The Productive Scholar: Janet Temos on Clickers in the Classroom

Thursday, December 13, 12:00 noon
East Pyne Room 012
Classroom feedback/response

Janet Temos

Asking your students questions and getting instant responses is a great way of assessing whether learning and understanding is taking place. Come learn how you can use clickers in the class­room to do quick assessments.

About the speaker:

Janet Temos is the Direc­tor of the Educational Technologies Center at Princeton. She is a member of the Princeton class of 1982, and received her PhD at Princeton in 2001. The ETC helps faculty use technology in teaching and research, and includes Blackboard, the New Media Center, the Humanities Resource Center. We also offer consulting, training and outreach in educational technologies.


In her session on Classroom Clickers, Temos started with a common question that many faculty have: “What are Clickers?”

iClicker Clicker+

iClicker’s Clicker+

For this talk, Temos focused mostly on “mechanical” or hardware based clickers, though software based response systems exist. Mechanical clickers are plastic, wireless devices with buttons for an audience to show a response. The photo (left) is an example clicker similar to the ones offered at Princeton. These interface wirelessly with a paired receiver connected to a computer. The facilitator sets this system up to track responses. You might be most familiar with the system from game shows, such as the “Lifeline” feature from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where the audience responds with their beliefs about the best answer. Most often at Princeton, we use clickers as an immediate student response system, a way for students to give trackable, chartable responses to a given question so that a faculty member can gain understanding about student comprehension or beliefs. Temos explained that they are also sometimes used as an animal training system, a method for tracking attendance, and are sometimes also called a personal response system.

According to Temos, clickers are best suited for large classes, questions that have answers based on opinion or newly delivered information, and class sessions that allow for some time to consider the question fully.

Here is an example of in-class use by Eric Mazur at Harvard in which he asks students to respond to a question about physics, and after seeing their response results as a class, he asks them to discuss and explain their answer choice with the students next to them, then answer the question again, allowing Mazur to assess changes in understanding and focus his teaching for improved clarity and understanding.

(Harvard Magazine on YouTube)

We learned that some of the benefits of clickers include the ability to offer a pause to a challenging lecture, an opportunity for audience feedback, and an opportunity for energy release, or a way to break tension. You can use instant feedback to add levity to an otherwise serious or heavy discussion. Perhaps most importantly, clickers offer a great opportunity to check student understanding of difficult topics before moving on to other topics that need that understanding.

Temos explained that clickers are not necessarily the best way to do a survey, quiz or poll. The synchronous nature of the immediate feedback may affect a survey by having the responses influence a typically personal experience. For example, in a clicker based poll about scheduling, a student may want to have their alternate class meeting on Tuesdays, but since the clicker responses show everyone else choosing Thursdays, they may ignore their own needs. In a typical asynchronous survey using paper or an electronic form, the student would be more likely to answer as they truly feel. Immediate feedback is the most important consideration in deciding to use clickers, so in situations where the question benefits from knowing the answer right away, clickers are a great solution.

Here are some things to consider about how to get them at Princeton:

  1. OIT lends them for one-time anonymous polling in a course.
  2. There is no charge for borrowing, but loans are given on a first-come first-served basis.
  3. Courses have priority over administrative or other use.

For long-term use, like if you’d like to use clickers for the entire semester, you might ask your academic department to purchase clickers for departmental use. You can also assign clickers as course materials, and simply ask your students to buy them at the bookstore as required materials. Note that integration with Blackboard is now better than it has been in the past, and allows for easy association between students and clickers. Also, if you are not looking for clickers for a course and you need 400 clickers for a large single event, you can even rent them.

Other methods you might consider instead of clickers for asynchronous feedback:

  • Use Blackboard quizzes surveys and tests
  • Course blogs with live polls. (Using Pinion or PollDaddy)
  • Google Forms
  • Qualtrics, Princeton’s Survey and poll tool
  • Live back-channeling with social media tools, like Twitter.

Why did Princeton choose iClicker as a student response system?

iClicker offers a blended solution, and allows you to mix physical clickers with an online response system. Also, most online responses systems mandate student fees, which we try to avoid. Borrowed clickers are free for students and faculty at Princeton. We have about 200 on offer for loans.

For more information about iClicker, instant feedback solutions at Princeton, or other instructional technology issues, please contact Educational Technologies Center at Princeton. 

A screencast of Janet’s talk is coming soon.

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