A Look at Clickers in the Classroom

Classroom clickers are not a new idea; however, they are not utilized at my community college as much as some other colleges. Personally, I appreciate the immediate feedback clickers provide, especially with checking how well students understand a particular concept. Since my class is predominantly a skills-based class, there is a lot of practice of skills during class time. It is critical students understand the basic skills being taught and with the fast-paced college schedule, it is not always beneficial to wait until a formal test to see if students understand it.  Clickers provide monitor understanding along the way and reteach or adjust my teaching based on the instant results provided on my computer screen by the clicker program. These are just my reasons for using clickers, but they are a multitude of reasons to use them, as enumerated by Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

In my quest to use clickers in my college classroom, I have experimented with a few different kinds to use. I wish I could say I have found a sure winner, but so far, I have not. Below I outline below the three types of clickers I have used thus far in my college classroom and the pros and cons I have discovered for each (at least as it applies to my classroom).

1)      Turning Point Clickers —There are many versions of clickers created by Turning Point; however, I am confined to the basic Response Card IR as that is what my school has purchased. First, the pros of these clickers are that when using them, I have a class set thus ensuring all my students have a clicker. Also, students find it easy to use them. In addition, with the new software it is easier to use them “on the fly.” Granted your answers are limited to a letter or number of which you will not have a preprogrammed answer guide key, but if you are using a textbook with a lot of multiple choice questions, which I do since I teach a skills-based reading course, then that is fine.  A final pro is that you can program students names into a file so you can keep clear records of participation and responses.

The main con this clicker has is that it does not have the capability to text, thus response are limited to multiple choice or true/false responses. (Of course, if you bought an upgraded version of the clicker you would have the capability to text, but to purchase a class set of those is almost a couple thousand dollars.) The other main disadvantage is that the software has to be installed to use it, so if you switch classrooms frequently and have limited ability to download software onto school computers, then this could be a problem.

2)      Socrative app or website—This clicker really is an app students can download or a website they can access. The pros of this app or website is that students only need to type in one number, which is your room number, and that always stays the same. Another positive feature of this type of student response system is that it allows students to type text, which allows for more thought provoking questions. Of course, it also allows for traditional multiple choice and true/false questions. Moreover, it allows you to create questions on the fly or use preprogrammed ones, as well as allow students to complete a self-paced quiz.

The biggest con to this type of “clicker” is that not all my students have smartphones, so students without a smartphone are forced to just watch or “pair up” with another student who has one, but that someone defeats the purpose of clickers, which is engagement and input of all students at once. Another con is that for the results to show up well on the projected screen, the teacher should be logged into the computer, which makes it reliant upon a strong Internet connection. At my college, I always find our Internet connection is slow the first week of class, thus making use of this “clicker” almost impossible at that time. The final problem is that keeping real records of student participation is not as easy as it is with traditional clickers.

3)      Poll Everywhere—This clicker really is a texting feature. This means students who can text can use their phone to text in their response, whether it is a multiple choice (or t/f) question or open ended question.  As Mark Sample mentions, one pro to this clicker is that students just need a phone–which most students have–instead of a smartphone. Another pro is similar to Socrative, in that students can text in longer answers thus allowing instructors more freedom in the type of questions they ask. Again, as with both other clickers mentioned, questions can be created on the fly. Watching the video I embedded I learned some things about this program that I did not know before, so I will need to try those features (like the ability to vote through Twitter) before I can comment on them.

The cons of this “clicker” are that it is not as user-friendly. You have to type in two numbers to answer any question, and furthermore, how the two numbers appear on the question screen (on the computer) is often confusing for students as to which number is which. Also, if students do not have unlimited texting, their participation could be costly for them. Lastly, these questions cannot easily be programmed ahead for a self-paced quiz.

As you can see, each clicker has it strengths as well as its weaknesses. For my particular courses, I am finding that it is often beneficial to use the Turning Point clickers for checking students answers to vocabulary and practice out of their books. For discussion questions, surveying background knowledge, and reviewing material, Socrative and Poll Everywhere are better for they allow students to type in longer responses. Personally, I prefer Socrative over Poll Everywhere; however, I survey my class, and if the majority (like 80-85% or more) of the students do not have smartphones, then I use Poll Everywhere instead.

Feel free to share any experiences, thoughts, or suggestions you have about clickers. I always looking to expand my knowledge and improve the learning for my students.

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Posted on February 9, 2014, in Technology programs or sites and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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