Historically, one of the hardest aspects of education is engaging students in a way that has them actively participate in the learning process. Educators have been trying to find effective ways to involve their students for years, and with the advent and prevalence of technology in our modern world there is no longer a need to resort to the basics, which are often ineffective at their core. A favorite model of active learning for most teachers in the past has been classroom discussion, but these can be insufficient at gaining full involvement from every student in the class. With the new technologies available today there are several different options for getting maximum efficacy out of the active learning approach.
One of the most effective forms of emerging active learning technologies are classroom clicker devices. These devices enable a variety of different interactive classroom activities, and depending on the specific technology there may be even more options to choose from to compliment the learning experience. Certain clickers allow for multiple choice voting, while others may offer the ability to issue full text responses and even feedback questions. These each have their advantages depending on the situation.
Teachers enjoy the added benefits of classroom clickers as well. While a standard classroom discussion is a better learning technique than direct lecturing, including the clickers opens up a new level of control and evaluation to the professor. In normal discussions it is impossible for the teacher to gauge effectively whether all students are fully engaging in the material. Students aren’t as likely to volunteer answers in a public discussion setting if they fear embarrassment from potential incorrectness, but the incorporation of the clicker systems allows for anonymity between the students, while still allowing the teacher to see which students are answering correctly and which aren’t.
The benefits of such a change in participation are immediate. Nearly full participation is guaranteed with a clicker system, simply because the students feel little to no repercussions for their wrong answers. This will prevent more vocal students from controlling the discussion, and allow for all students to think about and answer questions together. Modern students are more accustomed to technology in everyday life, and many have grown up using technology to learn and develop from an early age, as well as for entertainment and gaming. The incorporation of technology into a classroom discussion helps play on that aspect of student psychology.
The addition of the clickers to a classroom discussion also drastically increase the effectiveness of the discussion itself. For example, with a clicker system it is incredible easy to take a multiple choice poll on the fly in the middle of a presentation or discussion. Students can be given as little or as much time as needed; usually more time is granted for a larger group so internal discussions can be made before the poll closes. This is something that, without a clicker system, you could not do. It would be impractical to ask students to raise their hands for answers A, B, C, and D, only to have to count each response each time.
For those who desire something more from their classroom clicker system, there are those that allow for complex input, such as full text responses. This opens the way for free response questions, fill in the blank, and any number of other methods for gauging the students. Some systems even allow for the students to submit questions via the input device. Teachers are able to easily see what specific topics their students are struggling with and tweak their future discussion to cover those topics in a better light if they employ feedback questions into their classroom clicker routine.
Succeeding With Clickers
Classroom clickers are a tremendous tool for gaining participation from even the most stubborn classes, but there are specific utilization tactics and techniques that will maximize the efficiency of the clickers. Here are a few important tips to remember:
Don’t make your questions too complex.
Limit multiple choices to five answers.
Keep the voting straightforward. Some systems allow for complex and unnecessary question branching.
Give the students plenty of time to answer. A good rule of thumb is 15 seconds for every 25 students.
Don’t rush between questions. Use the time to spark discussion.
Don’t overuse questions or polls. They should add to the discussion, not be the focus.
Include indicators for questions and their correct answers.
Add a response grid and countdown timer to your questions for more interaction.
Always test the system beforehand, and be sure to properly demonstrate how the system works to your class.
There are even more technologies that can be taken advantage of for those who are accustomed to guest lecturing in front of large crowds. Most clicker systems can be rented for a short term basis, and data analysis services are often available to deal with huge amounts of raw data. Software is also available to interpret and sort data from the clicker systems.
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