Teaching Effectively with Clickers (Classroom Response Systems)

Active student engagement can be structured by posing questions for students to answer and discuss, and provides an opportunity for them to explore, organize, integrate and extend knowledge. Designing questions is a central component to using Classroom Response Systems (CRSs) effectively in the classroom. A good starting point is to clarify how you want students to engage with each of the questions. You might want to test students’ knowledge of the content, to invite students to think more conceptually, or provide a springboard for peer discussion. Knowing your purpose helps frame the type of question you design.

Two Commonly Used Types of Clicker Questions

Open Polling Questions:

  • The questions invite engagement with subject matter and can be fact-based, opinion-based, controversial or interpretive
  • To assess student knowledge, the questions can query prior knowledge, track preparation, determine performance or fact based knowledge, or evaluate conceptual understanding
  • Questions can be used to introduce provocative or probing questions that facilitate dialogue on controversial information, explore ethics, values, beliefs

Sample Polling Question:

When is active deception of clinical participants acceptable?
A. Never
B. When no other research method will suffice
C. When deemed indispensable
D. For security reasons

Concept Questions :

  • These questions require conceptual analysis or understanding of a complex issue/problem and typically require students to use declarative as well as procedural knowledge
  • Questions can be theory based or application (predictive) based; they are typically more complex than simple factual questions but have an unambiguous answer
  • Can be used to assess student comprehension of complex subject matter or commonly misunderstood theories
  • Can facilitate peer-to-peer instruction, think-pair-share exercises, small group discussion, etc.

Sample Concept Question:

What causes the seasons?
A) Rotation of the Earth on its axis.
B) Varying distance of the Earth from the Sun.
C) Tilt of the Earth in relation to the Sun.
D) Tilt and curvature of the Earth.

Clickers in the Science Classroom

  • CRS has proven especially useful as a way to pose “concept questions,” those that are more complex than simple factual questions, but that do have specific correct answers. Faculty choice to pose “concept questions” in areas where students commonly misunderstand elements of the course material. Posing these questions during lecture allows the instructor to see whether significant numbers of students are falling into a common misconception, so they can tailor lectures and guide students to study resources appropriately.
  • CRS is also used effectively in conjunction with “peer-to-peer instruction,” where instructors pose a question, show the results but not the correct answer, and then have students discuss their answers with one or more classmates. Students are asked to spend 1-2 minutes describing their reasons for choosing their particular answer. After this brief discussion among peers, the instructor poses the same question again and then reveals the correct answer. CRS systems often allow instructors to display results from two adjacent questions for comparison. In this case, the comparison can be instructive as research shows that peers who understand the material well are more persuasive in their conversations with peers, so students tend to converge on the right answer in greater numbers following the peer-to-peer instruction.
  • Another common and valuable pedagogical practice is to begin a lecture with input from the students on a provocative question to be explored that day in class. This kind of open polling question enables students to see the diversity of viewpoints held by the class and ensures that these viewpoints are displayed only as collated data. Faculty then guide the class through discussion of the issue, informed by readings, case studies, etc. It can be interesting to poll students at the end of the class to see whether the in-class exploration of the topic has swayed the class in any particular way.
  • Though CRS is used most often to facilitate interactivity, participation, and feedback on students’ understanding in class, it is also used in some cases for in-class quizzing on course material.

Resources for Learning More

In-Class Polling with Clickers

  • 7 Things You Should Know About Clickers
    The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI’s) brief on what it is, how it works, where it is going, and why it matters to teaching and learning
  • Designing Good Clicker Questions
    “Tips for designing good clicker questions, examples of learning assessment objectives and of questions designed to evaluate varying levels of understanding.” by The Ohio State University
  • Tips for Clicker Use in the Classroom
    “Tips for using clickers to foster active learning experiences” by The Ohio State University
  • STEM Clicker Resources
    Resource guide, STEM clicker question collections, and faculty pictures of practice created by University of Colorado Science Education Initiative (CU-SEI) and University of British Columbia Science Education Initiative (CWSEI)
  • iClicker User Community
    Faculty user blogs, free pedagogy webinars, discipline-specific case studies, and the latest research/findings about student outcomes

Open-Ended Responses in the Classroom (a.k.a. backchannel)

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.