Clickers are handheld devices used to select an answer choice for a question. Clickers typically allow one-button responses (e.g. true/false, or A/B/C/D/E). Clickers foster interactive, responsive classrooms via live polling. The clicker software captures student responses and instantly tallies and produces a visualization of the results.
Clickers foster a participatory culture, even in large lecture classes. Every student who uses a clicker is actively participating in class―even shy or introverted students who may be reticent to raise their hand or speak up. In addition, students enjoy seeing the answers of others. The results of a clicker poll may give rise to a lively debate, making the classroom into a more dynamic, inclusive learning community. The instant results that clickers provide give professors immediate feedback about the level of students' understanding. This feedback helps instructors adjust their lessons to students' real-time needs. If the clicker data show that students do not understand a topic, then the instructor can spend more time on that topic; if the students demonstrate understanding, the instructor can move on.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., Associate Professor in the Department of Government, uses clickers to engage students, keeping them constantly involved during his large lecture classes. He explains that in a 200-student lecture, only a few students will get a chance raise their hands and speak. With clickers, however, he can make sure that every student participates multiple times during each class session. Professor Carnes uses clickers to poll students on their opinions and also to check on their knowledge of content. He explains that, as a teacher, he finds it most helpful when students get things wrong. Watch Professor Carnes in the video below discuss how clickers help him work toward the Jesuit ideal of a shared responsibility for learning.
Associate Professor of Biology Matthew Hamilton uses clickers to demonstrate genetic drift, a complex and abstract concept that can be difficult for students to understand. After learning about genetic drift by discussing a classic experiment with fruit flies, students carry out a similar experiment as a class by flipping coins and reporting their results with clickers. Students can immediately see how their own results demonstrate the concept of genetic drift. Professor Hamilton notices that when it comes to difficult concepts, it is extremely helpful for students to be able to experience and model data for themselves using clickers.
Ellen Johnson, a beginning Spanish instructor at Georgetown, designed a study to see how well clickers work in beginning language classrooms. Her study found that after using clickers to practice the tricky distinction between the Spanish verbs ser and estar, students showed significant learning gains. She also found that students felt extremely positive about using clickers to learn this concept; they found the process effective, motivating, and fun.
An important way that clickers help students learn is by enabling peer instruction, a strategy promoted by Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur. To use clickers for peer instruction, the instructor first polls the class using clickers. If a large number of students get the answer wrong, or if the class is divided, the instructor will ask students to turn to their neighbors and try to justify their answers. After students have discussed their answers with others, the instructor polls the class again on the same question. Usually, on this second round, many more students choose the correct answer. In this technique, clickers help students learn from and engage with one another instead of learning only from the professor. To learn more about peer instruction, read this discussion of teaching with clickers on the National Education Association website.
Learn how to use clickers for your course by requesting a consultation from CNDLS.