Clickers in the Classroom

The Basics

A Personal Response System (PRS, or "clicker") is a way to introduce interactivity into your large lecture courses. For example, you can present students with questions throughout your lecture, and students record their answers by using their own remotes. The answers are captured by a receiver placed in the classroom and also recorded by the software included with the system, which runs on your computer. Each student's remote has an associated serial number so that both you and your students can keep track of their progress.

PRS receivers can be either infrared (IR) or radio-frequency (RF). RF receivers are a more recent addition and improve upon IR technology -- they can handle hundreds of students responding at once and from long distances; students can also receive confirmation that their answers were recorded.

You can present students with their results in various formats. This data gives you real-time feedback on students' understanding and allows you to clarify their misunderstandings on-the-fly if necessary.

A number of faculty in Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and HumBio have used a PRS in their courses, with some having years of experience. If you are a Stanford faculty member and want to find out more about using a PRS in your field or start using one in your course, please request a consultation with us.

We also suggest reading Douglas Duncan's Clickers in the Classroom -- it's a great primer on PRS-related issues from both instructors' and students' viewpoints.

Pedagogy

There are many ways to expand your teaching repertoire with clickers. Here we briefly describe some pedagogical uses and provide additional resources on how to implement these teaching strategies into your course.

You can use clickers to present questions to your students as either a formal or informal assessment:

  • Give a quiz at the beginning of class to determine their understanding of the previous lecture or of an assigned reading.
  • Give questions during lecture, especially after explaining an important concept, to find out if they are on track.

You can also use clickers to facilitate discussions through Peer Instruction. Students do the following:

  • Answer a question individually
  • Pair up and try to convince one another of their answers (convince your neighbor technique). This is particularly effective when one student has a better understanding of the concept and can explain it to the other, more unsure student.
  • Answer the same question again individually. This method was pioneered by Eric Mazur, and he has written a very useful starter guide entitled Peer instruction: A user's manual.

Faculty on Clickers in the Classroom

Research

Below are research articles on Peer Instruction with and without using clickers:

Ghosh & Renna (2006) - Technology in support of good pedagogy: Electronic response systems and peer instruction in an economics classroom
- Describes experiences with Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses at the University of Akron.

Rosenberg, Lorenzo, & Mazur (2006) - Peer instruction: Making science engaging
- Reviews the method and its impact on student learning in Introductory Physics.

Fagen, Crouch, & Mazur (2002) - Peer instruction: Results from a range of classrooms
- Presents survey data from instructors at various institutions, including high schools and community colleges, and their experiences.

Crouch & Mazur (2001) - Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results
- Discusses experiences with two Introductory Physics courses at Harvard.

Mazur (1997) - Peer instruction: Getting students to think in class
- Illustrates the method in Introductory Physics; includes sample questions. A good primer on the subject.

See Also

If you have additional resources to contribute, please contact us.