How are clickers being used on campus? And who is using them?

Filed in In the Classroom by on February 18, 2015

Are you curious as to who uses clickers on campus? How are they using clickers? What insights can they give to new users just getting started? Below you’ll find WPI professors who have been using clickers successfully and consistently. They’ve been asked 4 questions to help give an idea of how they are using clickers. All professors are also open to being contacted for further questions.  There is no “right” way to use clickers – these mini interviews will hopefully shine light on the many different ways WPI professors use clickers in the classroom and how you might be able to use them as well.

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
I believe this is my third year using clickers.

How are you using clickers with your classes?
I started small – one class and just polling within the class to get an idea of how familiar students were with the topic I was about to address.  I also wanted students to engage more – I got tired of listening to the crickets chirping when I’d ask an open-ended question during a lecture.  I saw clickers as a way to address both issues.  On the latter point, students earn participation credits for ‘clicking-in’ (answering) those open-ended questions I pose during lecture.  Their answers are anonymous and are not graded – my goal is to get them to commit to an answer and understand whether their thinking was correct or not.

I’ve been steadily increasing my use of clickers ever since.  I’m now using them in all of the courses I teach (3) and using them in more ways within the courses.  For example, I now use clickers to do Peer Instruction (cf., Eric Mazur @ Harvard) as part of the process of doing on-the-fly evaluations of where the students are at on a particular topic.  If the majority of the class seems to have the topic nailed down, I can move on.  If not, I ask them to turn to their neighbor and discuss things for a minute or so – then I re-poll.  The classroom usually buzzes while the students discuss the possible answers.  Most of the time there is convergence towards the correct answer and we then move on.

I also now use clickers for weekly quizzes using the self-paced polling function.  The quiz prep time is slightly increased as the questions need to be loaded into TurningPoint, but that is more than compensated for by having TurningPoint automatically grade the quiz.  I can have preliminary quiz scores back to the students (i.e., posted to the gradebook in myWPI) within minutes of the lecture ending.  I say ‘preliminary’ as I then generate a TurningPoint report for my TAs that allows them to focus on just the incorrect quiz answers to see if any partial credit may be awarded (the students turn in the paper copy of their quiz for this purpose).  The TAs then create a second column in the gradebook for the quiz with the ‘adjusted’ scores.  The students like this system as they get immediate feedback on their quiz performance but still have the possibility of getting some additional partial credit.  The TAs like it as it reduces the amount of time they need to spend in grading the weekly quizzes.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
The technology works well and the support from the ATC when there are issues or questions is great.  So there aren’t any real struggles on that front.  Mainly it’s a case of understanding how the TurningPoint software works and getting your workflow set up correctly.

There are several ways to use the TurningPoint software – so you need to understand how they each work and which will be best for your particular situation.  My choice was to embed the clicker questions into my PPT presentations but there are certainly other ways to use it.

Constructing good clicker questions takes some practice – particularly if you are trying to set things up for Peer Instruction.  Getting the number of clicker questions per lecture correct takes a while.  And I find that I need to review and ‘rehearse’ my lectures a bit so that I don’t end up answering the clicker questions before I get to them in the lecture!
 
What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
Start small.  Choose one course and figure out how you want to use the clickers.  Focus on perhaps one or two ways to use them at first and then build up from there.  Ask questions and get help – there are now lots of folks on campus who are using the technology.

Nancy Bunham

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
Since 2011

How are you using clickers with your classes?
Review questions at the beginning of class, as a “check-up” during class, pre-lab exercises, lab attendance, and multiple-choice tests.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
There wasn’t enough bandwidth for 200 users.  Problem has since been solved.

What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
Start slowly, with just a few in-class questions each time.

Luis Vidali

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
5 years

How are you using clickers with your classes?
Quizzes from the assigned reading and in-class discussion.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
Signal reception problems, integration with myWPI

What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
Use test-runs the first week of class

 Blake Currier

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
I have been using clickers for 2 years now.

How are you using clickers with your classes?
For thought provoking questions and lab prep.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
Setup.  Making sure the class list was properly loaded and remembering to open poling.

What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
Don’t hesitate to ask for help with the setup process.

Snehal

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
I have used clickers in A14 term

How are you using clickers with your classes?
In the class room, I would have maximum 5 clicker questions. I will bring up few of the clicker questions once in the beginning (conceptual questions) rest in the middle of the class (lab related conceptual questions).

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
I did come across one issue. I was working with the notebook program and turning point clicker program at the same time going back and forth. Sometimes the notebook program would crash because of the turning point program and that was a little annoying. Some of the answers were all over the place. For those questions, I would ask the class to interact with each other and do the re-poll. During that time, the 15-20% A graders were looking bored since they were losing a few minutes. I would feel bad for them.
 
What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
The program is very easy to use and just get going.

Jill Rulfs

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
Wow, way back to when we had the CPS system through eInstruction.  Long time….

How are you using clickers with your classes?
At the beginning of a term to assess the basic background level of the class, during courses to assess understanding of material from the previous day. During class to see if students can apply what we’ve been talking about to a specific problem. After data collection and display, to foster class discussion about the responses (often there is not a single “right” answer. In large non-majors lecture classes, to encourage students to attend by giving them “Attendance points” for answering mostly opinion based questions. In small senior level class to allow students to anonymously (clickers are not registered) respond to critical thinking questions and then during discussion defend their responses to other students in the class.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
The initial technology was not as easy as the current in class function. I still struggle with data management from time to time (attendance points vs. correct answers for example).  But the ever patient tech support team is more than up to the task of keeping me at a functional level.  I also struggled a great deal with allowing folks to use other devices than TP clickers…that did not go well.  Struggles still occasionally exist where students report that they have been to every class and clicked in every day and yet have no entries in the database.  This is system noise I tolerate for the greater benefit of using the technology.

What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
This past fall in a team taught course several professor who had not previously used clickers did so and all were surprised and pleased with the ease and capability of the system (I did data management for everyone). It keeps students focused and can provide great, immediate feedback on how things are going. Give it a try.

Natalie Farny

How long have you been using clickers in the classroom?
About two years

How are you using clickers with your classes?
In three of my classes, I use them to ask follow-up questions after the students work together in groups on various problems or case studies. For the large introductory class that I teach, I use them not only to keep students engaged during lecture but also for self-paced polling for a weekly quiz.

What did you struggle with when you first started using clickers?
Learning how to track responses and integrate with Blackboard. Also they keep changing it every time either Turning Point or Blackboard is updated!

What would you suggest to a professor who is using clickers for the first time?
It took some time to get the hang of coming up with “good” questions – questions that are challenging, relevant and thought-provoking. Its easy when you are first getting into using clickers to default to simple fact-based questions that aren’t that instructive for the students. You want to avoid getting the reputation among the students that the questions are just for taking attendance. If there aren’t some challenging questions that require them to talk to their neighbors and engage with the material, the students will check out.

 

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