Posted by: Gregory Linton | 02/26/2009

Ideas for Using Clickers in the Classroom

In the last post, I explained how to use i>Clickers to record student attendance. If that is the only use the professor makes of the clickers, students will resent spending the money on them. Also, it is very important to utilize the clickers several times in each class or else students will rightly view the clickers as a waste of their money.  In this post, I will suggest additional ways to implement the clickers to enhance the learning experience.

1. Opinion polls

Students enjoy being able to express their opinion, and they enjoy seeing the opinions of other students. Not every class may be appropriate for opinion polls, but classes that deal with different theories or interpretations are appropriate places for them. This works especially well in my own field of biblical studies because multiple interpretations of about every verse have been offered through the centuries.

Sometimes I will ask for students to express their opinion on a topic before we discuss it in order to get an initial snapshot of where they stand. The i>Clicker software will allow a bar graph to be displayed that shows the number of responses to each option. It can be interesting to repeat the same poll later in the course to see if any students have changed their mind on that issue as a result of additional learning.

Sometimes I discuss alternative interpretations with their pros and cons and then ask students to respond with their choices. These polls can be followed up with class discussion in which students speak in favor of their own view and against another view.

This process is especially helpful at showing students that interpretation is not a precise science. It can be eye-opening for students to see that so many of their colleagues hold a different view from themselves. They realize that the absolute truth on every issue cannot be achieved with absolute certainty.  Hopefully this will instill in them some humility about their own opinions and a willingness to be open to hearing the opinions of others. And sometimes I myself am surprised to see where my students stand on an issue.

2. Preview quizzes

Clickers can also be used to kick off a new topic by quizzing the students on what they already know about the topic. This can help the professor to determine the prior knowledge that students bring to the topic, and it can help students to shift their attention to the new subject matter. This use of the clickers can also reveal the knowledge that they have retained from the reading for that day’s session.

These quizzes can be set up as reading quizzes that are scored. I believe strongly that reading assignments for a class must affect students’ grades in some way or else they will not bother to do them. However, I have not found reading quizzes in class to be a helpful procedure to accomplish this.  It tends to put students in a bad mood, and it can motivate them to waste valuable class time arguing over the quiz questions and answers. They may also resent having to purchase the clickers for this purpose. In my own usage, the only way that the clickers affect a student’s grade is their participation grade, which rewards them for bringing them to class and using them.

Instead, I set up the preview quizzes as a friendly contest among the groups. In my classes, I assign students to groups in four. I set up the quizzes as five multiple-choice questions. As they take the quiz, they keep track of their correct answers and total them in their groups. Then we determine which group has the highest score. The whole process takes 5-10 minutes.

We try to keep this lighthearted and fun, but of course students are motivated to do their best since they will report their score to their group members. Some of my classes have suggested that we should have a “Golden Clicker” that we give to the winning group to hold onto until another group takes it away. I have never actually done that, but it might be a fun idea to try.

3. Review quizzes

The same procedure can be used to review a lesson that was just covered. It can be a way of reviewing the information again so that it becomes fixed in the memory. It can also serve as a way to check the students’ comprehension of the lesson so that unclear matters can be clarified.

Instructors should not expect the implementation of clickers to lead to a dramatic change in student satisfaction or learning. They should be careful not to expect too much from them nor to raise the expectations of students to an unreasonable level. Rather, the clickers are simply one more pedagogical tool that provides some variety to a class and encourages all students to participate in some way.

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