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Instructional Uses of Clickers

There are a variety of ways clickers can be used in teaching, with each approach matching specific instructional goals. Here is a short list of typical clicker uses; for a more in-depth examination of this topic, see the i>clicker Best Practices and Tips page and/or Derek Bruff's Teaching with Classroom Response Systems.

Real-time assessment of understanding
During the course of a lecture, the teacher can ask a series of questions to gauge student understanding of a topic. Students click in their answers, and within a few seconds, the results are available in the form of a bar chart. If most students answered correctly, the teacher can move onto the next topic. If enough students answer incorrectly, material can be reviewed as needed.

Discussion and re-clicking
Rather than identifying the correct answer immediately after students click in, the teacher can engage students in discussion about why they selected a particular answer. After a bit of discussion or debate, the question can be posed again, giving students a chance to select a different answer based on the new information or challenges provided. Then the correct answer can be revealed and the underlying concepts explained.

Paired or group answering
A further level of interaction among students can be fostered by having pairs or small groups of students discuss particular questions before they answer (or having individual answering followed by peer discussion and re-voting). This discussion forces students to negotiate, justify, and defend their answers—a process that encourages active and critical thinking. Teachers using clickers have reported that this approach leads to friendly competition within the class as groups try to outdo one another.

Quizzes and self-tests
While these devices lend themselves to quick, embedded assessments during the course of a lecture, they can also be used to give in-class quizzes. High-stakes testing is not recommended (the technology can add another level of stress to testing), but short quizzes can encourage reading or help students get a handle on which concepts they understand and which they should study more.

Anonymous polling
In some classes, it is important to gather information from students about certain opinions, perceptions, or behaviors—think about asking how many students in a health class have engaged in binge drinking or used illegal drugs within the past month. We cannot ask for a show of hands in those cases, but students can answer honestly and confidentially with clickers, leading to class discussion about the patterns that are revealed. Many clicker systems have an anonymous mode that keeps even the teacher from knowing how individuals answered, but if that mode isn't available, simply asking students to swap clickers with someone nearby provides the desired level of anonymity.

Class attendance and participation bonuses
Many of these clicker-based activities can also be used for taking attendance; if students answered questions, they were there (although there is always the potential of clicker-loaning, as well as for clever ways to defeat it). Some systems, like iClicker, allow teachers to designate how many points—or fractions of a point—to provide for simply answering the questions, along with a bonus for answering correctly. This allows for attendance to be taken, points to be given for participation, and a bonus to be given for careful preparation.

Connections to Blackboard and Gradebook
Most clicker systems can input class rosters and output student results to course management systems like Blackboard, and generic report formats (e.g. CSV files) can usually be imported the Ball State's Web Gradebook. This allows teachers to provide points for in-class clicker activities, then transfer data over to their online gradebook programs. See the Clicker Resources page for detailed instructions for doing this with the i>clicker system.

Ideas to consider when implementing clickers

  • Make sure clicker use is fully integrated into how you run the class, not just as a few added-on questions. Use the clickers as a way to understand and guide student thinking, not simply determine whether or not they get the right answer.
  • Use clickers consistently from the start of the semester in order to demonstrate their importance… and to let students feel like they are getting their money's worth (they typically cost $30-40).
  • Practice using the clicker software beforehand so your lectures are relatively seamless. iLearn has a few small i>clicker loaner kits available if you want to try it out ahead of your full adoption.
  • Have policies in place for lost or forgotten clickers; it is certain to happen sometime during the semester. There are some sample syllabi statements on the Clicker Resources page.
  • See if your textbook comes with clicker-ready question banks or if the book can be ordered with a clicker combo. But get familiar with the clicker system and don't adopt one based entirely on this combo deal.
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