There was a time when lectures were just a relaxing and informative show, a passive opportunity to find out what’s really relevant in that shiny $200 textbook. But since the widespread use of Qwizdom – a remote that identifies students by their UMID and can be used by professors to take attendance and quiz students – some lectures have become as interactive as discussion sections. The creeping introduction of Qwizdom remotes in the past few years hasn’t been without its glitches and frustrations, but those little devices are much more helpful than I initially thought.

As a Daily editorial last month pointed out, some lecturers have begun requiring students to purchase the roughly $30 Qwizdom remotes to answer multiple choice questions (From the Daily: Trivial pursuit, 09/14/2007). These quizzes sometimes account for 5 percent or more of a student’s grade. Teachers masquerade these protracted quizzes as part of a lecture, despite the fact that, according to Wolverine Access, lectures are not supposed to be the “graded component” of a course. Worse yet, in each of the three courses I’ve taken that have used Qwizdom remotes, the lecturers have been unfamiliar with how to use their own central remote.

I used to see the Qwizdom remote as a blatant attempt to torture students. Quizzing has transformed the tranquil lecture experience into a bloody battlefield filled with quiz-mines. The experience is akin to pointing a little grey and red gun at a student’s head and asking him or her to define conservation of angular momentum. I don’t need that kind of stress in my math and science classes.

Ruthlessly repeating these stressful conditions day-after-day can be too much for even the best prepared student. I, for one, am fed up with the incessant questioning. I’d rather be Tasered than Qwizdomed.

As much as I like my professors, the books are often better learning tools than the lectures anyway. That’s why I had to purchase the book, the study guide, the solutions manual, the CD-ROM, the web pass and the coursepack, right? But now I am forced to attend lectures (because professors can take attendance easily and quickly with the remotes) that may not even be useful. I’ll learn when I’m ready, and I do not want to be denied my right to choose. Besides, many students prefer to do the reading after lectures.

Imagine a world in which all classes use Qwizdom remotes. Students would have to study all of their subjects as they go along in order to keep up with the lecture quizzes, thus taking away the option to focus on certain subjects at certain times. On an 18-credit schedule, it’s simply not possible to keep up with the reading for every class, every day. While I’d love to be caught up all the time, the sad truth is that on any given week I have to choose what subjects to study. Also, students who might benefit from lecture miss out because so much lecture time is taken up by quizzes and Qwizdom-related technical glitches.

That’s pretty much how I felt about the Qwizdom remotes – until I sat down to do my statistics homework.

The amount of time spent searching the book for answers decreased significantly, because I had already been forced to learn things while preparing for lecture. I’ve since come to the conclusion that Qwizdom remotes are useful if implemented correctly. My lecturers have tended to use them to grab attention and force attendance. However, the remotes can also empower students to exercise their skills and truthfully indicate what they do and do not understand for a more focused learning experience. But this only works without the threat of lost points.

In a college atmosphere plagued with lazy students whose weekend begins on Thursdays, lecturers understandably feel pressured to increase participation. I disagree with the logic, and I still lament the loss of personal initiative. And yet I have a feeling that students have a great deal to benefit from on-demand input in lecture – if only it were implemented with the intent to help with understanding the material, not simply as an easy way to take attendance and quizzes.

Gavin Stern can be reached at

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