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What Are They Thinking? Best Practices for Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”)*

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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1270

Although Classroom Response Systems can be used to collect data associated with a particular student-if used to administer a quiz, for example-but the most pedagogically powerful uses come from anonymous, instantaneous data collection. For example, students are less likely to answer honestly, \"Did you do the reading?\" with a show of hands because they might feel personally exposed if they have neglected to prepare. With clickers, however, they can answer freely and anonymously, giving the instructor useful data regarding the level of the students\' preparation, so that he or she can adjust classroom activities accordingly. We waste our time and the students\' time when we attempt discussions of material that few students have read. 

 

Folks: 

The posting below gives a nice overview of the types and uses of various CRSs, or Classroom Response Systems. It is by David S. Goldstein University of Washington, Bothell and is #65 in a series of selected excerpts from The NT&LF reproduced here as part of our \\\\\"Shared Mission Partnership.\\\\\" NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://ntlf.com/about.aspx] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, March 2013, Volume 22, No. 3. Copyright ©John Wiley & Sons, Professional and Trade Subscription Content, One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. Reprinted with permission. 

Regards,

Rick Reisreis@stanford.eduUP NEXT: Designing College More Like a Video Game

 

 

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning 

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What Are They Thinking? Best Practices for Classroom Response Systems (\"Clickers\")

When used well, classroom response systems (or CRSs, also known as Student Response Systems, Individual Response Systems, or, informally, \"clickers\"), improve student learning outcomes in several ways: They elicit discussion contributions from otherwise reticent students and enhance collaboration, even in large lecture courses (Klein 2009); they foster more honest responses to discussion prompts (Bruff 2010); they increase students' engagement and satisfaction with the classroom environment (Fredericksen and Ames 2009); and they provide an instantaneous method of formative assessment (Briggs and Keyek-Franssen 2010), all of which are associated with best practices in learning.

Most typically, CRSs comprise a single receiver plugged into the USB port of a classroom computer, and each student has his or her own hand-held transmitter (\"clicker\"), about the size of a cell phone. The instructor will have created special Microsoft PowerPoint slides that enable polling, so students can click a response on their transmitters and the receiver aggregates the responses and displays them in a format pre-selected by the instructor (e.g., bar graph or pie chart). Institutions can purchase sets of transmitters to lend to instructors, or instructors can have students purchase them at the campus bookstore. Most cost around $45.

The instructor creates the special polling slides by using a software application that integrates seamlessly with PowerPoint. Turning- Point (by Turning Technologies [http://www.turningtechnologies. com/]) is a popular brand. (Instructors interested in implementing CRSs should consult with their campus's Information Technologies unit for advice.)

Use #1: Enabling all students to contribute to classroom learning

In classes of any size, but especially in large lecture-based classes, we often see \"the usual suspects\" when we ask students to respond to our questions. Seeking volunteer responders tends to privilege more assertive-not necessarily the most insightful-students, while other students tend to fall by the wayside. Sometimes issues of gender, culture, or disability affect who participates more and who tends to hold back. Yet we want every student to feel heard, and we want all class members to glean insights from one another. CRSs \"level the playing field,\" encouraging quiet students to participate just as much as talkative students.

CRSs also can help form discussion groups quickly by sorting them according to self-identified shared (or divergent) traits. For example, an instructor can ask students to truthfully identify themselves as:

  • a natural leader or a natural follower; a student who likes step-by-step deadlines or prefers a more laissez-faire, \"whenever\" approach to group work; a student confident or experienced in the subject matter or less confident or experienced.

By glancing at the resultant poll data, usually shared using a data projector, the instructor can quickly engineer groups likely to be productive. I tend to put more regimented students together in groups, and students with more casual attitudes together with like- minded individuals. I find it greatly reduces intra-group conflict. Other instructors like to mix groups; for example, they might want to avoid a group full of self-identified leaders. In any case, clickers can act like the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts, Harry Potter's wizardry school.

Use #2: Getting instantaneous feedback

Students sometimes seem hard to read, leaving the instructor to wonder whether the lack of raised hands means that the students fully understand the material at hand or are so lost that they cannot even formulate a good question. Polling the students at strategic points in a lecture or discussion, using a CRS, can quickly let students anonymously report how well they feel they understand (a self-report, e.g., \"Did you understand this concept? Yes/No\") or demonstrate their understanding (a no-stakes, ungraded, one- or two-question quiz, e.g., \"Based on what you just learned, what is the derivative of 2x3?\" (a) 3x2; (b) 6x2; or (c) x6).

Lectures or other activities punctuated with student responses-even the simple click of a button-tend to keep students more interested and engaged, which can be especially challenging in large lecture courses (Caldwell 2007). Students also report improved performance on examinations (Mayer et al. 2009).

Use #3: Getting honest feedback

Although CRSs can be used to collect data associated with a particular student-if used to administer a quiz, for example-but the most pedagogically powerful uses come from anonymous, instantaneous data collection. For example, students are less likely to answer honestly, \"Did you do the reading?\" with a show of hands because they might feel personally exposed if they have neglected to prepare. With clickers, however, they can answer freely and anonymously, giving the instructor useful data regarding the level of the students' preparation, so that he or she can adjust classroom activities accordingly. We waste our time and the students' time when we attempt discussions of material that few students have read.

CRSs also can provide accurate responses to sensitive \"check-in\" questions, such as, \"So far, how satisfied are you with your small group members?\" Obviously, one cannot expect honest answers if they are witnessed by the whole class, but anonymous, instantaneous responses with clickers can give a teacher a quick read of the students' present attitudes.

More importantly, teachers can collect and share aggregate data with the class regarding sensitive topics. Many courses deal with particularly touchy issues, such as race and ethnicity, social class, political opinions, and sexual identity. To get at students' honest opinions and attitudes in such classes, CRSs are invaluable. They have enabled me to ask questions such as:

  • \"To what extent are you worried that you won't be able to express your views in this course?\" (Simply asking this question put students with self-perceived minority political views more at ease.)
  • \"Do you identify yourself as: gay/ lesbian, straight/heterosexual, bisexual, transgendered, queer, etc.?\" (In a course on queer cinema, I felt it was important for students to understand-collectively, not individually-who their classmates are.)
  • \"Overall, immigrants to the U.S.:contribute to society, detract from society, don't know, etc.\" (The anonymous, collective responses to this question provided fodder for a rich debate about U.S. immigration policy.)

Like all pedagogical interventions, classroom response systems are no panacea. When used thoughtfully, however, they can deepen student learning by increasing student engagement and providing formative, instantaneous feedback to the instructor, who can make adjustments to a class meeting on the fly to better address student understandings or misunderstandings.

CONTACT:David S. Goldstein, PhD Director, Teaching and Learning Center Senior Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences University of Washington-Bothell E-mail: DGoldstein@uwb.edu

References:

  • Briggs, C., D. Keyek-Franssen. 2010, January. \"CATs with Clickers: Using Learner Response Systems for Formative Assessments in the Classroom.\" Paper presented at the 2010 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Conference, Austin, Texas. Accessed April 29, 2011. http://www .educause.edu/Resources/CATswith ClickersUsingLearnerRe/196503. Bruff, D. 2010. \"Multiple-Choice Questions You Wouldn't Put on a Test: Promoting Deep Learning Using Clickers.\" Essays on Teaching Excellence 21(3). Caldwell, J. E. 2007. Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best Practice Tips. CBE: Life Sciences Education 6(1): 9-20. Fredericksen, E. E., and M. Ames. 2009. \"Can a $30 Piece of plastic Improve Learning? An Evaluation of Personal Response Systems in Large Classroom Settings.\" Accessed April 29, 2011. http://net .educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/csd2690.pdf. Klein, K. 2009. Promoting Collaborative Social Learning Communities with Student Response Systems. Journal of Online Teaching and Learning 5(4). Mayer, R. E., A. Stull, K. DeLeeuw, K. Almeroth, B. Bimber, D. Chun, M. Bulger, J. Campbell, A. Knight, and H. Zhang. 2009. \"Clickers in College Classrooms: Fostering Learning with Questioning Methods in Large Lecture Classes.\" Contemporary Educational Psychology 34(1): 51-57.

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