Classroom Response Systems
Classroom Response Devices, also known as student response systems, or more simply “clickers,” are hand-held devices students use to respond in-class to instructor questions, often connected with software that allows instructors to quickly see students’ responses (Blasco-Arcas et al., 2013). The aim of clickers is to discover in real time what students know and don’t know. Clickers in one form or another have been used in classrooms in a variety of disciplines since the 1950s (Aljaloud et al., 2015).
The Case for Clickers
Research supports the many benefits of using clickers (for review of the research, see Aljaloud et al., 2015). Clickers can improve students’ metacognition, or reflection on their own thinking (Brady, Seli, & Rosenthal, 2013) in such subjects as biology (Caldwell, 2007), chemistry (Chen & Lan, 2013), business (Heaslip, Donovan, & Cullen, 2013), math (Judson & Sawada, 2002), pre-service-education (Campbell & Monk, 2015), and engineering (Dong et al., 2017), to name a few. When used properly, clickers provide useful feedback to both students and the instructor. Students can use this feedback to determine what material to review, and instructors can use the feedback to adjust the material or learning activities for greater comprehension.
Clickers can also enhance the in-class student experience. The anonymity of responding with clickers can lessen emotions that can be detrimental to learning, such as anxiety (Batchelor, 2015) and shyness (Stowell, Oldham, & Bennett, 2010). Much traditional classroom participation involves being on display: watched and perhaps judged by other students and the instructor. This can be threatening for students who are socially uneasy or uncertain about the quality of their contribution. One of students’ greatest fears is publicly representing their lack of knowledge (Peters, 1978). Clickers allow students to represent their knowledge without the vulnerability associated with individualized public attention.
Clickers can also help stimulate small group or whole class discussion around topics instructors know students struggle with (Mollborn & Hoekstra, 2010). One study showed that using clickers in this way improved student performance more than group discussion using the same questions without clickers, or just lecturing (Meyer et al., 2008). This effect is achieved by making students commit to an answer before they talk to their peers. It is through this commitment and resulting recognition of the limit of their knowledge that real learning can take place.
Strategies for Using Clickers in the Classroom
Clicker questions can be developed either prior to class or in the moment and can be structured as multiple choice, true/false, short answer, or essay. When designing effective strategies for using clickers, consider the following questions:
- What question will I ask?
- What do I want my students to do with the question?
- What structure do I provide to support student learning?
First, consider the difficulty of the question. More complex or “higher order” questions (see Bloom’s Taxonomy) require more background knowledge and more processing time for students to generate meaningful answers. Also consider what you want that question to be used for. Are you using the question as a form of Formative Assessment to figure out where the class session should go next? Or, are you using it as a form of Summative Assessment to test what information your students have retained? These two different assessment methods require different preparation and follow up considerations. More information on how to write good clicker questions can be found in Robin Sullivan’s 2009 article, “Principles for Constructing Good Clicker Questions.”
Second, consider what you want your students to do with the question, keeping in mind that the goal of this and other Interactive Methods of teaching is to help students own their knowledge. Consider using the “think-pair-share” instructional technique where a student first thinks on his or her own, then pairs with a partner to discuss the question before finally sharing their discussion with another group, the instructor, or the whole class. One of the best things to have students do is discuss a question after you have initially asked them to vote on an answer. Asking them at this point is crucial, as they have just committed to an answer and are primed for learning. Resist the urge to show your students the result of the first poll before having them discuss their answers. Research says that this can be detrimental to the richness of peer discussion, and students are more likely to fixate on the answer that most of their peers chose—which may or may not be correct—rather than focusing on the merits of their own answer choices (Perez et al., 2010).
Finally, consider the structure you provide your students, as we know that these cues have an impact on how much students learn using clickers (Knight, Wise, & Southard, 2013). When asking students to discuss a question, consider giving them focused cues such as, “Defend your answer choice to your neighbor/group,” or, “In your groups, have each person take an answer choice and explain why that answer choice is either correct or incorrect.” Using guided statements like these will help keep your students on task. More general prompts such as, “Turn to your neighbor and discuss your answers,” can lead to one student simply asking their neighbor, “I chose A. What answer choice did you choose?” In this scenario, the conversation will not progress any further than a statement of answer choices.
More tips for clicker use can be found in Caldwell’s 2007 article, “Clickers in the large classroom.”
Instructor Role in Clicker Implementation
The benefits of using clickers is not a plug-and-play effect. Without sufficient consideration of best practices (Han & Finkelstein, 2013), there will likely be no significant difference between using clickers and more traditional methods of teaching (Johnson & Robson, 2008). Here, as with other Interactive Methods, the instructor navigates student thought processes instead of disseminating information. Instructors should be attentive observers of students, able to gauge when most students have completed the task and are ready to move on to the next question or have come to a collective roadblock and need further instruction (Caldwell, 2007).
Baylor’s “preferred” vendor for clickers is Turning Technologies, which allows integration with Canvas. Students purchase a device and a license (or license only for the mobile app version). Consult Classroom Technology Services for more information.
Other app-based systems include Socrative, Top Hat, Poll Everywhere, and Squarecap.
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