Lunch & Learn: Clickers in the Classroom with Janet Temos

clickers.jpgAt OIT’s Lunch ‘n Learn seminar on February 7, Janet Temos, the Director of OIT’s Educational Technologies Center and Joshua Rabinowitz, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, demonstrated the use of clickers (also known as Personal Response Systems, and Student Response Systems) in University classrooms.
Before the talk, they distributed simple 5-button clickers (similar to TV remote controls) to each member of the audience. Attendees got to experience first hand how to use the devices. The fact is… it’s not hard. To answer a question, audience members simply had to press one of the five buttons, “A” through “E.” After responding to a simple question, Temos and Rabinowitz showed us that our answers had been tallied and displayed the results. They also demonstrated that the answers can be displayed as they are cast.


janettemos.jpgThe display of class responses can prompt further discussion, and faculty have the option of saving results for later analysis or as part of student assessment.
These systems provide new ways to gauge students’ understanding of topics in class and they can help to focus students’ attention during lectures. The systems contain a small radio receiver connected to the instructor’s presentation computer, and the software for collecting the responses.
Temos and Rabinowitz played a short video about the use of clickers at Harvard. Physics professor Eric Mazur uses clickers to teach by questioning rather than by telling. The Clickers provide feedback from students during a lecture. Mazur finds that he can use the clicker system to estimate the degree to which students have grasped key concepts. If many students seem confused, he can review the material.
joshuarabinowitz.jpgTypically, he’ll post a question and then ask students to think about their answer. He first tried a show of hands but found that students were influenced by those with quick, confident responses. And unlike the usual policy of calling on a volunteer, the exercises involve the entire class, not just the students who quickly know the answers.
With the clicker system, he can instantly see the distribution of responses. If after a minute, students remain unsure, he recommends that they make the best judgment or guess that they can. Some students, often the best students, vote quickly and correctly. The stragglers tend to guess, worsening the distribution. If most of the students understand the material, he tends not to dwell longer on the topic. If only half get it right, he encourages in-class discussion of the question. Such cases can be extremely exciting for the students and often impel spirited debate. He reports that the force of reason tends to dominate, but there are times when the results suggest that more time on the topic is required.
students.jpgNow aware of the pedagogical possibilities, Rabinowitz reports that he has integrated the use of clickers in his lectures. He notes that students seem to grasp the material more intuitively when they have to convince others of their position. Some of Rabinowitz’ students were available at the end of the presentation to answer questions from the trenches. Their response to clickers was overwhelmingly positive and they felt that the clickers helped to keep students engaged.
A podcast is available. More information on University use of clickers may be found here.

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