allowed us to return to a mostly normal classroom.  We are still required to wear masks at this time just for extra precautions.  

This has been a very fatiguing one and a half years, with new rules, modified curriculums, modified schedules, and the need to learn new platforms -- I see a significant amount of what I would call pandemic fatigue.  

You’ve been using iClicker for some time now-- how has the way you used it changed over the years?

I have used iClicker for many years. In the past I always used the iClicker remotes for different types of quizzes: knowledge check on a topic, one quiz question at a time/move at specified pace, or print a paper quiz and they answer at their own pace. This is the first time I have had students use the iClicker student app in addition to remotes. 

What advice would you give to instructors using iClicker for the first time this semester?

Practice with the software and the remotes. It is not hard but the first time students use it and the first time you administer a quiz, it can be a bit intimidating. I have been known to take a remote base and a student remote and practice.  The better prepared I am, the better off the students are.

With large enrollment lecture classes, if using the iClicker student app, make sure you have enough access points for your wifi connection. If they cannot connect to wifi, they are unable to answer the questions.