Clickers in the classroom improve student understanding and engagement

Technology should not be used in the classroom. At least, that’s what some people believe. A colleague of ours who is doing his Masters in Education, recently told us that some people in his class are strongly against integrating technology into the classroom: technology is an unnecessary distraction.

On the other hand, technology can be used to engage students as well.

Assessment for learning can be done in real-time using clickers which are handheld devices used to send in multiple choice answers (think game show.)

The Vancouver Sun recently reported on a study conducted at the University of British Columbia. The results of this study have prompted UBC to “completely revamp its giant first-year physics classes.”

Basically, two large first-year physics classes learned about electromagnetism in different ways for a week and then were tested to see how much they had learned.

  • One group of 267 students was taught in a traditional lecture style format by a popular, charismatic, tenured professor with over 30 years of experience.
  • The second group of 271 students was taught using “interactive techniques” by a postdoctoral researcher and a graduate student, both with limited teaching youexperience.

Students in the experimental class using clickers did much better than the students who were taught in the traditional lecture style. The average score of students who used clickers in the classroom was 74% compared to the average score of students who received formal lectures, which was only 41%.

We’re looking forward to reading the specifics of the study when it is published in the journal Science later this week. Based on the article in the Vancouver Sun, it seems as though the researcher asked questions to the class, gave the students an opportunity to work in small groups to brainstorm answers, and then used the clickers to collect student responses in real time.

There was no formal lecture. Students did readings before class. The researcher and the grad student simply answered questions based on student data collected from the clickers. They could then focus on the concepts that the students had difficulty with.

The article goes on to discuss how students performed better because they were engaged: “learning really happens only if you have is very active, intense engagement,” said Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman who is promoting these “newfangled teaching techniques.”

We’ll have to read the study to see what these “newfangled teaching techniques” are, but to put it in the parlance of current teaching pedagogy: this is what great assessment as learning looks like.

Although the study was conducted on university students, there’s still a lot that we can look apply in the K-12 classroom.

The Growing Success document on Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario schools talks about how assessment should “inform instruction, guide next steps, and help teachers and students monitor students’ progress…” (Pg 29)

Clickers provide an effective way to do this instantaneously.

  • For example, ask students a multiple-choice question. Using your computer and a data projector, you can show the students a bar graph of their responses the moment they are finished. You can focus on the two most popular answers and then show students which answer was actually correct.
  • If you give your students several questions to answer using  their clickers, you can watch the results as they come in, and then focus on the questions that students had the hardest time with, instead of taking up the entire quiz.

Although technology can certainly be distracting, it can also be engaging and an effective teaching tool in the classroom. Clickers are one such way to speed up student feedback and to guide your teaching practice.

This post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Wireless.

  • There are 582 words in this post. Dragon made 16 word errors. So, we had an accuracy of 97.3% in this document.
  • If you include punctuation and capitalization errors, Dragon made an additional 2 punctuation and capitalization errors. So, we had an accuracy of 96.9% in this document.

2 thoughts on “Clickers in the classroom improve student understanding and engagement”

  1. I like the research and data that you provided. I think that using the clickers is a great way to get students involved in what they are learning. Students will get much more out of a lesson or activity if they are activity involved. There are some great websites that can also get students discussing a topic or activity engaged. Using Moodle or Blackboard sites is a great communication tool for classrooms as well as blogs, discussion boards, wikis. I know for math that the TI-Nspire graphing calculators provided interactive activities. The TI-Navigator system will allow students to share their work and present to the class. There any many types of technology that will help students to take an activity responsibility for their education.

  2. Using clickers is a very interactive way to get students involved and taking initiative in their own learning. If they are involved, they will take much more information with them when they leave the class.

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