To Click or Not to Click?
posted by Joan Van Duzer on 11/13/2009
I’ve noticed that student response systems (aka “clickers”) seem to be growing in popularity in university classrooms. Last year my daughter, a junior at Oregon State University, told me that a clicker was part of her required materials list for several classes. As an instructional technologist, I couldn’t help wondering whether clickers are “just another gimmick” or a meaningful way to enhance learning by applying technology. How better to find out if clickers help than to ask students? So I decided to ask my daughter about her experience with clickers. She told me:
I think clickers are helpful as long as the teacher knows how to use them. For example, [one of my teachers] has trouble getting the software to work in the classroom—he says the results aren’t compatible with his Mac so he can’t get them to display. It’s a big waste of time. It’s less effective to raise hands in class [than to use clickers], because sometimes students don’t want to be singled out for an opinion that’s outside the norm. Also, with clickers, the class opinion is graphed for us all to see which is more accurate than gauging by just looking around the classroom.
In [one of my classes], the clickers were really helpful, because the instructor would start out with a question about the topic that day and we would guess. If we guess, it’s easier to remember her explanations later why we got it right or wrong. She also used it to gather statistics on certain issues from our class and compare our class to the population as a whole.
I decided to put her “to the test” and asked her if she still remembers some of the questions and answers from that class (more than six months ago). She could list some of the questions and what the correct answers were (this offered some comfort for the out-of-state tuition I’ve been paying!). She added that she thinks clickers should just be used for engaging with the material—not for merely participation or attendance credit. Too many students will send along their clickers with classmates if the clicker is used in that way.
Roxy Peck at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo experimented with two sections of an introductory statistics class: one class of 49 did not use clickers, and the class of 44 used clickers. Not only did the clicker group have better attendance, but they scored better on individual assessments and in the course overall. Most surprising to me was the unanimous opinion from students that she should continue using clickers. (See summary of her experiment (.pdf) [no date].)
University of Iowa has recorded testimonials on clickers from both faculty (video) and students (text) that supported both my daughter’s opinion and those offered by Roxy Peck’s students.
It turns out that William B. Wood, Department of MCD Biology at University of Colorado, also wondered enough about effectiveness of clickers in the classroom to create his own study and report the specific and satisfying results of using clickers with his Developmental Biology class (Clickers: A Teaching Gimmick that Works .pdf).
Humboldt State University has standardized on the Turning Point Technologies clickers so HSU students can use the same clicker in any class where they’re required. (Clickers from different vendors are not compatible with each other.) I was surprised to learn that Turning Point also has a product (Turning Point Anywhere) that allows students to use any mobile Internet device to respond—they need not buy a clicker, but instead purchase a $16 license. Also with TPAW, the instructor need not be using PowerPoint to pose questions and gather responses.
After this investigation, I feel confident now in my answer:
How can an instructor capitalize on all the benefits of clickers and avoid the pitfalls?
Leave your answer below in the comments section!
Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, by Derek Bruff, is now part of the CELT library for HSU educators to browse at their convenience.
Clickers in the Classroom (Duncan, 2005). Excerpt: Clicker Best Practices
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers: “Faculty: Enhancing Classroom Instruction One Click at a Time” Best Practices which includes some showcases of use and related articles and research.
EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative presented “7 Things You Should Know About Clickers” (.pdf) in March 2005.