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Clickers

“Clickers” – also known as “Personal Response Systems” or “Audience Response Systems” – are small devices used by students to answer questions in class. Clickers allow instructors to get immediate feedback about how well students are understanding material. Instructors ask a question, students use the clicker to register and answer and the clicker software shows a chart of the answers in the aggregate. At the same time, the software records who has answered so that instructors can give credit if they wish.

Clickers are particularly useful in large enrollment courses when it can be difficult for instructors to determine how much students are understanding just by looking into the crowd. They also give the students a chance to actively participate during class, which can lead to better learning.

This following is a brief overview of the technical elements and pedagogical issues connected to using clickers effectively in the classroom.

More resources are available below.

Technology

DoIT supports a clicker system made by Turning Technologies. It has been set up to work easily with Blackboard. DoIT provides a number of FAQ pages on specific clicker questions, many of which are directed toward students.

clickersStudents Should:

  1. Purchase clickers from the UMBC Bookstore or directly from Turning Technologies.
  2. Register their clickers through Blackboard.
  3. Bring clickers to class.
  4. Press firmly on clicker to register answers.

Instructors Should:

  1. Familiarize themselves with TurningPoint Anywhere software. Learn how to create questions and what the toolbar does.
  2. Write questions to be used in class.
  3. Before going to class, import a participant list from Blackboard (this is why students must register their clicker devices through Blackboard).
  4. Run a clicker session in class.
  5. Run a clicker report and participant statistics.

DoIT provides periodic training on using clickers and can also provide you with one-on-one help to get started. The best way to get familiar with using clickers, though, is to experiment with them.

Pedagogy

Why Use Clickers? | Ways to Use Clickers | Best Practices

Why Use Clickers?

Many clicker questions could be asked without clickers. Instructors could ask for a show of hands to poll students or ask students to hold up different colored pieces of paper to indicate multiple choice answers.

What value can clickers add?

  • Track responses to give credit
  • Calculate and display answers immediately and graphically in a histogram
  • Keep previous answers to revisit later and show how thinking has changed
  • Allow students to answer anonymously without worrying about being wrong in front of peers
  • Reach each student on every question

 

Ways to Use Clickers

Dr. Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt University) is an expert on clicker usage and maintains a website on the subject. He discusses many question types and tracks different uses in each discipline.  Below are a few of the more innovative uses he discusses.

Pre-test / Post-test – Ask students to answer a question or solve a problem before lecture; then ask again later that day or another day to check understanding.

Class demographics – Ask students to answer “get to know you” questions such as “How many people are Maryland residents?” or “How many people voted in the last election?”

Statistical Analysis –  Ask students a question (e.g. How many hours do you study outside of class?) and then walk students through an analysis of the histogram.

Text Interpretation – Give students several choices of an interpretation of the text, one of which is clearly not supported by the text. Follow up with a discussion asking students to explain what evidence in the text led them to make the choice they did.

Writing Feedback – One student’s work is featured for a day. Students answer specific questions on the work (e.g. Which sentence is the thesis?, Which of these pieces of evidence do you find most convincing?). Clickers allow students to offer feedback which they might otherwise be unwilling to give.

 

Best Practices

Use no more than 5 choices on a question– Too many choices may make it difficult for students to answer a question quickly.

Give students sufficient time to answer questions– How much time is dependent on several factors including the question’s difficulty level and whether students are discussing or collaborating. Most instructors give students between 30 seconds-1 minute to actually input the answer.

Plan for Mishaps– Clickers sometimes break or run out of batteries. Students will sometimes bring the wrong clicker or forget it altogether. Allowing students to miss a few days without penalty will alleviate a number of student complaints, saving you time and aggravation.

Prevent Cheating

  • If you are using clickers to track attendance for credit, students may send one friend with several clickers. A strongly worded policy against this behavior with a sufficient penalty may be enough of a deterrent to keep this behavior at bay.
  • Make sure students know whether or not they are allowed to collaborate on a given question. Clear communication about how clickers should be used in your class may help prevent behaviors you find objectionable.

Anticipate student resistance– Many students consider clickers expensive, and they resent having to buy the clicker if they think the instructor could have achieved the same ends with a simple method, like raising hands. Students tend to be particularly annoyed if clickers are used simply as “attendance takers.”

 

 


Resources

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching – Clickers

Agile Learning – Dr. Derek Bruff’s website (also includes information on a wider range of instructional technology)

Turning Technologies

7 Things You Should Know About Clickers. EDUCAUSE, January 2011. (PDF)