Below are examples of strategies that you can use to generate interaction in your class using clickers. These strategies build upon two key principles:
- Give students time to think about their answer to the question in order to generate their own opinion.
- Allow students to discuss their answer with others, having a chance to explain the reasoning behind their answer and confronting it to the reasoning of others.
This strategy is the clicker-based version of the Think-Pair-Share activity (Lyman, 1981). The peer discussion part of this strategy gives students the opportunity to check their answer before sharing with the whole class, therefore decreasing barriers to participation. This strategy is therefore very useful for difficult questions where several answers are possible, or when your participation rate drops.
How to proceed?
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You may also include a voting step between phases Think and Pair so that students commit to their individual answer before discussing with others. In that case, we suggest you not to show the resulting graph to students so that it doesn’t influence too much their opinion. With this additional step, this strategy is then very similar to the Peer Instruction strategy described below.
Developed by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, Peer Instruction (Mazur, 1997) is a research-based, interactive teaching method which uses peer discussion as a way for students to deepen their understanding of a concept by learning from each other.
The figure below illustrate the principles of this method. In class, you start by giving a short lecture on a core idea or concept (you may also have asked to students to study more detailed material at home). Then you ask a clicker question designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. If the results of the poll show that students are divided on the choice of the correct answer, you ask students to discuss the question by pairs or in groups. During this process, students verbalize their reasoning, debate and assess their understanding of the concepts, which is the goal of the method.
How to proceed?
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After the peer discussion phase, the results of the second poll should show an increase in the proportion of correct answers.
However, it may happen sometimes that answers stay spread or even that the proportion of wrong answers increases. This is usually the symptom of a misunderstanding – either the concept has not been understood or the question or its distractors are not clear enough.
In such a case, it is recommended to start a whole group discussion to identify the reasons of the misunderstanding. You can ask students to advocate for the choices they made, e.g. “Can someone who answered B tell us why they made that choice?” or “Would someone like to explain why they picked the answer they did?”. It is very important to welcome their answer without commenting on it right away until several opinions have been heard. At that point, you can moderate a debate among students or clarify as needed so that the correct answer is clearly identified.
You can find more information and material on Peer Instruction on the following pages:
- Turn To Your Neighbor, the official Peer Instruction blog
- Clickers and Peer Instruction on Engaging Technologies
- Videos illustrating Peer Instruction @ University of California, San Diego
You can find other ideas and strategies for using clickers on the following pages:
- Techniques and question types @ Georgetown University
- Teaching with Clickers: Types of Activities @ University of Michigan
- Types of questions and Types of activities @ Vanderbilt University
- Asking meaningful questions on the TurningTechnologies website