Clickers in the Lecture Hall: An Interview with Physics Instructor Randy Nelson

Clickers in the Lecture Hall: An Interview with Physics Instructor Randy Nelson

What teaching goals did you have in mind when utilizing the clickers and interactive quizzes in your classes?

My intent was to make this much more interactive and participatory than a standard lecture. An important prerequisite to this was that the text material be read prior to class. So I used the clickers early each day to see what level of understanding had been achieved just by reading. I also used them to keep people awake and (hopefully) interested. I designed the clicker questions to force discussion and group interaction. I would estimate that attendance was significantly higher because of the clickers.

How do you utilize the feedback/answers provided by the students' use of the clickers?

I used the results of the first few questions to see how much introductory material could be glossed over if it appeared the students already had a good grasp of it. Later questions showed whether further discussion or elaboration of that particular topic was necessary. It was a waste of all our time to continue with a topic that greater than 80 percent of the students understood.

In what ways do you feel the implementation of the interactive quizzes was successful?

Attendance, interaction, and alertness were much improved because of the clickers. The immediate feedback was invaluable.

Describe some of the challenges you've experienced with using the clickers/quizzes.

The single biggest challenge was that some clickers did not seem to work during the lecture. Because this represented five percent of the final grade, I couldn't ignore this issue. The only work-around was to have students sign in manually. The amount of time spent with the clicker data was quite high -- dozens of hours over the quarter. Most students (probably over 75 percent) failed to follow the detailed and precise instructions to register their clickers, forcing me to input their data manually.

Any recommendations to other instructors who are considering the use of this type of interactive learning?

Do it! But have a plan for dealing with forgotten/malfunctioning clickers and have a registration system that automates the process.

Any additional comments?

I hope the students found using the clickers to be worthwhile and maybe even a bit fun.