Classroom response systems can be used to facilitate peer instruction by having students break into smaller groups for discussion. (Photo: Felix42 contra la censura)
It is an unfortunate truth that many instructors use classroom response systems only to take attendance. It is also true, however, that clickers can be a valuable tool for supplementing and facilitating interactive teaching techniques that can improve student engagement and student learning in classes both large and small.
While there are a number of ways to use classroom response systems, below are 3 of our favorite ways to teach more effectively with clickers:
1. Facilitate Peer Instruction
Instead of having students discuss the question with the whole class, peer instruction facilitates these discussions in smaller groups. Ask your students to turn to a neighbor to defend their answer. More students will get involved in the discussion this way, and any fears of speaking in front of the large class are nullified.
To see what effect peer instruction has had on student comprehension, poll your students before the small group discussions and again after to see how student responses have changed. As an added incentive, peer instruction allows students to hear a different perspective or style of explanations. Additionally, some students find instruction from their peers to be more effective than lecturing from the instructor.
2. Monitor the Backchannel
Though most people quickly think of classroom response systems as a way to pose multiple choice questions to students, an alternative use of the system is to use the clickers to monitor the backchannel. Have students let you know when they are confused with their classroom response system to enable immediate feedback that need not wait for occasional quizzes or exams.
Some instructors who use systems that allow students to resubmit answers could simply leave a poll open for the duration of class, where students can rate their comprehension on a scale 1-5 by answering A-E respectively. Alternatively, after asking a clicker question can ask a follow-up question asking students how confident they are in their answer. More advanced classroom response systems provide separate mediums for monitoring the backchannel, where students can report confusion independently of the clicker function or submit questions.
3. Create Times for Telling
One way to engage students is to use clickers to make them more interested in the information that follows, or to create moments for telling. The underlying principle behind this use is that posing a question that many students will likely get wrong will make the subsequent explanations more interesting.
Students who missed the question will want to know why their answer was incorrect, while students who were able to submit the correct answer are more likely to listen for any pieces of the picture they may be missing because so many of their peers were wrong. Questions of this type do not serve to assess student performance, but rather to encourage students to engage with lecture to learn from mistakes and misconceptions.
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