Clickers in the classroom: A powerful tool for engaging students

ImageInstructors from a wide variety of disciplines are using clickers in the classroom. The proponents of clickers claim that clickers are innovative, interactive, and useful. But before we look at potential benefits, let’s talk about what clicker systems are. Clicker systems, also known as classroom response systems, personal response systems, and electronic response systems, are designed to collect students’ responses to questions during lectures. Each student generally uses a remote device—a clicker—to participate in a range of class activities, such as lecture questions, pop-quizzes, and attendance checks.

Clickers offer several potential benefits. Clickers are an easy-to-adopt technology that can enhance the learning experience. Clickers can help instructors maintain an appropriate pace by collecting immediate feedback from students, which makes it possible to identify learning gaps, difficult concepts, and areas for improvement. Students can actively participate in discussions about controversial topics without disclosing their names. In this way, a passive lecture can turn into a very interactive lecture. This can also prevent a few students from dominating classroom discussion. Many instructors have reported that students find that using clickers is fun and engaging.

ImageHere is a case of an instructor who uses clickers in his classroom. Dr. Smith is an instructor at a higher education institution who is teaching Biology 101, Introduction to Biology. He enters the lecture room and settles down along with 200 students. He begins his lecture with a short review of an important concept that every student needs to be familiar with for the upcoming exam. The projector displays questions on the screen, and students are allowed 30 seconds for each question. After students responded to the questions with their clickers, Dr. Smith shows a bar chart that illustrates student performance. Students are surprised, as their answers to the questions are mostly incorrect. Dr. Smith intentionally asked questions that are often misinterpreted. Now he has students’ attention. A teachable moment comes.

This is an authentic example that shows a way to use clickers. It seems engaging, participatory, and effective. However, clicker systems have their downsides. For example, the cost. A basic system can cost over thousands dollars. Furthermore, given that the systems are often used in the large classrooms, one might need on-site technicians with a high level of knowledge to optimize and maintain a clicker system during classes.  Also, developing well-designed questions is important. Some institutions are frequently understaffed, unable to support this type of technology, and this leads to ineffective clicker use.

Researchers and practitioners are looking for the best ways to use clicker systems. And there is great potential. Clicker technology can provide more effective, more efficient, and more engaging education.

To assist instructors here at Indiana University, the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning has developed several documents to assist with the use of clickers (see resources below). Furthermore, the center also offers individual consulting for instructors who are interested in using this type of instructional technology.  If you would like to know more about clicker systems, please contact us at ic@indiana.edu.

Helpful Resources:

Images from:

  1. http://www.timesdelphic.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/clicker.jpg
  2. http://56wrtg1150.wikidot.com/clickers
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