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Tips for Successful “Clicker” Use

Clickers can assist with discovering if students have done assigned reading before class; measuring what students know before you start to teach them and after you think you’ve taught them; measuring attitudes and opinions, with more honest answers if the topic is personal or embarrassing; getting students to confront common misconceptions; facilitating discussion and peer teaching; increasing student’s retention of what you teach; transforming the way you do demonstrations; increasing class attendance; improving student attitudes.  None of these are magically achieved by the clicker itself.  They are achieved – or not achieved – entirely by what you do in implementation.

Practices that lead to Successful Clicker Use

1. Have clear, specific goals for your class, and plan how clicker use could contribute to your goals.  Do not attempt all the possible uses described above at one time!

2. You should explain to students why you are using clickers.  If you don’t, they often assume your goal is to track them like Big Brother, and force them to come to class.  Students highly resent this.

3. Practice before using with students.  Remember how irritated you get when A/V equipment fails to work.  Don’t subject students to this. If you are a first-time clicker user, start with just one or two questions per class.  Increase your use as you become more comfortable.

4. Make clicker use a regular, serious part of your course.  If you treat clicker use as unimportant or auxiliary then your students will too. 

5. Use a combination of simple and more complex questions.  Many users make their questions too simple.  The best questions focus on concepts you feel are particularly important and involve challenging ideas with multiple plausible answers that reveal student confusion and generate spirited discussion.  Show some prospective questions to a colleague and ask if they meet this criteria.

6. If one of your goals is more student participation, give partial credit, such as one point for any answer and two for the correct one.  Students tend to focus on getting a correct answer, not learning (see below). If your goal is to increase student learning, have students discuss and debate challenging conceptual questions with each other. This technique, peer instruction, is a straightforward and proven method of increasing learning.  You may have students answer individually first; then discuss with those sitting next to them, then answer again.

7. Stress that genuine learning is not easy and that clickers, conceptual questions, and conversations with peers can help students find out what they don’t really understand and what they need to think about further, as well as help you pace the class. Explain that it is the discussion itself that produces learning and if they “click in” without participating they will probably get a lower grade on exams than the students who are more active in discussion.

8. Compile a sufficient number of good clicker questions and exchange them with other faculty. The best questions for peer discussion are ones that around 30-70% of students can answer correctly before discussion with peers. This maximizes good discussion and learning.  There is value in discussion even if a question is difficult and few know the answer initially.

9. Explain what you will do when a student’s clicker doesn’t work, or if a student forgets to bring it to class. You can deal with that problem as well as personal problems that cause students to miss class by dropping 5-10 of the lowest clicker scores for each student.

10. Talk directly about cheating. Emphasize that using a clicker for someone else is like taking an exam for someone else and is cause for serious discipline. Explain what that discipline would be.

11. Watching one class or even part of a class taught by an experienced clicker user is a good way to rapidly improve your clicker use.

12. If you know you will be using i>clicker near another professor using i>clicker for the entire semester/term, we recommend you set your default frequency for the entire term. If you are not using the i>clicker default frequency (AA) and have set your sub-frequency to a different channel in Settings and Preferences, i>clicker will alert your students to this change. In class, an alert will appear on your screen when you begin polling. The differenct channel code will remain in place for the duration of the lecture/session (as long as the remote is on). Students will need to repeat this procedure for every session, which is why setting one code for the entire term will be easier to administer and communicate.

Practices that lead to Failure

1. Fail to explain why you are using clickers.

2. Use them primarily for attendance.

3. Don’t have students talk with each other.

4. Use only factual recall questions.

5. Don’t make use of the student response information.

6. Fail to discuss what learning means or the depth of participation and learning you expect in your class.

7. Think of clickers as a testing device, rather than a device to inform learning.

If you believe that the teacher, not the students, should be the focus of the classroom experience, it is unlikely that clickers will work well for you.

 Be prepared . . . Effective clicker use with peer discussions results in a livelier and more interesting class, for you as well as the students! Expect good results immediately but better results as you become more experienced with clickers.  This is the usual experience nationwide.

Clickers in the Science Classroom: Students and Teachers Speak
A video created by the University of Colorado, Boulder Science Education Initiative describing how clickers can encourage active teaching and learning.
Disclaimer: Clickers in the Science Classroom: Students and Teachers Speak was not created by or for i>clicker, nor is it an endorsement of i>clicker.

These tips, tricks,  and video, and other great helpful information on how to get your students more engaged in learning can all be found at i>clicker Best Practices

 Technical Points

  • RF (radio) clickers are easier and cheaper than infrared ones.
  • Simpler clickers (e.g. iClicker) have fewer implementation problems.
  • Test your registration system before students do.  Deliberately make some mistakes and see what happens.  Check early in the semester that all student responses are getting credited.

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