This info has been adapted from materials developed by Dr. Stephanie Chasteen (CU Boulder).

 

How many times have you given a lecture and found that students hadn't followed you?

Can you rely on students to ask questions if they don't understand something?

Can you rely on students to know if they don't understand something?

 

Using classroom response systems, or clickers, helps address all of these issues. The point is not really the use of the technology, but rather the use of questioning and peer instruction to help students learn. Clickers offer several advantages over other questioning strategies. For example, clickers:

  • Are anonymous to the class (but not the instructor), so students will be more willing to take a risk and respond to a question that they wouldn't have responded to in a whole class discussion
  • Help ensure equitable participation - everyone has a voice, not just the few students who are comfortable speaking out regularly during class
  • Enforce wait time so that everyone has time to think about the question and formulate a response

How it works

Clicker questions can be used:

  1. BEFORE instruction: To get students motivated about a subject, encourage students to make a prediction, provoke student thinking, or assess students' prior knowledge
  2. DURING instruction: To check students' knowledge, require students to apply or practice what they are learning, or elicit student misconceptions
  3. AFTER instruction: To help students relate what they have learned to a bigger picture, provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned, review or recap material, or poll students about a learning experience.

To implement clicker questioning:

  1. Pose a challenging problem or question to students - one that is worthy of discussion (~1 minute)
  2. Ask students to work independently to solve the problem or answer the question. (1-3 minutes)
  3. Encourage students to compare and discuss their solutions with neighbors. Wander around the classroom to listen in on student discussions - are they on track? What are the points of confusion? How much time to spend on peer discussion depends on how many students answered correctly. 
  4. If most answer correctly, the discussion can be brief. (1-2 minutes) 
  5. If students are split, encourage students to attempt to convince their neighbors as they discuss (2-5 minutes). 
  6. If most answer incorrectly, it may be necessary to backtrack and reteach the key ideas being addressed in the question or problem. 
  7. Provide students an opportunity to re-answer the question. 
  8. Follow the revote with a whole class discussion. 

Writing clicker questions

Good clicker questions:

  • Move away from simple quizzes
  • Prompt discussion
  • Emphasize reasoning or process
  • Have tempting response options
  • Achieve a variety of instructional goals
  • Vary in their cognitive depth
  • Don't just assess factual recall

For ideas on what would make good clicker questions for your course:

  • Talk with instructors who have taught the course in the past
  • Talk with your students one-on-one before or after class or during office hours 
  • Use student responses to open-ended questions that you have included on homeworks or exams
  • Ask your students to come up with answers that will be used as response options 
  • Use student misconceptions that have been documented in learning research

Facilitating clicker discussions

The best questions won't ensure that clickers "work" in your class - how you facilitate clicker questioning matters. Good facilitation requires buying into questioning and peer instruction. Faculty who buy in make questions an integral part of the lecture and operate with the idea that students learn by considering a question and engaging in discussion. For students to meaningfully engage with clicker questions and discussion, they need to know that the instructor values their ideas and that it is safe to share their thinking, even if it is wrong. Strategies that demonstrate buy-in and create a safe space for discussion include:

  • Asking challenging, meaningful questions several times during class in ways that connect directly with what is happening in class at that moment 
  • Allowing enough time for discussion
  • Circulating the classroom to listen in on students' discussion and model how you might go about thinking through the question (without telling the right answer!)
  • Focusing on reasoning during the wrap-up, including asking students to explain why wrong answers are wrong, why one might think a wrong answer is right, and why the right answer is right 
  • Establishing a culture of respect - getting questions wrong is part of the learning process

Technology options

Although classroom response systems are often called "clickers," there are several types of technology that can be used. There is a working group currently exploring classroom response system options, including:

  • iClickers and the associated REEF Polling, which allows for use of any device with a browser or that can download an app. iClicker is currently the only centrally supported classroom response system at UT Austin.
  • Learning Catalytics, which allows students to use any wifi-enabled device
  • TopHat, which allows students to use any wifi-enabled or texting device 
  • Squarecap, which allows students to use any wifi-enabled device
  • Simple colored paper can also be used as a low tech alternative

All of these systems are free to instructors and low-cost to students. More information will be posted here as the different technologies are investigated for their FERPA compliance and integration with Canvas.

Learn more

For more guidance on the effective use of classroom response systems, including links to clicker question banks, see: