Posts Tagged ‘clicker’




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:

Streaming recording link

Download recording link

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Categories: Classroom Response Systems, Higher Education
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Teaching with Clickers: Derek Bruff’s webinar

posted: September 9, 2010 by

Derek Bruff (clicker guru extraordinaire) has shared some nice resources from a webinar that he did recently for the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) CIRTLcast series.

You can see the whole 60-minute webinar at the archives, but the cool folks at CIRTL also edited it to a nice short 10-minute presentation on YouTube, embedded below.

What I really enjoyed about this presentation was how he tied the use of clickers to what we know about how people learn, such as giving them a chance to reflect on their own knowledge, or creating a “time for telling,” where students are eager and ready to hear an expert explanation, or reducing cognitive load. He really promotes the use of clickers for formative assessment, which is just what we’ve been promoting at the University of Colorado.

Sign up for my upcoming “Make Clickers Work for You” webinar to learn how to write great clicker questions and facilitative effective discussions.

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Categories: Classroom Response Systems, Engagement, Formative Assessment, Higher Education
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Course Hacks and Mods

posted: August 11, 2010 by

image by Roo ReynoldsPersonal Media, Personalized Courses

In the age of ever more personalized media (including ads, think Old Spice), customized smartphones, and hand-picked social network news feeds—students and profs alike develop a taste for individualized information consumption.  Often, only those pieces of information that closely sync with a set of personal perimeters and “relevancy” filters have any chance of attracting our attention. These trends point toward a digital culture filled with infovores who have very picky tastes and are habitual lifehackers.

Those new digital habits shape students’ expectations and assumptions about mass media and information production, distribution, and consumption. They also affect how students approach and participate in higher education classes.

Class Hacks

So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us when a generation of students who are used to customizing their news and information diet, screening spam, and setting up preferences on social networks to maximize usefulness and relevancy (nevermind jailbreaking devices and buying smartphones that allow for the greatest degree of personalization) want to hack the syllabus.

Or jailbreak the course somehow (change the operating system to innovate or improve its functionality and evade restraints). Or develop some variety of collaborative “cheats” (as in game cheats, walkthroughs, guides to improve gameplay and scores) and clever shortcuts.

Students’ expectations are rising when it comes to customization of course content, personalization of instruction and assessment, and consideration of individual preferences in the classroom. So too it seems their intolerance for inflexibility is becoming greater. Some scoff at the “entitlement” of the “trophy kids”—but there is more going on here, and it has everything to do with emergent modes of media use, information consumption, and knowledge production.

Time to Get Flexible?

If you’re thinking (as I am) that it might be time to figure out how to hack your own course and offer more adjustability, course mods (modifications) and personalization in your course design, here are three places to start:

First, most simply: plan moments of flexibility and choice throughout the course.

Allowing students to make choices about due dates, assignment lengths or types, readings, topics to cover—and polling them on these choices, will help your class feel engaged and invested in them (especially easy to do if students have clickers in their hands).

Second, think about which element(s) of your course might be most open to flexibility right now.

The Centre for Teaching Excellence at The University of Waterloo in Ontario helpfully identifies the key elements of course planning as Goals, Context, Content, Teaching Methods, and Assessment. They suggest that when refreshing a course, we might thinking about changing one component at a time—an approach would also work when figuring out where to begin building in flexibility.

If scheduling is one place where flexibility is an option, you could follow the lead of Bunker Hill Community College—who made national headlines offering courses at midnight.  That move was about easing over-enrollment, but it also worked to meet the scheduling needs of returning and non-traditional students.

Third, an even more radical option: offer completely different versions of the same course simultaneously.

This is something that New Mexico State University did with a required marketing class. Their online and offline versions of the course were similar but certainly not identical in terms of assessment (one was 100% exam based, while the other involved a group project). Students could choose their preferred course option after sampling both for two weeks. This case study was written up by researchers Susan Steiner and Michael Hyman, who investigated the downside of “one size fits all” course design. Incidentally, New Mexico State saw improved retention rates and increased student satisfaction as a result of this initiative.

If you’re thinking about course hacks and mods, you might want to take a look at Disrupting Class, in which Clayton Christensen argues for a student-centered approach that maximizes customized learning. Also relevant, Teaching Digital Natives, by Marc Prensky advocates a flexible “partnering pedagogy” that gives students room to innovate, explore and design their own learning experiences. Both authors provide numerous practical suggestions and also consider the challenges for faculty when adopting a more flexible teaching style.

Flexible Learning, Improved Outcomes

If blended learning results in higher student outcomes, and if flexible course design improves student satisfaction and self-efficacy, there’s good reason to consider becoming a profhacker.

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Categories: Engagement
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Do students learn better with peer instruction (clickers)? Does it last? (#aaptsm10)

posted: July 21, 2010 by

I’m still at the AAPT meeting in Portland, and was just directed to a particularly curious piece of research.  Tom Carter (College of DuPage, Physics Dept.) shared his experience in a two-year college using clickers.  Both he and his students were enthusiastic about clickers and peer instruction, and students said that it was one of the most useful things in the course.  He was particularly positive about his use of i>clicker in their courses, which is officially supported by the IT department.  Mazur’s famous studies showed that students do better on conceptual questions after peer instruction.  But, his method also results in students coming to class more prepared, since they are required to do the reading in advance.  So, is the increased learning a result of peer discussion, or a result of better preparation?   Tom did a little study with his students, comparing the following types of instruction:

  1. Traditional instruction
  2. Students doing reading before class
  3. Students doing reading before class + peer instruction in class

His results are provocative — students did better in both groups 2 and 3 on the FMCE (a conceptual exam on the understanding of mechanics in intro physics).  But groups 2 and 3 weren’t different from each other.  I’d be curious to see these results replicated.  At the University of Colorado we’ve seen increased conceptual learning with peer instruction, and we don’t require the reading before class.  So, perhaps peer instruction is a way of achieving the same goals as can be achieved by preparatory reading, in some contexts?

He also pointed out another set of results that are even more provocative.  An earlier study by Watkins and Sabella — Examining the Effectiveness of Clickers on Promoting Learning by Tracking the Evolution of Student Responses tried to answer the question of whether the increased learning that students demonstrate after discussing a clicker question helps them do better on the exam.  They asked a clicker question and measured how many students got it right before discussion, after discussion, and then on the exam.  The results were surprising, at least to me:

  • Before discussion:  31% correct
  • After discussion:  56% correct

Great, so peer discussion works.  What about on the exam?

  • On exam:  31% correct

It’s like peer discussion never happened!  These results definitely merit further exploration. Some possible explanations, Tom Carter suggested, are:

  • So did students adopt ideas of high performing students?
  • Do students have knowledge but not access it?
  • How can we help them trigger formal knowledge?

The implementation of a clicker question is definitely important, as other studies have shown. Perhaps the way that a clicker question is implemented will help that knowledge “stick.”

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eventness: partitioning the lecture

posted: April 15, 2010 by

When professors adopt educational technologies like coursecasting (video or audio recording of lectures as podcasts), the response from their peers is often some version of “I suspect students won’t come to class.” For example, at The University of Minnesota, where many professors are podcasting their lectures on iTunesU, there is some concern from non-participating lecturers “that lecture recordings will cause their class attendance to decrease.” Delivering course content online and outside the classroom timetable has long been resisted because of possible disincentive effects—and surely sometimes that does happen. But for the most part, coursecasting doesn’t actually play out that way.

Instead, “it’s kind of like the entrée is the lecture and the side dish is using the technology to do a podcast,” as one UMN professor described lecture capture for iPod or YouTube playback. Having an alternative digital mode to consume lecture content, in the comfort and privacy of our personal screens, and on-demand, might be exactly right for students who are overcommitted, ill, or in the case of those studying in harsh winter climates, loathe to set foot outdoors for a frozen trek to class.

But unless we’re talking about a distance elearning course, there are many reasons why even a technoteacher would want their students to meet him or her in a face-to-face meeting in the lecture hall—as redundant as that may seem, considering the coursecast recording. Some professors run impromptu discussions and Q&A in the lecture, some do not capture and deliver their entire lesson digitally, and others strongly believe in the powerful and unique effects of synonymous connectivity for class community building.

So for the professors on podcasts among us, how do we get students to attend class rather than relying only on the lecture videos, slides, notes or other digital learning objects we distribute? One answer is partitioning, a method for turning the lecture into event programming, as it were. I’ll review two examples here, using videos and clickers.

Screening video clips in the lectures, as mnemonic devices, will infuse the classroom with multimedia energy and provide varied materials for visual learners. If those videos are not reproduced and distributed by the professor online, students will learn that in order to see the videos, they must have “bums in seats.”

For the YouTube generation, watching videos is at once pleasurable and intrinsically interesting. This kind of value-added “appointment exhibition” of visual materials makes the in-person lecture more significant. If there are no exam questions on the video content, and they are shown instead as extra illustrative examples of the material, there is no pressing need to redistribute them to students who did not attend. Of course with the ever-expanding video archives on YouTube, there are many educational videos a professor might show clips from, which are available online anyway.

Using clickers for live in-class polling is another way to encourage students to attend class. Clicker polls effectively personalize, customize, and socialize the class. Students know that poll results depend on who is in class that day and it is exactly that indeterminacy that lends energy and anticipation to the lecture.

Moreover, if the students see that their polling feedback is valued by the professor, and is connected to assessment, they too will value the activity of in-class participation as worthwhile. The result is that face-to-face lectures become higher priority events. Less “skippable.” Profs can mix clicker opinion polls with sample exam review questions, none of which are reproduced on the coursecast—all of which are available to those in attendance. This gives students an extra positive incentive to come to class.

By partitioning the lecture into one part public speaking, some two-way conversation, screening of multimedia visuals, and live in-class polling—we create a variety of pedagogical modalities and tempos. The cumulative effect is a lecture that resembles what television producers might call event programming. Unlike an award show or sports broadcast, however, this “event” is interactive (though to be fair, sports spectatorship is also highly participatory, if yelling and throwing things count). By comparison, the audio or video enhanced coursecast reflects a segment of the full lecture experience—valuable certainly as a learning tool, but not a stand-in for the main event.

For some, the televisual metaphors I’m using here are too distracting and may inspire visions of students as remote-wielding couch potatoes—but as a Film and Media professor I’m televisually-minded.  Alternatively we can think about dividing the lecture into multimodal and multimedia “coursels” as Tom Kuhlmann describes them. Bite-sized chunks of information and learning. Through designing partitioned lessons with eventness, digital delivery, and electronic interactivity in mind, we will encourage students to engage while in the lecture and, in the process, create a varied learning experience.

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Another trendy technical gadget (!?)

posted: March 23, 2010 by

Clickers“The idea of wasting money on a device no more sophisticated pedagogically than raising your hand drives me nuts.”

So sayeth David Socol, who studies technology in special education at Michigan State University, in reference to clickers  (Quoted here:

I work in the physics department at the University of Colorado – we were early adopters of clickers, so we’ve fielded arguments like this quite a bit.  Just what does the clicker buy you over a simple hand-raise?

It depends.  If you’re using it to take attendance – not much.  If you’re using it for quizzes, then it’s just easier for you, come grading time.

But the best use of clickers isn’t for attendance or quizzes – it’s to deeply engage your students in the subject.  Can you do this in other ways?  Sure!  But with clickers, you get a lot of bang for your buck – more so, perhaps, than the pricey textbooks students lug from class to class, only to throw out next semester. As my colleague Mike Dubson told me, “I can think of no other device that accomplishes so many benefits in a single package.”

At the University of Colorado, we use clickers to get students to think about, discuss, and respond to difficult conceptual questions.  We do this with a process called “peer instruction,” developed in part by Eric Mazur at Harvard.  Here’s an outline:

  1. Instructor poses a challenging, multiple-choice conceptual question
  2. (Optional:  Instructors may ask students to vote silently on their own)
  3. Students turn to their neighbors to discuss the question and explain what they think the answer is
  4. Students vote
  5. Instructor discusses the question with the class
  6. Instructor shows students the histogram of how they responded

There are as many ways to run peer instruction as there are teachers, but the most important aspect is step #3 – discussing the question with a neighbor.  As teachers we know that we first learned a subject well when we taught it.  Similarly, students learn by explaining their thoughts to someone else.  And a student who is struggling has the benefit of interacting with another person, at their level, in the middle of lecture.

The brain processes information differently (and more deeply) when it is engaged in this manner rather than passively listening to a lecture.   In Eric Mazur’s study, he found that more students got the right answer after peer discussion than when they voted individually before discussion.   But, were they really learning?  Or were the “smart” students giving away the answer?

My colleagues at CU designed a study to answer this question.   Students were asked a question, which they answered on their own.  Like Mazur’s study, they found that more students answered that question correctly after discussion.  But they then asked students a similar question, which they voted on silently.  More students answered that new question correctly on their own than they did the first one, showing that they had learned something from the discussions.

So, peer discussion works (not a surprise, given what we know about the effectiveness of active engagement strategies).  But why do we need clickers to do this?

Well, there are some special things that this simple piece of plastic technology does for us, namely:

  • Anonymity. This is a biggie.  If students are raising their hands, they look to see how their neighbors are voting.  The clicker makes sure that every student can answer with their real answer, without fear of looking stupid.
  • Focusing on a question. The posing of a clicker question, and its subsequent discussion and vote, focuses the class in a way that is heavily facilitated by the use of the clicker.
  • Committing to an answer.  There is something about clicking that button that is important in solidifying a student’s choice.  They must make an actual decision to press A or B or C, rather than hedging their bets: a hand half-raised for a few different choices.  They have to vote, and they know what they voted.
  • Instant feedback. The projected histogram gives instant feedback to the instructor about what his or her students are (or aren’t) understanding, and lets the students know how they compare to other students in their class.  This kind of feedback is critically important in learning.  Usually students only have a chance to test themselves, and see how they compare to their peers, three times a semester – on exams.  This gives them a chance to do so many times each week, thus prompting them to seek help if they need it.

All this benefit, for a gadget that costs about $30 and can be used during the lifetime of a student’s stay at university.

This is why Mike Dubson says clickers pack such a pedagogical punch for a small price.

So, sure, you can have an interactive classroom without clickers, pose questions to students, and use peer instruction.  But clickers provide real benefits, and help faculty generate innovations in their teaching.  It’s not a panacea, of course – the effectiveness of clickers depends on how they’re used.  But that’s the topic of future posts!

More resources

Videos and relevant research linked here:

The Costs (and Benefits) of Clickers (a detailed dialogue in response to  Classroom Clickers and the Cost of Technology) – Derek Bruff’s blog and myself.

For more tips on effective use of clickers, check out these other resources (written by faculty, for faculty) at

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