Clicker Experiences From Professor Seth Major

Our second blog entry comes from Professor of Physics, Seth Major:

I have been using clickers for about 5 years in introductory classes such as Phys 135, 100, and 195.  They help to prompt discussion. They can, if the questions are worded well, cause a higher percentage of the class to participate, even as much as essentially everyone.  The trick is to write good questions. I have found that about half of the ones I come up with are either too easy or too hard so I have to test them and refine them over several iterations of the class.  Clickers also are not suitable for all material.  They can be good at addressing known conceptual challenges and in setting up a prediction - observe - evaluate presentation of demonstrations.  I haven't found a way to use these effectively in more complex chains of reasoning - traditional lecture-discussion is better for this.  Finally, clickers are helpful but the idea crosses over to other media, even low tech.  I have a colleague who asks his students to buy small whiteboards so they can write equations and make graphs. I use paper for the same purpose on occasion.

Clicker Experiences from Professor Adam Van Wynsberghe

Our first blog entry is from Adam Van Wynsberghe, Assistant Professor of Chemistry:

Clickers were an integral part of the lecture component of my Principles of Chemistry (Chem120) course last fall. During a typical lecture, I would ask the class two or three multiple-choice questions, usually conceptual but sometimes calculational, that tested their understanding of the topics we had just covered.  I had initially expected to use the “think, pair, share” model, but in practice, small group work followed by a whole class discussion seemed more natural.  The normal progression of these activities was: 2 minutes to discuss with group members and answer; reveal of class’s choices; whole class discussion; reveal of correct answer. On some occasions, if the class was particularly divided, I would allow them to answer again following the whole class discussion.  In addition to these “post-test” type of questions, on occasion, I would use the clickers to have the students predict the outcome of an experiment or to do a “pre-test” to evaluate the students’ background.

 While I had used the “low-tech” version of clickers (hand-raising) in previous courses, this was my first experience with the actual electronic models.  Not surprisingly, there were significant advantages to the newer technology.  The most important advantage to me was the ability to record the answers from each student in order to give them an actual grade. This formalized the activity somewhat, encouraged participation and encouraged lecture attendance.  While I was pleased the students reacted this way, in actuality, given the weighting of the activity, it had very little effect on their grades--a fact, of course, I did not share with them.

From my use of the clickers, I felt their most positive aspect was they encouraged students to actually think during lecture rather than just be present and take notes.  Students knew these questions were coming, wanted to do well, and knew that to do so they would have to understand the concepts we were covering. In some ways, they were an upgrade over the idea of a weekly quiz---their many minor course grade effects kept students engaged with the material on a daily basis rather than prompting a weekly cram session for a more major evaluation tool. The other aspect I appreciated about the clickers is that they broke up lecture into smaller, structured units. It can be difficult to focus for fifty uninterrupted minutes; the clickers gave students a break from listening and note taking and allowed them to switch into a difficult mode of thinking. Also, the structure of the breaks for clicker questions allowed students to identify the logical conceptual framework of the material.  The big ideas were highlighted by the fact we stopped to test their understanding. In addition to my self-evaluation, I saw the same kinds of comments on my student evaluations. Students were uniformly positive about the clicker use, citing many of the above reasons and sometimes suggesting that we should have used them more extensively.

About this Blog

This blog was created to share information and experiences related to student response systems - also known as clickers. Clickers can be used to give instructors immediate information regarding what the students in a class know, or think they know. They can increase attentiveness and participation and can add fun to the class. Clickers can even be used to deliver graded quizzes. So, please read the entries posted by faculty members here at Hamilton College (and possibly elsewhere) and make a comment if you like an idea or have a question. If you want more information about how to get started using clickers, visit our Clicker Information Page.

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