Clickers, at their best, are a tool to facilitate interactive teaching and learning. At their worst, they can become a distracting and even silly classroom toy that students will resent buying.
Implementation of clickers is absolutely critical to their value in the classroom. Over the years that clickers have been available and have become ever more widely used, best practices have been identified. Here are a few:
- Explain to your students why you are using clickers. Some students will resent being forced to participate and some will resent being asked to buy a piece of equipment when “we could just as well raise our hands.” Make sure you have a clear rationale, based on the benefit to your students and their increased learning, and spend some time explaining to them and getting their buy-in.
- Spend a little time “training” your students to use the clickers. The first or second day of class, have some demographic questions that students can use to practice with the clickers and to get to know each other. You can also include some pre-testing questions to get a feel for the level of the class on the first day.
- Use clickers as part of a deliberate design for interactivity. Structure class time so that there is a general pattern of presenting material -› clicker question that students answer alone -› discussion -› possible second answering of the question -› more discussion or closure.
- If your clicker questions are content-based (ie, not questions that probe for opinions to start a discussion), make sure they are appropriately substantive. Factual recall questions should be used sparingly. Follow up with conceptual questions that ask students to think at a higher level than recall. Ideally, the “wrong” answer choices for conceptual questions should represent common misconceptions so that students can think through their misunderstandings.
- For content-based questions, tie the questions directly to exam questions. You do not need to use the exact same questions on your exams as you used in class, but there must be a clear and direct indication that participating in clicker questions and discussions in class will help students on exams. For non-content based questions, it’s equally important to ensure that discussions and questions in class will directly contribute to students’ performance in class. Don’t be too concerned about “teaching to the test”; if you have well-designed assignments and tests that actually measure what you want, you should be teaching to the test.
- If the students’ answers to the clicker questions indicate that a majority of students do not understand, it’s very much worth the time to go back and re-visit the material. If most people (about 80%) do understand, it’s worth moving on.
- Most instructors who use clickers find that it’s best to give participation points only, not attaching points to the “right” answers. If you do feel that it’s necessary to attach points to a right answer to encourage students to take it seriously, make those points very minor. Have a couple of no-fault days for students who are absent or who forget their clickers; this helps avoid getting bogged down in discussions with students who want to make up the points for clicker questions.
- Use clickers often in class, and ensure that questions are sprinkled throughout the class period. If clickers are used sporadically, students will probably resent having to buy the clickers, and they will fail to appreciate the benefits clickers bring them in terms of increased participation and helping them stay attentive.
- It’s best not to use clickers for substantial tests and graded quizzes, however tempting it may be. Clickers are best used for classroom feedback, not as a potentially punitive device.
- Practice with the iClicker in your classroom BEFORE using it with students! Make sure that all your technological problems are ironed out. This is more important than most of us think. Even so simple a system as iClicker can surprise you in the classroom, and having to “mess around” in front of your students can both waste time and erode your credibility.