Posted by: paralleldivergence | January 7, 2009

Tips for Successful “Clicker” Use

Clickers have many possible uses:

  • To find out if students have done assigned reading/homework before class
  • Measure what students know before you start to teach them and after you think you’ve taught them
  • Measure attitudes and opinions, with more honest answers if the topic is personal or embarrassing
  • Get students to confront common misconceptions
  • Facilitate discussion and peer teaching
  • Increase student’s retention of what you teach
  • Transform the way you do demonstrations
  • Increase class attendance
  • Improve student attitudes

None of these are magically achieved by the clicker itself. They are achieved – or not achieved – entirely by what you do in implementation.

Practices that lead to Successful Clicker Use:

  1. Have clear, specific goals for your class, and plan how clicker use could contribute to your goals. Do not attempt all the possible uses described above at one time!
  2. You MUST MUST MUST explain to students why you are using clickers. Explain how the clicker can help with their learning.
  3. Practice before using with students. Remember how irritated you get when A/V equipment fails to work. Don’t subject students to this.
  4. Make clicker use a regular, serious part of your course. If you treat clicker use as unimportant or auxiliary then your students will too.
  5.  Use a combination of simple and more complex questions. Many users make their questions too simple. The best questions focus on concepts you feel are particularly important and involve challenging ideas with multiple plausible answers that reveal student confusion and generate spirited discussion. Show some prospective questions to a colleague and ask if they meet this criteria.
  6. If your goal is to increase student learning, have students discuss and debate challenging conceptual questions with each other. This technique, peer instruction, is a straightforward and proven method of increasing learning. You may have students answer individually first, then discuss with those sitting next to them, then answer again.
  7. Stress that genuine learning is not easy and that clickers, conceptual questions, and conversations with peers can help students find out what they don’t really understand and what they need to think about further, as well as help you pace the class. Explain that it is the discussion itself that produces learning and if they “click in” without participating they will probably get a lower grade on exams than the students who are more active in discussion.
  8. Compile a sufficient number of good clicker questions and exchange them with other teachers. The best questions for peer discussion are ones that around 30-70% of students can answer correctly before discussion with peers. This maximizes good discussion and learning. There is value in discussion even if a question is difficult and few know the answer initially. 
  9. If you are a first-time clicker user, start with just one or two questions per class. Increase your use as you become more comfortable.
  10. Talk directly about cheating. Emphasize that copying someone else’s clicks is like taking an exam for someone else. It also offers no assistance to that individual’s learning.
  11. Watching one class or even part of a class taught by an experienced clicker user is a good way to rapidly improve your own clicker use.  Learn from their mistakes!

Practices that lead to Failure:

  1. Failing to explain why you are using clickers.
  2. Not allowing students talk with each other.
  3. Using only factual recall questions.
  4. Not making use of the student response information (response logs).
  5. Failing to discuss what learning means or the depth of participation and learning you expect in your class.
  6. Thiningk of clickers only as a testing device, rather than a device to inform learning.

If you believe that the teacher, not the students, should be the focus of the classroom experience, it is unlikely that clickers will work well for you. Be prepared. Effective clicker use with peer discussions results in a livelier and more interesting class, for you as well as the students! Expect good results immediately but better results as you become more experienced with clickers. This is the usual experience nationwide.

Adapted from Dr Douglas Duncan – University of Colorado –


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