Saturday, November 29, 2008

Clickers in Mind

Adam CarleAdam Carle

Department of Psychology

Lately, you may have noticed that UNF has begun “clicking” its way into the new century. Students use clickers (also known as classroom response systems) to answer a professor’s questions and the clicker system provides the professor with real time feedback about the class’ answers. Theoretically, these systems allow students to more fully engage with the material and learn better, especially in large classes. As a result of this theory, UNF and its students have invested substantial resources in clickers. For example, during Spring 2007, 1969 students used clickers. The clickers cost students $20 and students spend $13 each semester to register the clickers. So, in Spring 2007 students spent approximately $65,000 on clickers at UNF.

Astoundingly, little to no research has examined whether students actually learn better when using clickers! Rest assured, research has shown that students and professors both enjoy using clickers and students indicate that they learn better with clickers. But, until recently, no studies directly assessed whether students demonstrated higher achievement when using clickers. To cut a long story short, Mayer and colleagues (2009) recently addressed this problem. They compared college students in a class where students used clickers to answer 2 to 4 questions per lecture to two other groups of students, students in a class without clickers and students in a class without questions. Though their design limits strong causal conclusions, their results showed that students in the question-clicker class scored significantly higher on course exams than students in the other classes. Great news, considering we’ve already asked students to spend a tremendous amount of money on these systems (and UNF has too)

However, like most educational tools, the tool’s effectiveness depends on informed implementation. In the same way that simply handing students a book (or a computer for that matter) won’t directly lead to learning, simply handing students clickers won’t necessarily result in increased learning. Mayer et al. (2009) based their technique on a large educational literature. They built on active and generative learning methods that show that students learn better if they: answer conceptual questions while learning, practice taking tests, and engage in self-explanation while learning. Thus, they had all students in the clicker-question classroom respond to questions. Then, one student explained their answer to the class. Finally, the professor explained how to answer the question, and why.

What does this mean for you and your students? It means a fledgling research literature has begun to demonstrate that clickers can lead to increased learning. It means that you might boost your students’ achievement using clickers if you adopt clickers carefully. You should build on you and your course’s strengths and incorporate clickers in a way that fosters generative and active learning. You should develop your clicker use with the educational literature in mind and utilize evidence-based teaching practices. Finally, you should collect data. See how (or if) your class’ averages change across time as you implement the clicker system. Base your teaching practices on evidence. After all, you wouldn’t buy a $65,000 car without data, or would you?

Mayer, R. E., Stull, A., DeLeeuw, K., Almeroth, K., Bimber, B., Chun, D., Bulger, M., Campbell, J., Knight, A., & Zhang, H., (2009). Clickers in college classrooms: Fostering learning with questioning methods in large lecture classes. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34, 51-57.

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