Think clickers are just for your TV?

Think again!

Personal Response Systems, often referred to as Classroom Performance Systems (CPS) or just ‘clickers,’ are becoming a common educational tool used in a myriad of classes. Students are given a small wireless polling device that bears a strong resemblance to a TV remote control.  This polling device is used to submit responses to instructor deployed questions ala voting on shows like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”  Now you may be wondering if this is all just technology hype.  Are clickers just a flashy gimmick in the classroom?  Nagy-Shadman and Desrochers sought the answer to this very question in their paper, “Student Response Technology: Empirically Grounded or Just a Gimmick?”!

If employed correctly, clickers can be a very valuable and powerful tool to engage your students and increase their understanding of materials.  Clickers systems were developed in the early 1970s at Cornell University with the  intent of increasing faculty student communication in the classroom in an effort to gauge student comprehension in large lectures.  Since then clickers have evolved and are now used in courses of all sizes to engages students in active learning. In the active learning model, students are encouraged to be cognitively or physically (in the case of a laboratory or manipulative task) active and engaged with the learning materials.  Active learning increases student retention and understanding of materials through this engagement and the use of clickers helps us as educators to engage our students with the materials.  Sounds like a win-win situation; students are engaged and they are learning but there is one caveat:  teachers need a good way to let students know how to use the clickers correctly or else their responses will not be tabulated correctly.

While most clicker questions appear to be simple multiple choice, we are all too familiar with the challenges of writing a well designed multiple choice quiz or test and effective use of clickers relies on good questions.  Good questions, even good multiple choice questions, can engage students in the higher order thinking skills necessary to their full understanding of the materials.  Clicker questions also offer an opportunity for just in time teaching or correctiveness in the classroom.  This is one of the keys to the success of clickers.  Some studies have shown as much as a one standard deviation improvement in student achievement when students were offered immediate feedback!  In addition students self report that clickers in the classroom aid them in:

  • increasing learning
  • decreasing “daydreaming”
  • increasing class participation
  • increasing communication with the instructor as well as engagement with the class

Students also report that they enjoy the opportunity to use clickers in the classroom.  In fact the only drawback that was noted in the Nagy-Shadman and Desrochers paper was the technical issues that come along with using any teaching technology.  Students cited technical difficulties (both their own and their faculty’s) as the biggest hinderence in using this technology.  One very interesting note was that “students in this study reported that they were less likely to come to class without completing readings or assignments.”  This is a very positive side effect!

There are many ways to use clickers in the classroom!  Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Pre-testing – finding misconceptions or preconceived notions on ideas and terminology
  • Think-Pair-Share:  ask students to discuss an answer with a neighbor or group before committing to a final choice
  • Move from ideas to action: “What would you do if ___?”
  • Opinion check: Gather data on ethical, cultural, case management issues
  • Activate interest in a topic:  “What factors do you know about ___?”
  • Self-assessment: “What do you think you know?” or factual reviews before exams
  • Speedometer:  “How is the pacing of this information?”

Find out more:

Clickers allow instructors to ask questions and gather students’ responses during a class. Result summaries can be displayed on the projection screen and/or stored in the accompanying software for later review.  Read more about Clickers in 7 things you should know about clickers, part of the “7 Things” series published by Educause.

WPI uses the Classroom Performance System clicker by eInstruction.  WPI faculty members have two options for using clickers:

The ATC Model: The ATC has a limited number of clicker sets (32/set) available for loan.  Make reservations early!  Typically, with this model, students sign a release form and are responsible for returning the clicker to you at the end of the term.  The ATC will charge a replacement fee for each clicker not returned.  Contact with questions.

The Bookstore Model: Alternatively, you can opt to have students purchase their own clickers from the WPI Bookstore.  The ATC is happy to help you facilitate this process.  Visit this site for more information on the Bookstore model:

To make a reservation, discuss your options, or schedule a quick “demo”, please contact the Teaching and Learning with Technology team in the ATC,

Nagy-Shadman, Elizabeth & Desrochers, Cynthia (2008). Student Response Technology: Empirically grounded or just a gimmick?. International Journal of Science Education, 30 (15), 2023-2066. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from