The basic idea of the student response system is that each student gets some electronical (or not – see below) device that lets them answer multiple-choice questions. (Science Geek Girl has a good summary of clickers also) A computer then displays the distribution of responses for the class. Simple, no? They are becoming super popular, and I really like them. I used to just use them for large enrollment lecture classes (like 100 students). However, this semester I started to use them in my intro physics course for science majors with just about 30 students. I didn’t realize the impact they had until one day they didn’t work. Here is my basic method for using them.
- Ask an interesting multiple-choice question. These can be difficult to come up with, so I just steal them. Currently, I am using the text Matter and Interactions by Chabay and Sherwood. The instructors material for this text has some really good questions.
- Let students vote. You don’t have to wait for everyone to vote, just most people. I encourage them to discuss with their neighbors if they need to.
- Display the responses and then ask for volunteers (or call on someone if you know everyone’s name) to share their response and the reasoning behind their response.
- If people are not inclined to share their ideas, you can ask for someone to describe their neighbor’s idea (then it is ok if they are wrong) – I don’t typically have a problem with students sharing. Sometimes a particular student will share too often, but that is easy to fix.
- If most people agree on the correct answer, I can just move on. If not, I can either go over the answer or give them a hint and have them revote.
So, what happens if you don’t have ‘clickers’? Can’t you do this stuff anyway? The answer is that of course you can. However, I found a few differences (even using the same multiple-choice questions).
- Response time. Without the clickers, someone was likely to respond within 10 seconds or less (10 seconds is a long time for a class to wait – time it yourself and see). With the clickers, clearly everyone has to wait. This is a good thing (waiting). It gives students time to really contemplate the answer which in turn gets more students involved.
- Discussion. I think when there is a clicker, it is clear that everyone gets to answer. Even though these are anonymous responses, students are more careful about their choices. They are more likely to discuss their ideas with their neighbors (this is good).
- Interest in the correct and incorrect answers. Without clickers, maybe a couple students answer the question and everyone else is waiting to ‘write it down’. With the clickers, the students have already invested some time into a particular answer. If it is not the correct answer they seem more interested in discussing the concepts involved.
So, I like clickers. In a pinch, if you do not have clickers, you could make response cards or have students vote by holding up their fingers. Neither of these seem to work as well as the clickers (don’t know why) but they are better than nothing.