13 Jun 2014

Clickers in the Classroom. Who needs 'em?

Submitted by Sheila Smith, University of Michigan- Dearborn

One of the things that we like to discuss on VIPEr is Technology Use in the Classroom.  Realizing that not all technology is a boon to education, and that there are many ways to remove the dermal layers of a feline, I do use clickers and find them useful.

How do I use them? 

1.  Three minute clicker quiz-  three minutes is the amount of time that studies say students have to work on individual multiple choice questions on exams like MCAT, PCAT etc.

Since I am forced to use multiple choice in my large classes due to grading constraints (MC make up 80% of the points on each of my general chemistry exams), I have embraced the opportunity to help students learn how to perform better on these exams.  At the beginning of each general  chemistry lecture, I give one three minute multiple choice question- always focused on material from the previous lecture, always chosen from a recent exam in the course.  This serves multiple purposes

  • It encourages students to come to class on time and to review the material from the previous lecture before coming to class
  • It gives students an early and regular opportunity to see what my exam questions will look like
  • It gives students the opportunity to learn what three minutes feels like
  • Going over the questions and answers after the clicker quiz gives me teachable moments to explain to students how to eliminate some choices, how to reason through material when they don’t just know the answer and allows me to see and correct any major misconceptions about material (if, for instance, a large portion of the class chooses the wrong answer,
  • It allows a brief review of material from the previous day and an opportunity to segue into new material.

2.  Instant feedback during lecture

This is the most often lauded point about the use of clickers and the one I have actually found least useful.   I have employed clicker questions during class both to pre-test students’ understanding of topics and to assess their understanding after I cover new material.  These questions are scored for participation only.

3.  Testing

I use the self-paced testing feature of the clicker to administer the multiple choice portion of my exams.

  • Students have reported that this is easier to check back through than scantrons
  • Because the input is computerized, I am able to post MC scores within the hour after most exams (so that students don’t have to spend the weekend fretting about their score)
  • I have good assessment data, not only about which topics students have the best and poorest understanding but also on the most common wrong answers chosen, etc.. 

There are lots of other ways to use clickers, or to avoid clickers.  What are yours?   Weigh in on the Forum!