Archive for the ‘Classroom Response Systems’ Category




7 Clicker Tips for K12 Teachers

posted: April 19, 2012 by

How can a teacher use clickers to maximize student learning?  What are some of the “best practices” that lead to success?  While there is no magic bullet or recipe for making clickers work for you, there are a few things that will probably help maximize the impact of clickers in the classroom.  I recently wrote up a short tip-sheet, geared at K12 teachers.  You can download the PDF Tip-Sheet and share it with your colleagues, and the text of that handout is below.


7 Clicker Tips for Teachers

Effective Use of Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”)

“Clickers” are electronic devices that allow for real-time polling—often with multiple choice questions. They offer you and your students an instant display of the students’ responses. Use of clickers can help your students to learn key concepts, improve their enjoyment of class time, and let you (the teacher) better gauge what they are ready to learn.

But clickers are not a magic bullet!

The following factors hugely impact how clickers play out in your classroom: the way that you use clickers, the kinds of questions you pose, and the type of classroom structure you use. Listed below are some key strategies—based on research and experience—on how to make sure students get the most out of your use of clickers.

Go beyond quizzes.

While it’s tempting to use clickers as a quick fact-check of student learning, this is just one potential use. As you gain expertise, you’ll find that sprinkling clicker questions throughout class can:

-        Motivate and drive student learning

-        Develop students’ ability to communicate and explain their thinking

-        Help students become more aware of what is difficult for them

-        Help you adjust your teaching according to student feedback

Think of the wide range of questions you already ask your students on the fly (e.g., to get them to draw on their personal experience or get them to connect what they’re learning to the bigger picture). With some careful thought, most of your existing questions can be used with clickers.

Get your students talking.

Students learn more from clicker questions when they have a chance to discuss and debate the questions with one another, before casting their final vote and participating in a whole-class discussion. This method of teaching, called “peer instruction”, helps students to clarify their thinking, and allow students with a stronger grasp of the material to explain the material at a level more easily understood by their peers. Even if students do not arrive at the “right” answer, this discussion is valuable to students to help them to articulate and clarify their thinking. Of course, in order for peer instruction to be successful, the questions must be both challenging and interesting – if students aren’t curious about the answer to the question, or have no trouble answering it on their own, then why discuss it?

Use questions that challenge student thinking.

The limitations of understanding are revealed only when it is applied. Questions that are too simple, or just ask students to recall basic facts, are less useful than questions which challenge students’ ability to explain key ideas. Carefully chosen questions, including distracters based on common misconceptions, can call students’ attention to gaps in their understanding. Questions about which even well-prepared students can disagree, and generate discussion about the reasoning behind the answers (rather than “you know it or you don’t” questions), or even questions without a clear right answer, can yield a stronger understanding of the material.

Mix up your questions.

It’s important to use clickers frequently and to ask a wide variety of types of questions.  Simple questions give students a chance to feel successful; challenging questions push them to stretch their thinking (and help target the top-level of the class).  Consider a wide variety of question strategies to assess what students know about a topic, provoke thinking about something new, predict an outcome, stimulate discussion with a disputable question, or survey your students about their beliefs or experience.  Looking at existing question banks or working with colleagues is helpful as you learn to write questions.

The technology is not the pedagogy.

Nothing about this pedagogy requires the use of a clicker and low-tech options exist.  However, there are several benefits to the use of technology, including:  Anonymity, accountability, all students must commit to an answer, being able to hear from all students, accurate data on student responses that can be displayed to the class and archived for the future, and increased engagement and participation.  There is a definite benefit of students making an answer choice, in that they are more interested in the conversation in order to see how “their” answer holds up.  (We recom- mend giving little or no credit for correctness in order to encourage open discussion.)

Keep the mystery.

After students have voted, you hold a powerful tool in your hands; the results of the class voting.  Be savvy about when to show the histogram of student responses. Displaying these results often cuts short student thinking about the question (since they now feel they know the answer).  Use their curiosity to drive a rich whole-class discussion about the question, focusing on the reasoning behind the different answer choices. Then, once you are satisfied with student understanding of the question content, you can whip back the digital curtain to show how the class voted overall.

Start small.

Incorporating  clickers into your class is a process and does require some preparation.  Start with a few questions per class and gradually increase your use. Don’t be hard on yourself (or your students!) if things don’t work as you expect immediately.  Typically, teachers first concentrate on getting the technology working for them, then on creating good questions. Then they are able to work on more effectively facilitating the whole-class discussion and finally on using student responses to direct their teaching.  Experiment and discuss with other users. Talk to your students. Learn from them what they find helpful, and what they don’t like.  With time you can learn to flexibly integrate clickers into your teaching in a way that stimulates student learning and is an enjoyable part of class – for the students and for you.



While most formal studies have been done in the college setting, many of the best-practices in clicker use are drawn from the broad literature of what helps people learn, regardless of level.  Additionally, Penuel et al. have shown that K-12 teachers and college teachers approach clicker use in a similar manner.

1. The Peer Instruction Network can connect you to other new or experienced users:

2. Literature on best-practices, videos, and question banks available at

3. D. Duncan, “Tips for Successful ‘Clicker’ Use”, University of Colorado (2008).

4. Teacher Learning of Technology-Enhanced Formative Assessment Project (PI:  Ian Beatty), and associated publications:

5. E. Mazur, Peer Instruction, a user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall (1997).

6. W. Penuel et al., “Teaching with student response systems in elementary and secondary education settings:  A survey study,” Ed. Tech. Research Dev. (2006).


You can download the PDF Tip-Sheet and share it with your colleagues.


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Clickers: Weighing multiple choice v.s. alphanumeric

posted: March 29, 2012 by

Clickers are a great way to get students thinking deeply about a topic, weighing the arguments and evidence for and against different multiple choice answers.  For example, here is a famous biology question that gets students to confront some deeply held misconceptions:


Many people — university instructors included — will often go for A) or B).  But trees get their substance from photosynthesis — taking in carbon from carbon-dioxide and converting it into mass.  So, the answer is C), and students will often put together a more correct understanding once they get a chance to talk to their neighbors about the question and think more deeply about the process.

But now, most clicker systems offer the ability for students to enter in their own answers, such as numbers and words — called alphanumeric entry – rather than responding to fixed multiple-choice answers.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of alphanumeric entry?

First, to fess up, I was always staunchly against alphanumeric entry clickers.  I had heard from the early beta testers at my university that such open-responses were a nightmare:  Ask students to input the answer to a calculation, and the instructor had to quickly scan over 200 entries to get a sense of the audience.  And to make matters worse, “2.0″ is read differently from “2″ or from “two”, making that visual scan nearly impossible.

But I’ve been changing my tune lately, as I’ve talked to instructors with a different view. Much of what I will write about today is taken from a presentation by Matt Evans, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin at Eu Claire.  In the abstract for his talk, Moving from Multiple Choice to Alphanumeric Clickers (American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in Ontario, CA in February) he opines:

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I say that unexamined clicker use is not worth using.

So, with that in mind, let’s examine the possible advantages and uses of alphanumeric entry.

Use #1:  Ranking

I love asking students to rank-order different choices.  But this is cumbersome at best with multiple-choice clickers, leading to horrible answer choices such as BA) 1>2>3, (B) 3>1>2, etc.  Matt gave a few examples of excellent ranking tasks:

Instead of asking:

The highest temperature is:    (A)  0 F   (B)  0 C    (C)  50 C  (D) 100 F   (E) 300K

Instead ask students:

Rank the temperatures from lowest to highest:    (A)  0 F   (B)  0 C    (C)  50 C  (D) 100 F   (E) 300K

This forces students to consider all answers, rather than only needing some limited information to get the right answer.  Matt suggests giving students a visual of the right answer at the end of discussion, since the correct ranking using just the letters (in this case, ABEDC) is hard to parse.

Another nice example that he gave was using graphical analysis:


Use #2:  Choose all that are appropriate / More than one right answer

Again, with multiple choice clickers, if you ask students to choose more than one item in a list, the answer choices become quite clunky. Here is an example from Matt’s talk:


And here is the “reformed” version:


One question I like to use in workshops is the following, but you could only do this with alphanumeric entry:


Use #3:  Avoid “priming” the right answer

Oftentimes, there is something tricky about a problem or a question, but if you show the correct answer in a list of choices, then students will recognize it as correct.  But this doesn’t mean that they could generate the answer on their own.  For example, Matt uses this question with his students:

What is the average velocity?


The answer in this case is velocity = displacement / time = -3 m/s.  Many students will recognize that the negative sign is important if they see it in a list, but may miss it if they have to generate the answer on their own (or on the final exam).

Which leads us to another use of alphanumeric entry:

Use #4:  Numerical Answers

I’d approach this particular use with caution.  We’ve found that when you ask students a numerical calculation question, then they turn to their calculators and work individually.  But the point of using clickers, especially if you’re using it with Peer Instruction, is to get students engaged and discussing the questions with their classmates.  But still, sometimes it can be useful to have students input their own answer rather than giving them a choice of answers.

One item that Matt didn’t cover that I think is another really useful application of alphanumeric entry:

Use #5:  Generate answers for multiple choice

One of the questions that instructors ask me a lot is, “where do you find the tempting distractors for multiple choice questions?”  While one good answer to that question is to pore through your old student exams and homework for common errors, an even easier way is to give students a question as an open-ended question, and then use common responses for next semester’s multiple-choice version of the question.


Of course, there are drawbacks, as Matt admits:

  1. Time. It takes longer to cover these in class, both for students to vote, and for the instructor to discuss the answers with the class.  So, you can’t do as many open-ended questions in a class as you can multiple choice.
  2. Harder to grade or assess. This is especially true if you’re giving points for correctness, which is a common practice (but needs to be done sparingly, to not shut down student conversation).
  3. Harder to get instant feedback from students. A corollary of the above, it’s tougher to scan student responses and get a quick idea of where the majority of the class is.
  4. More complicated to enter. It’s logistically more challenging for students to input this data, but Matt says that his students don’t seem to mind it.

But overall, I admit, I’d like to try alphanumeric entry questions.  They offer a richer opportunity for discussion and student critical thinking, though they’re certainly no magic bullet.

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Webinar, “Make Clickers Work for You”: A powerful tool for instruction & formative assessment in K12 classrooms

posted: March 14, 2012 by

hand-on-clickerOn Thursday, the Transforming Education through Technology (THE) Journal is hosting a webinar (supported by i>clicker) on the effective use of clickers in K12 classrooms.

  • When:  12:00 pm Pacific Time / 3pm Eastern Time
  • Date:  Thursday, March 15th
  • Registration:  Link here

Classroom response systems (“clickers”) offer a powerful way to increase student engagement by going beyond simple quizzes. They provide an opportunity for peer instruction as students discuss challenging conceptual questions with their classmates, giving teachers and students an opportunity to get real-time feedback on student understanding through these conversations and the histogram created by student voting.

Clickers enable more interaction between students and faculty in classroom learning situations. Instructors use this type of response system to present questions interspersed throughout a presentation, receiving immediate feedback about student skills and knowledge. Clickers may also be used for attendance, quizzes, labs, group activities, and more.

Join this webinar on March 15th to hear how the University of Colorado at Boulder utilized i>clicker remotes to:

  • quickly and easily collect instant feedback
  • encourage interactive classroom engagement to increase understanding
  • differentiate instruction to address diverse needs


Handouts and slides

For those of you joining the webinar, you may want to download the:

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New Peer Instruction Network: Find other clicker users and connect

posted: February 21, 2012 by

Steve-CQPeer Instruction — a method of using clickers to engage students by having them discuss the questions with their peers before discussing as a whole class — has become extremely popular in a wide range of disciplines and courses. Visit the Physics Education Research User’s Guide here to see more about Peer Instruction. But instructors typically hear about peer instruction through word of mouth, at conferences or by hearing a talk, and don’t always have a lot of support at their home institution to learn how to implement it well.  And the research shows that this lack of support leads to a lot of instructors trying the technique; and then dropping it; a real shame since research also shows how much it can improve student learning.

But that might be changing.  One of the inventors of Peer Instruction, Eric Mazur, has now launched a new Peer Instruction Network, at  The site is still being populated and reaching full functionality, but already has more than 2000 registrants.  The postdoc working on building out the site writes:

  • 441 registrants report having ConcepTests that they have developed in their disciplines.
  • More than 700 users have asked questions about Peer Instruction, and 1200 have written testimonials about their interest or experience with PI.
  • Users from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) physics, law, biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, information systems, computer science, measurement, project management, pharmacy, english, statistics, real estate, sociology, nursing, political science, theology, history, art, and foreign languages.

We are still working to register more users as we continue to build out the full site, including the ability to locate and connect with users in your school, organization, or discipline.

So, if you’re using Peer Instruction, or are curious about it, consider signing up for the network.

Here is the text from a press release released by Harvard on the new network:

The Peer Instruction Network, a new global social site for interactive teaching, launches at Harvard

CONTACT: Michael Rutter, (617) 496-3815

Cambridge, Mass. – February 8, 2012 – Researchers at Harvard University have launched the Peer Instruction (PI) Network (, a new global social network for users of interactive teaching methods.

PI, developed by Eric Mazur, Area Dean for Applied Physics and Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), is an innovative evidence-based pedagogy designed to improve student engagement and success.

Mazur, famous for his talk titled “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer,” developed the method after realizing in the 1990s that his physics lectures at Harvard, while popular, were not helping students to master the basic concepts.

The PI technique relies on the power of the “flipped classroom.” Information transfer (i.e., a teacher transferring knowledge to students) takes place in advance, typically through online lectures. In short, students study before rather than after class.

As a result, the classroom becomes a place for active learning, questions, and discussion. Instructors spend their time addressing students’ difficulties rather than lecturing.

While originally developed for Mazur’s introductory physics courses, PI is now used across multiple disciplines, from the sciences to the humanities.

The Peer Instruction Network will serve as a hub for educators around the world to connect and share their PI experiences, submit questions, and engage with other PI users.

“In the first phase of community building we are aiming to register current and potential users of Peer Instruction,” said Julie Schell, Co-Founder of the Peer Instruction Network and a senior education postdoctoral fellow in the Mazur Group at SEAS.

“So far, the response has been remarkable,” Schell said. “More than 1,900 educators from elementary schools to research universities worldwide, including those in Ethiopia, Israel, Singapore, Vietnam, Finland, Germany, Greece, South Africa, and places like South Dakota, New York City, New Orleans and Oklahoma, have joined the Network.”

Testimonials from network registrants suggest why PI is rapidly becoming a pedagogy of choice: It works.

A science professor wrote on the site: “I use the technique so extensively that I’ve moved my lectures from ‘live’ to video podcasts that the students view before coming to class. In-class ‘lecture’ time is now devoted to Peer Instruction, worksheets, and physics demonstrations. Works great!”

At Harvard, Mazur and his team have long been encouraging other faculty to experiment with Peer Instruction in their own courses. With support from Cherry A. Murray, Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), he has even used it to better engage faculty at faculty meetings and retreats.

“We are amazed by the response to the initial launch of the Peer Instruction Network,” said Mazur. “By connecting people who use interactive teaching methods, we hope to cultivate a community of practice that will have a global effect on educational change.”

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Upcoming webinar: Use of clickers in K12 classrooms

posted: February 5, 2012 by

hand-on-clickerI will be giving a webinar geared to K12 teachers next week, on Weds Feb 15th.  See details below for registration.

Make Clickers Work For You:  A powerful tool for instruction and formative assessment in K12 classrooms

Dr.Stephanie Chasteen
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
6:30 PM EST

We’ll show you how classroom response systems (“clickers”) offer a powerful way to increase student engagement by going beyond simple quizzes.  Challenging conceptual questions provide an opportunity for peer instruction as students discuss answers with their classmates, giving teachers a chance to hear student ideas and misconceptions by listening to their conversations.  The real-time histogram of students responses to these multiple-choice questions also provide instant feedback to both teachers and students as to the precise level of student understanding on that particular topic.  Clicker questions can also be posed before and after instruction, giving quantitative information about the effectiveness of a variety of types of instruction.  We’ll share ideas for question writing, give you practice to write your own questions and receive feedback, and provide a wealth of tips for facilitating class discussion and getting students to buy in to this teaching technique.

Register for the webinar


I have a few handouts for the webinar, which may be useful.

  1. Webinar handout packet
  2. Tips for successful use of clickers
  3. Bloom’s Taxonomy: List of verbs



Below are the slides from the presentation for your reference.

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Using clickers with experiments and demos

posted: January 30, 2012 by

Clickers are great ways to involve your class in what they’re learning.  I want to write about one type of clicker question that is particularly adept at enabling whole-class inquiry:  Clicker questions that engage students in an experiment or demonstration.  There are a few ways to do this, some which I find extraordinarily clever.

1.  Using clickers to predict the outcome of a demonstration.

This is pretty easy to do, and lots of research shows that students recall and understand demonstrations better if they’re first asked to consider what they think will happen.  This works particularly well with demonstrations that are intended to show “discrepant events” — something surprising or counter to intuition.   Many classroom teachers use a cycle called “predict-observe-explain” with such demonstrations, where students predict the outcome, observe the demonstration, and then work together to construct an explanation.    Clickers are especially well-suited to the “predict” portion of this cycle.

For example, here is a nice set of demos from Rhett Allain at Dot Physics many of which could be done using clickers.  One common demonstration is that of the Cartesian Diver, where an object that has some small air cavity in it is placed in a bottle.  When the bottle is squeezed, what will happen to the “diver”?  Will it go up, down, or not move?  That would be a great clicker question, especially if you embedded some reasoning into those answers.   Ie., “It goes up because XXX”, “It goes up because YYY,” “It goes down because ZZZ”, etc.

The answer?  It goes down, because, as Rhett explains, “When you squeeze the bottle, you increase the pressure in the liquid AND in the air in the diver. This makes the air bubble get smaller so that the diver displaces less water. The buoyancy force on the diver is equal to the weight of the water it displaces.”

Or, here’s an example from Eric Mazur, which could be easily tested using real equipment (left) and another one from Chemistry (origin unknown; right).


2.  Using clickers as an interactive lecture demonstration

A somewhat more structured way to use clickers with a demonstration is with interactive lecture demonstrations.  ILD’s are a more structured version of the predict-observe-explain cycle, and perhaps the only way that I really distinguish the two is that ILD’s are not always “surprising,” but often structured to help students see and apply particular concepts, usually in physics.  Below is an example.

Slide5Question via Shane Hutson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University.

3.  Clicker questions based off simulations / clicker questions where students generate graphs or other predictions

But you can get creative with this type of question, too.  For one not all demonstrations need to be with real equipment.  Demonstration can be done with virtual equipment — the PhET Interactive Simulations are perfectly suited for this.

Second, you can have students generate their own answers, and then show the multiple choice version.

Here is an example from Kathy Perkins and Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

First, they show students the Moving Man simulation, where a man will move in response to the input of initial position, velocity and acceleration.  Then, they have students generate their own graphs for a specific situation:


Then, they use common graphs to turn the students’ free-responses into a clicker question:


4.  Use clickers for real-time experiments on the students.

This works best in psychology classes, or some course where you want to demonstrate some fundamental aspect of human behavior.  One of the best ones that I’ve seen in this genre is listed below, which demonstrates our innate tendency to prefer immediate rewards.


5.  Use clickers to gather real-time data that students perform.

Sometimes having a few students performing a quick little experiment isn’t necessarily that compelling, but if you can aggregate data from the whole class then you have a powerful tool for demonstrating a principle or an outcome.  For example, if you want to demonstrate that flipping two coins results in a greater probability of getting a head and a tail than two heads or two tails, it’s pretty boring to have students sit there and do 50 coin flips to get a robust result.  But, if instead, you have each student do their own coin flip, and then click in with their results, you can get a real-time histogram that shows authentic data demonstrating that idea.

A fabulous article on using this technique with students to demonstrate the Monty Hall Problem (a nice statistics problem) was just published in The Physics Teacher. Students were able to perfectly replicate the theoretical prediction as a whole class, running the experiment in pairs.  It’s a free download, so check it out.

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Handouts and recording for January 4th Webinar: Make Clickers Work for You

posted: January 5, 2012 by

I gave a webinar this week to what shaped up to be a huge group (almost 500 registrants, a record for me!). This is my introduction to clickers and peer instruction talk. We’ve also hosted webinars  on writing clicker questions and effective facilitation techniques, but this webinar is my quick all-in-one overview.

There are two downloads

You can also download the Instructor’s Guide to the Effective Use of Clickers, created by my group, for free at our resource page: Materials from our past workshops are there too, as well as outline materials you can use for your own clicker workshops.

Feel free to post questions or comments about the webinar in the comments section!

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Buzz: How to Get Students Talking-on-task

posted: September 22, 2011 by

image by Ame Otoko

One of the most difficult things to do when teaching is getting students to engage with each other about the material in meaningful ways that move the needle of their understanding or skill-set. Instructors of small classes and large classes alike face this challenge everyday. It’s not easy to craft activity lessons that succeed in keeping students focused, on-topic, while connecting in small groups or class-wide discussion. We know that active, engaged inquiry, conversations and debates are exactly what’s required for students to retain information and grasp concepts and theories. When it works, and students are buzzing about the lesson, teachers may stand back for a moment and think, YES!

So, how to get that buzz going? There are so many ways. Clickers are one strategy that has worked for me.

Oddly enough, clickers are at base a 1-way tech tool. Teacher posts poll, students click-in. There’s no automated two-way feedback loop. And for that reason some faculty have criticized my decision to adopt clickers, admonishing me for reducing student engagement to a remote-controlled-yes/no function. I usually invite such naysayers to sit in on one of my classes, to see that 1-way polling is not the end of the story. It’s what happens next that is really exciting.

The buzz! It’s the one thing other clickerprofs warned me about: as soon as you open a poll, and again when you display the results, students are going to start talking to each other about the question. Get ready for the buzz! Very good advice, and it proved true of course on my first day using student response systems with a class of 300. For a teacher who has struggled for years to get students talking, this instant response was very energizing, very fun.

There are many strategies to use with clickers designed to keep students talking-on-task with each other. For example:

The easiest method is the “turn to your neighbor” example, wherein with preliminary results collected but not yet displayed on the screen, profs ask students to check in with the person seated beside them, to compare answers and justifications. According to Eric Mazur, the “turn to your neighbor and see if you can convince one another of the correct choice” method is effective because it supports students to engage in active learning and questioning and shifts the focus from the professor “teaching” the material.

The think-pair-share method also works wonders with clickers, with voting results displayed or not, asking students to check in with each other about their responses, then re-polling always results in more on-task buzz. This method is effective because “through this exercise, students get a chance to work through the question, and defend their position,” to cite Brian Young from Penn State (“Teaching With Clickers: Think Pair Share“)

Asking prediction questions is another conversation-generating technique that has worked well for me. As Derek Bruff observes, prediction questions are effective “since they allow students to commit to their predictions and compare their predictions to those of their peers. Then discussion of the incorrect answer choices provides an opportunity to deal with misconceptions.” Prediction questions do double duty, as “students become more interested in a demonstration when they have first committed to a prediction via a clicker question,” to borrow an insight from University of California at Santa Barbara’s comprehensive list of clicker question types. (“12 Ways UCSB Professors Are Using Clickers“)

I also use clickers to help students prepare for the exam (<– link opens PDF), by running multiple choice question polls drawn from my exam question bank. Whether polls are a quiz on the homework or asking students to recall a lecture point, in my experience these types of questions inspire a lot of quiet contemplation as the results are collected, then great whoops and sighs as results are revealed. Using clickers to help students with exam prep has been shown to increase outcomes and student engagement (<–link opens Word doc).

Clickers, a one-way technology, also work to provide timely feedback and summative assessment, letting students know whether they are “getting” the material. As one student commented, “when the prof asks a clicker question in class and you don’t know what the heck he’s even talking about, it helps you figure out what you need to do, so you can do better on the test, instead of like not finding out until the day of the exam that you don’t get it.”

The bottom line is that this simple technology, though not a pedagogical panacea, can help teachers create an active and engaged learning experience. They may transmit a one-way signal, but skilled clicker profs can use these gadgets to inspire a peer-to-peer information flow and create a cohesive, connected classroom.

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Teaching faculty about effective use of clickers – free webinar

posted: September 20, 2011 by

I’ve been working for the past several years to figure out the best ways to teach faculty about how to use clickers effectively; to engage students, ask questions that get students thinking, and to use peer discussion to help students work together to learn from the questions. It’s not always easy. Recent research has shown that a lot of faculty, at least in physics, get really fired up about using clickers (by hearing Eric Mazur speak, for example, or perhaps by attending a talk or workshop like what I give), but then they go home to try it, and it all falls apart. Motivating faculty to use new teaching techniques isn’t the issue, it seems. They want to try new teaching methods, and see the value of interactive questioning during lecture. But there are a lot of little things that go into making clickers work with your students — such as creating student buy-in by explaining why you’re using clickers, showing students that you value the discussion around the questions and modeling that discussion, and providing proper incentive for engaging in this activity.

So, I’ve been putting together faculty workshops (and K12 as well) to teach educators about effective use of the tool, and trying to figure out the best ways to do so such that faculty have a high chance of success in using clickers when they return to their institution and try it. I’ll be sharing the results of this work in a free webinar in October, specifically aimed at others who work with faculty and teach them about effective questioning and clickers. Consider joining us, to get some new ideas and to share your own.

Here’s the full announcement:


Teaching Faculty about Effective Clicker Use

Time: Tuesday, October 4th, 1pm EST
Register at:
Note: Want the recording? You’ll get a download link after the session if you register.

Geared specifically for those involved in faculty development and support (e.g., instructional technologists, faculty excellence programs, or other faculty professional developers), this webinar will cover best practices in helping faculty to use clickers to enhance their teaching. The webinar presenter has been creating faculty professional development materials around clicker use for years, and will share tips and techniques — many based on research — for helping faculty to see the potential power of this technology and learn to implement it effectively. Webinar components will include: (1) best practices in clicker use, (2) resources available for faculty learning to use clickers, (3) research-based techniques for faculty development around clickers, and (4) working with faculty resistance and alleviating frustration. HIghly recommended: Watch “Make Clickers Work for You” webinar recording at prior to this webinar, and/or the video “How to use clickers effectively” at

(missed it?  You can watch the recording:

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Categories: Classroom Response Systems, Higher Education
Read All Stephanie Chasteen

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Is There a Question in There?

posted: August 24, 2011 by


Recently I watched a video of Mark Zuckerberg (see below) addressing educators at The New Schools Summit earlier this year. He was invited to discuss the context of his donation of 100 million dollars to public schools in Newark, New Jersey, and his plans for an educational startup.

After introducing Zuckerberg, the moderator turns to the audience to ask for questions that will guide the discussion. This is where the video gets VERY hard to watch. Because instead of asking questions, the group of business pros and educators alike stumble, mumble, and fumble. Can they think of a question? Not without considerable confusion. The moderator is insistent—going so far as to remind participants that questions must end with question marks. And yet, person after person steps to the mic and … rambles. The exasperated moderator hardly knows how to record their nonquestions on the whiteboard, and eventually gives up. Why did this happen? Because even for highly educated and accomplished people, formulating questions on the fly is difficult. It’s an enviable skill, and it can make or break a meeting or session.

How many professional conferences have you been to, when, during question period, an attendee raises their hand and starts to go on and on, meandering, lost in tangents, prompting the presenter to ask some version of, “Is there a question in there?” Awkward indeed. Why is this such a frequent occurrence? According to Warren Berger and other theorists, it’s because “the habit of asking questions is trained out of us by the educational system.” That may be true—but so is the fact that many teachers are deeply committed to inquiry based learning.

Active, discovery-based instruction is a challenge to design, but as many researchers have shown, the results are amazing, as students hone their analytic skill set. Lessons built around or including collaborative, creative questioning tend to infuse the classroom with energy and enthusiasm. Classes engage with the material when it’s clear their perspectives and positions are critical to the learning experience. Teaching students to ask good questions is a foundational skill, but it’s also strategic.

Glance at any recent human resources research about hiring and mentoring young people today and you’ll see the repeated insight that “millennials love sharing their ideas and want to know that they are being heard, if you invite them to give you constructive feedback, you can gain a different perspective and help them learn” (I’m quoting from Judy Lindenberger from The Evolved Employer blog).

I think of questions as the currency of academic work. Having a cache of great questions enriches research and teaching. Sometimes questions are more important than answers, so the truism goes. And it may seem obvious, but this is where clicker technology fits in nicely to solve a pedagogical challenge.

image By University of Hawaii - West Oahu

Using clickers encourages profs to think about their lessons in terms of a series of questions. Sounds simple, and the technology itself is simple, but creating great questions is anything but. Trying to integrate a few polls into a finished lecture after the fact is profoundly disruptive. I’ve connected with many instructors across the disciplines who say that building great polls into a lesson is a real challenge. The litmus test is student reaction, and it’s very obvious which questions are great and resonate, and which are facile and fall flat.

If questions matter, if asking great questions is an important skill, then it’s worth thinking about how-tos. Here’s a small roundup of tips for creating great questions, culled from around the web, to use as part of inquiry based learning design, with or without clickers:

1. Think of a series of questions instead of several one-offs. “Ask interpretative questions (eg., what does the author mean here?) before evaluative questions (eg. is the author right about this?). Let your earlier questions lay a foundation for your later ones.” (source — opens PDF) Put differently, “During class discussions, rather than beginning with a single question that is multilayered and complex, use a sequence of questions to build depth and complexity.” (source)

2. Integrate some current and/or newsworthy material to keep lectures fresh, and use that as the basis for opinion questions. “Using real-life scenarios, clinical examples, or case studies will reinforce the importance of the material your are presenting.” (source — opens PDF)

3. Ask predictive questions. Students are more likely to pay attention to the material if they’ve been asked to weigh in on it first. “Teachers ask recall questions far more than predictive questions. But predictive questions are more important to develop a sense of understanding. Good readers are unconsciously making predictions.” (source)

4. Pose generalizing and summarizing questions. Get a debate going in no time by suggesting a series of outcomes, and if you are polling, include options such as None of these options are correct, and/or I am undecided. “To get students thinking about effects, implications, extensions and inferences, ask students to weigh in on a series of likely and unlikely consequences.” (source)

More Resources

The book that helped me the most when getting started building my cache of clicker questions: Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments by Derek Bruff.This highly-readable book identifies types of questions and provides a host of teaching strategies and instructional goals which inspired me to develop my own polls.

I also teach online, and one of my favorite and affordable edTech tools to facilitate question-based learning is PollDaddy. I also use Survey Monkey, but find PollDaddy very intuitive and nicely designed.

Here is the Zuckerberg video I mentioned at the outset:

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Categories: Classroom Response Systems
Read All Sidneyeve Matrix

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