Dec 8 2015

Peter Wallis, a PhD student in learning sciences and human development at the University of Washington College of Education, is co-editor of the recently published book Clickers in the Classroom: Using Classroom Response Systems to Increase Student Learning.

The book focuses on providing authentic, effective examples of the use of clickers across academic disciplines to help students recognize their misconceptions and grasp fundamental practices. Wallis co-edited the book with David Goldstein, director of the Teaching and Learning Center at UW Bothell, and recently answered questions about opportunities to use classroom response systems to enhance learning.

How much value can the effective use of clickers add to one's teaching?

Clickers are very often used in active learning techniques, particularly in large, undergraduate science courses. A recent meta-analysis makes it clear that these active learning techniques significantly improve student performance in these classes. Aside from these classes, this book tells stories of instructors whose small discussion courses were substantially enhanced by the use of clickers, to the point that students (who usually bear the cost of clicker adoption) supported and encouraged their use.

What are some of the keys to using clickers effectively?

Some of these keys include integrating clickers into the whole learning experience, asking plenty of questions using them, and asking meaningful questions. Clickers are most often used either to check students’ understanding, or to spark discussion. Classes that use clickers effectively often include 3-4 opportunities for feedback per class session. Advanced clicker users will increase the meaningfulness of questions by asking students to transfer what they’ve learned to a new context, using clickers to gather responses. Others, in discussion-based courses, ask for students to report moment-to-moment responses to a piece of media, or ask sensitive questions about sexuality and violent experiences, using clickers to anonymize the responses.

What should teachers avoid when it comes to using clickers?

Probably the biggest pitfall is just using clickers to gather attendance, rather than as an integrated part of learning and teaching.

Can clickers be used to help teachers improve learning for student populations that have historically been marginalized?

Absolutely. Active learning has been shown to close achievement gaps in science, and as mentioned above, clickers are often used in active learning exercises, especially those with high structure and lots of scaffolding. In addition, teachers in the book tell their stories of active learning in smaller, discussion-based courses, where they use clickers to help all students share their experience, since responses to sensitive or difficult questions can be anonymized. Though there are certainly dangers to this anonymization, it can be a valuable scaffold to students who are not used to having a voice in the classroom, and can be used to help other students realize the diversity represented in every learning experience.

How do you see clicker use evolving over the next several years (e.g. enabling mobile devices for classroom response)?

Unfortunately, in this case (as in so many educational technology environments) the current technology is the wave of the future. Most classrooms using clickers do not use cellphones. However, as cellphones are adopted, more opportunities will become possible — including responding by placing a location on an image or writing free-form short responses.

In the future, I also hope that clicker-like teaching techniques can be integrated into a broader variety of learning experiences — bringing better structured active learning to online courses (all too often a talking head on video) and potentially even meaningful interactions within 'augmented reality’ cellphone or wearable integrations with everyday life.


Peter Wallis, PhD student in learning sciences and human development


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications