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Teaching with Clickers

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Clicker technology makes it easy for faculty to check students' mastery of lecture content. The immediate display of student responses enables faculty and students to see how well students understand the lecture. As a result, faculty can decide whether there is a need for further instruction or supplementary materials. By seeing peers' responses, students can gauge how well they are doing in relation to others in the class and determine which topics they need to review or bring to office hours.


The posting below is an excerpt from al longer article, Teaching with Clickers, by Erping Zhu, coordinator of instructional technology at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) [] at the University of Michigan. She has a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology. The full article can be found at: []. It is part of the CRLT Occasional Papers series published on a variable schedule by CRLT ©Copyright 2007 The University of Michigan. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: What Every Faculty Member Should Know about the Effective use of Clickers in Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Teaching with Clickers

CRLT Occasional Papers, No. 22



What Do Students Appreciate Most about Clickers?

In a class of several hundred students, it is virtually impossible for each

student to participate and interact with the professor. I like the

Quizdom system because it allows each student to actively participate

and thus gauge their comprehension.

They allow me to interact with the material and make sure that I

understand the lecture. They force me to apply what I've learned, also

ensuring that I will be better able to remember it in the future.

Using the clicker gives me a chance to think about what I'm actually

writing down in my notes, rather than just having a collection of

incomprehensible formulas scattered through my notes.

Sample of student survey responses

(Zhu, Bierwert, & Bayer, 2006, 2007)

What Is a Clicker?

A clicker system consists of three components:

1) clickers: wireless handheld transmitters that resemble small, TV remote controls;

2) receiver: a transportable device that receives signals from the clickers; and

3) software: an application installed on the instructor's computer to record, display, and manage student responses and data.

Although radio frequency transmission seems to have become the standard for now (Duncan, 2006), infrared

transmission is also still in use. The design of clicker pads varies widely, and the different clicker systems -Classroom Performance System (CPS), Audience Response System, Qwizdom, TurningPoint, H-ITT, Classtalk - are incompatible.

How Are Faculty Using Clickers in the Classroom?

Since the 1980s, the use of clickers has proliferated on college campuses. Faculty from various disciplines such as biology, chemistry, history, mathematics, political science, law and psychology have introduced clicker systems into their classrooms. Faculty use clickers for various purposes depending on their course goals

and learning objectives. The most common uses of clickers include the following:

Assessing students' prior knowledge and identifying misconceptions before introducing a new


Prior knowledge is necessary for learning but can be problematic if it is not accurate or sufficient. It is a good practice for faculty to assess students' prior knowledge of a subject and identify common

misconceptions in order to find an appropriate entry point for introducing a new topic. By using clicker multiple-choice questions, faculty can quickly gauge students' knowledge level. For instance, in a Fall 2006 Chemistry class at U-M, the professor started each lecture with clicker questions asking students to identify new concepts or distinguish between various new concepts discussed in the assigned readings.

Checking students'understanding of new material

Clicker technology makes it easy for faculty to check students' mastery of lecture content. The immediate display of student responses enables faculty and students to see how well students understand the lecture. As a result, faculty can decide whether there is a need for further instruction or supplementary materials. By seeing peers' responses, students can gauge how well they are doing in relation to others in the class and determine which topics they need to review or bring to office hours.

Using Peer Instruction and other active learning strategies

Peer Instruction (Mazur, 1997) and Think-Pair-Share (Lyman, 1981) are cooperative learning strategies that faculty often use to probe students'understanding of lecture content and encourage them to discuss, debate, and defend their answers during lecture. The strategy entails posing a question to students, giving them time to think and discuss their responses with a partner, and then describing the results to the whole class.

Clicker technology makes the use of these strategies feasible and manageable, even for large classes. For example, the instructor will plan for each lecture several concept questions that focus more on the analysis and evaluation of information than simple recall, rote memorization, or calculation. Students are asked to share and discuss their responses with partners. Some faculty ask students to respond twice to difficult questions, once right after they read the question and then again after they talk to their partners. The faculty member then reviews and explains students' different responses, helping them clear up their misconceptions.

Research in physics (Crouch & Mazur, 2001) shows that students' cognitive gains from peer instruction are significant: students' scores on tests measuring conceptual understanding improved dramatically; their performance on traditional quantitative problems improved as well.

Starting class discussion on difficult topics

The anonymity of responses facilitated by the clicker technology allows faculty to initiate class discussion and

debate on sensitive topics that might otherwise be difficult to explore. For example, questions on controversial issues in a political science course can sometimes be met with absolute silence (Abrahamson, 1999), but the use of clickers can help change classroom dynamics. Faculty can start the class lecture or discussion by posing controversial questions and offering "common-sense" multiple-choice responses. Students' responses, and their questions about their peers' responses, can provide an opening for class discussion. When students recognize their own opinions and co-direct a class discussion, they may feel a greater sense of ownership over the lecture and discussion. As a result, they will be more engaged in and responsible for their own learning. Also, instead of drawing conclusions from the most vocal students, the faculty member receives

a far more accurate overview of opinions from the entire class. Most important, the anonymous feature of the clicker system ensures that viewpoints that might not otherwise be expressed during class discussion are given a voice.

Administering tests and quizzes during lecture

The relative ease of managing students' responses has made the clicker system a helpful device for testing and grading during lecture. Features such as automatic scoring and record-keeping for each student enable faculty to administer all sorts of tests and quizzes in large lecture halls. For example, in one physics class at U-M, students' responses to questions posed during lecture are scored. Students who answer the questions correctly earn points that count toward a small percentage of the course grade (allocating too many points to a clicker quiz can increase the likelihood of cheating). Moreover, with instant feedback from students, faculty can adjust the pace of a lecture and the amount of content presented, assist students in identifying their knowledge deficiency, help students re- evaluate their study strategies, and determine what additional resources they might need to provide.

Gathering feedback on teaching

With clicker technology, faculty can gather anonymous feedback on their own teaching by asking students to respond to questions regarding the lecture, class discussion, homework assignments, group activities, or the overall learning experience in the course. If used early in the term, faculty can make changes to the class that benefit students before the end of the term.

Recording class attendance and participation

Taking attendance in a large lecture course is usually daunting, if not impossible. But with a system that recognizes each student, it is feasible and convenient for faculty to take student attendance in a large lecture. For example, students' responses to questions asked at the beginning of the lecture often serve as a record of their attendance. The instructor can easily run reports on student responses and find out who is present or absent from the class.

Admittedly, faculty hold different views on student class attendance. Some firmly believe that being in class and listening to a lecture is an integral part of learning, making class attendance a must; others think it is not essential for learning and it can be left to the students to decide. Similarly, student opinions about mandatory class attendance vary. Some U-M students surveyed in 2006 and 2007 responded negatively when clickers were used only to check class attendance (Zhu, Bierwert, & Bayer).

There are many other creative ways clickers are being used in classrooms. Draper, Cargill, and Cutts (2002) list three: Students can use them to give anonymous feedback on their peers'class presentations by responding to a brief post-presentation survey. Faculty can create a sense of community and group awareness by clustering people's hobbies, habits, and preferences through student responses to anonymous surveys. Faculty may also use clickers for psychological experiments. Kam & Sommer (2006) note the use of clickers for campaign simulation and polling research, as well as the technology's ability to monitor and facilitate individual and group games. In summary, the only limitation on innovative applications of clickers is the

creativity of the instructor.


Reminder, the full article with following additional sections:

* What Are Student and Instructor Attitudes towards Using Clickers in the Classroom?

* Challenges and Best Practices

* Recommendations for Using Clickers

can be found at: []. Also for additional information and examples regarding the use of clickers, visit the page "Engaging Students in Large Lectures Using a Classroom Response System" at the CRLT website (

References (full list from article)

Abrahamson, A. L. (1999, May). Teaching with Classroom Communication System -- What it involves and why it works. Paper presented at International Workshop, New Trends in Physics Teaching, Puebla, Mexico. Retrieved January 15, 2007, from

Audience Response Systems.

Beatty, I. D., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., & Dufresne, R. J. (2006). Designing effective questions for classroom response system teaching.American Journal of Physics, 74(1), 31-39.

Beekes, W. (2006). The "Millionaire" method for encouraging participation. Active Learning in Higher Education: The Journal of the Institute for Learning and Teaching, 7(1), 25-36.

Classroom Performance System (CPS).


Conoley, J., Moore, G., Croom, B., & Flowers, J. (2006). A toy or a teaching tool? The use of audience-response systems in the classroom. Techniques (The Journal of the Association for Career and Technical Education), 81(7), 46-49.

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics Teachers, 69(9), 970-977.

Cue, N. (1998). A universal learning tool for classrooms? Proceedings of the First Quality in Teaching and Learning Conference, Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Center. Retrieved on January 15,

2007 from:

Draper, S., & Brown, M. (2002). Use of the PRS (Personal Response System) handsets at Glasgow University, Interim Evaluation Report. Retrieved January 15, 2007, from

Draper, S.W., Cargill, J., & Cutts, Q. (2002). Electronically enhanced classroom interaction. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 18(1), 13-23.

Dufresne, R. J., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., Mestre, J. P., & Wenk, L. (1996). Classtalk: A classroom communication system for active learning. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 7(2), 3-47.

Duncan, D. (2006). Clickers: A new technology with exceptional promise. Astronomy Education Review, 5(1), 70-88.

Greer, L., & Heaney, P. J. (2004). Real-time analysis of student comprehension: An assessment of electronic student response technology in an introductory earth science course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(4), 345-351.

Hall, R. J., Collier, H. L.,Thomas, M. L., & Hilgers, M. G. (2005). A student response system for increasing engagement, motivation, and learning in high enrollment lectures. Proceedings of the Eleventh Americas Conference on Information Systems (pp. 1-7).Omaha, NE.

H-ITT Classroom Response System.

Hoffman, C., & Goodwin, S. (2006). A clicker for your thoughts: Technology for active learning. New Library World, 107(1228/1229), 422-433.

Judson, E., & Sawada, D. (2002). Learning from past and present: Electronic response systems in college lecture halls. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 21(2), 167-181.

Kam, C. D., & Sommer, B. (2006). Real-time polling technology in a public opinion course. PS: Political Science & Politics, 39(1), 113- 117.

Knight, J., & Wood, W. B. (2005). Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education, 4, 298-310.

Lyman, F. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion: The inclusion of all students. In A.S. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest (pp. 109-113). College Park: University of Maryland.

Mazur, E. (1993). Understanding or memorization: Are we teaching the right thing?Proceedings of the Resnick Conference on Introductory Physics Courses, Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, Troy, NY.

Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user's manual.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Qwizdom Response System.

Shapiro, J. A. (1997). Student response found feasible in large science lecture hall. Journal of College Science Teaching, 26(6), 408-412.

Silliman, S. E., Abbott, K., Clark, G. C., & McWilliams, L. (2004). Observations on benefits/limitations of an audience response system. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Retrieved February 20, 2007, from

Simpson , V., & Oliver, M. (2006). Electronic voting systems for lectures then and now: A comparison of research and practice. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 23(2), 187-208.

Stuart, A. J., Brown, M. I., & Draper, S. W. (2004). Using an electronic voting system in logic lectures: One practitioner's application. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20(2), 95-102.

Tomorrow's Professor Blog, (2006). Posting #757. Retrieved February, 2006, from

Wit, E. (2003). Who wants to be... The use of a personal response system in statistics teaching. MSOR Connections, 3(2), 14-20.

Uhari, M., Renko, M. & Soini, H. (2003). Experiences of using an interactive audience response system in lectures. BMC Medical

Zhu, E., Bierwert, C., & Bayer, K. (2006). Qwizdom Student Survey December 06. Unpublished raw data.

Zhu, E., Bierwert, C., & Bayer, K. (2007). Qwizdom Student Survey March 2007. Unpublished raw data.

Acknowledgements: Jeff Chun, a graduate student in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education and a CRLT Graduate Research Assistant, contributed to the literature review and the summary

of survey data.