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Clickers: Pedagogy and Practice (Bruff, 2009)

Clickers: Pedagogy and Practice (Bruff, 2009)

Student Response Systems, or "clickers", can be used in a variety of ways to motivate students to engage meaningfully with course material during your classes.  The choices that you, the instructor, make - along with the nature of the questions you ask using the system - largely determines these motivational effects.
Clickers can also provide useful information about student learning, perspectives and experiences that you can use to make more informed teaching decisions during class.  By basing in-class teaching choices on the formative assessment provided by clickers, you can make more efficient use of class time and be more responsive to student learning needs.

Advantages of Anonymity
Students can be hesitant to speak up in front of their peers. They may not want to appear wrong or foolish in front of their peers, especially in a class where there are right/ wrong answers. Sometimes they don't want to stand out or be the one with the strange opinion.  The anonymity that clickers provide is one way of dealing with the peer pressure that dampens classroom conversations. 

Supporting Small Group Learning ("Think-Pair-Share")

Clickers can also support cooperative learning and other small group activities.  The think-pair-share method, for example, allows the student to "think, then talk with one other, then talk in the larger group". Each stage entails more risk.  Typically in a "think-pair-share" process, each student ponders the question, writes down a response.  In pairs, students then share what they think, before hearing what others in the whole class are thinking - a process which in turn sharpens their own thinking.  Even if most students agree on a correct answer, how deeply do they understand the reasoning behind it?

The private "think moment" might be carried out via a clicker response. Sometimes, to make sure their learning goes more deeply, faculty withhold the results and ask students to turn to their neighbor and talk out the reasons for their answer, which can become more engaging for the individual student if their neighbor gave a different answer. 

To Show or Not to Show the Results?
Whether or not to show the graph (and when) has become an important "thinking-on-your-feet" decision for instructors.  For example, some instructors may ask a question that experience has shown them most students will answer incorrectly.  The instructor then reveals the correct answer, often through a demonstration. The students are surprised most of them got the answer wrong and it makes them want to hear why the right answer is right, and the answer they gave is wrong.

For general advice, media reports, books on clickers and discipline-specific articles, see: Bruff's Classroom Response Systems Bibliography (Vanderbilt University) .

Derek Bruff (2009). Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creative Active Learning Environments. Jossey-Bass.
TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(sm) eMAIL NEWSLETTER, May 26, 2009.  TP Msg. #950 Clickers.  Information and archives at: http://ctl.stanford.edu/Tomprof/index.shtml

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