November 11, 2005

Learning a click away in VUSN nutrition class

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Students in the School of Nursing’s Introductory Nutrition course use ‘clickers’ to respond to questions.
photo by Anne Rayner

Learning a click away in VUSN nutrition class

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's Introductory Nutrition course has introduced Classroom Response Systems (CRS) as a teaching tool for the popular undergraduate course.

Each of the 208 students in varied degree programs has a hand-held remote-control-style devise, known as a “clicker,” that transmits to a receiver at the front of the room. As Registered Dietitian and Instructor Jamie Pope goes into details about fat, protein, carbohydrates and dietary guidelines, she pauses to ask the audience multiple choice questions along the way.

Instead of raising hands, students use their clickers to answer. About 10-seconds later, the screen lights up with results in the form of percentages. This approach allows students to participate and receive instant feedback. It also allows Pope and her co-instructor, Bettina Lippert, R.N., a recent graduate of VUSN's Critical Care Nursing Practitioner program, to better gauge and emphasize key talking points throughout the lecture.

“It helps foster participation and involvement in large classes and gives us a way to assess understanding and even the behavior, opinions and attitudes about the specific topic we are covering,” said Pope.

During a recent lecture, the class was learning about food safety. Lippert wanted to know how much to emphasize a particular point about raw food preparation and consumption.

After asking the class to respond, she learned only 17 percent of the students had tried raw oysters, so she briefly touched on the issue of oysters and focused on safe food storage issues, which is relevant to the majority of students living in dormitories.

“In a lecture hall of over 200 students, it can be a bit intimidating to answer some of the more personal questions, but clickers encourage students to respond,” said Lippert.

For example, when asking about washing hands, 5 percent of the class admitted they had washed their hands only once that day. “That's the type of instant information we need to identify an issue and better educate,” said Pope. “If we had to rely on students raising their hands, no one would have answered truthfully, especially in front of their peers.”

In an auditorium full of undergraduate students majoring in everything from engineering to public policy, the common denominator is the positive student feedback on clickers in the classroom. “I like the clickers because it's a different type of learning,” said Kelly Madigan, a freshman in psychology. “It encourages me to participate and in a confidential way.”

Peabody College Senior Christen Mogavero agrees, “The clickers help break up the content of a two-hour lecture and end up increasing opportunities for class discussion.”

The clickers for Introductory Nutrition are available through a partnership between VUSN, Thomson Learning (the publisher of the course textbook) and Turning Point Software. The students were required to purchase the clickers along with their textbook. Average cost of the clicker device is approximately $18.

“Nutrition classes are already popular,” said Pope. “Integrating Student Response Devices in this class is just another way the School of Nursing is trying to enhance the learning process.”