Clickers (Audience/Classroom/Personal Response Systems) are a means of collecting immediate feedback regarding students' knowledge and perceptions, displaying the results, and using the outcome to make instructional decisions such as reviewing material or promoting discussion. Clickers can help maintain student attention, promote student engagement, increase student participation from all students (including shy ones), and provide valuable information on comprehension to both students and instructor. There are many articles and books that address the use of clickers such as the ones listed below to cite a few. Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching has assembled an impressive bibliography located at http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/docs/classroom-response-system-clickers-bibliography.
There are numerous ways to use clickers that go beyond simply taking attendance or giving quizzes. A few possibilities are:
Assessing Student Values and Attitudes / Promoting Discussion
The anonymity of clickers provides an opportunity to have students privately share their opinions, experiences, or demographic data with the rest of the class. The results can be used as a means of generating discussion especially about sensitive issues involving ethical or legal questions. It's also a way to connect student data to course topics. Student feedback can be compared to information from a larger database.
Peer Instruction / Revisiting Content
A question is posed in class and students are asked to silently think about the answer and respond individually. Based on the percentage of correct answers, the instructor can do one of three things. If the percentage is below a pre-determined cut-off point (e.g., less than 40% got the question correct), the instructor can spend additional time on the topic. If the percentage is above some criterion (e.g., more than 80% got the question correct), the instructor can move on while advising those with incorrect responses to spend more time on the topic. If the percentage falls within some middle ground, the instructor can have students turn to a neighbor, discuss the question, and then enter a second individual response. Very often, the insertion of a peer instruction activity can help clear up misconceptions and increase the number of correct answers. This technique is used extensively by Eric Mazur in his large Physics classes at Harvard (Mazur 1997, 2009).
This technique calls for an instructor to be prepared and flexible regarding the course material for the day. It also requires a certain level of confidence and willingness to take risks to try teaching on the fly. Questions are posed periodically during the class session. Depending on the nature of the responses, the instructor decides on the direction the class will go. So, for example, if a question is asked regarding students' opinion on some issue, a consensus might indicate moving on while a variety of responses might suggest introducing a class discussion. The instructor cannot be locked in to a specific lesson plan and will have to decide on which content is critical to cover and what can be sacrificed should the class pursue an unexpected direction.
If the topic lends itself to this approach, clickers can be used to collect student data that can then be analyzed, compared to other data, or used to make a point about some aspect of, say, social behavior. Depending on the response, students could be asked what a follow-up question might be. The instructor can then type that question, display it, and call for a clicker response.
Clickers can be borrowed from AV Services if you want to experiment with this technology. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org that includes your name, contact information, teaching location, and the equipment that you are requesting or have a question about. You can also call 323-6455.
Kay, R. H., & LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature. Computers & Education, 53, 819-827.
Keller, C., et al. (2007). Research-based practices for effective clicker use. Proceedings of the 2007 Physics Education Research Conference.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mazur, E. (2009). Farewell, lecture? Science 323, 50-51.
Patry, M. (2009). Clickers in large classes: From student perceptions towards an understanding of best practices. International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 3(2).