Academic Technology Services holds session on clickers, learning
Roger Freedman of the University of California Santa Barbara delivered the keynote address on the use of clickers in the classroom.


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9:25 a.m., Dec. 21, 2010----University of Delaware IT Academic Technology Services (IT-ATS) held a session on Dec. 10 for UD faculty to learn how electronic clickers help engage students and improve learning. Fifty-eight individuals participated, either in person or via a chat session during an online webcast.

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Participants included professors and educational technology experts from UD, Villanova University, Wilmington University and Penn State.

Electronic clickers are a "personal response system that provides audience feedback," Sandy McVey, IT-ATS explained at the opening of the event.

Clicker use at UD has grown steadily. "During the fall 2009 session, approximately 1,900 clickers were being used by students; in fall 2010, over 5,000 were used when UD moved to a new system," she said.

Keynote presentation

Roger Freedman of the Department of Physics at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) was the keynote speaker. His presentation, “i>clicker in the Classroom: Results, Student Perception and Best Practices,” featured research about how clickers increase student learning gains, improve student preparedness and work in classes of any size or subject. He also outlined best practices that he has developed from his experiences.

Freedman is a lecturer in physics at the UCSB, where his emphasis has been on improving the teaching of introductory physics and astronomy. Clickers are one of the tools he uses to improve student learning.

"Our universities are similar in size and have both standardized on i>clickers; One-third of the UCSB students use them at any one time," Freedman said.

For faculty members who ask why they should bother to use clickers, Freedman reported that "the University of Colorado data, from pre-test and post-test measurement, showed that the worst class using i>clickers was better than the best class not using clickers."

Other positive features of clicker use include improved student preparedness, instant feedback for both instructor and students and increased discussion among students.

Best practices recommendations

Freedman provided an overview of best practices he has developed for his classes, including the following:

  • Use a peer instruction technique called "think-pair-share" as a learning tool. "First you pose a question that's not easy and have students vote individually. Then, students pair up to discuss and defend their answers. Finally, you pose the question again, and see how the results change," Freedman said. The interaction among the students creates meaningful engagement with the students and the material.
  • Decide on a high stakes versus low stakes point strategy. High stakes refers to giving more points if students answer correctly. Low stakes refers to giving class participation points only. "Both options resulted in equal learning, although the low stakes provided more thought provoking discussion by the students," Freedman said. Classroom recording of "pair" conversations in high stakes were focused on getting the right answer rather than developing deeper learning about the subject.
  • Use a combination of simple and complex questions. The best questions focus on concepts that are particularly important and involve challenging ideas with multiple plausible answers that reveal student confusion and generate spirited discussion.
  • Use clickers on a regular basis. If you treat the clicker as unimportant, then your students will do the same.
  • Make participation worth 3-5 percent of the course points.
  • Build your lesson by alternating episodes of traditional lecturing with integrated clicker questions. Don't treat the questions as an add-on.

Following the keynote presentation, several UD faculty members -- Robert Keller, physics and astronomy; Carolyn Manning and Jennifer Baker, behavioral health and nutrition; Allan Carlsen with input from Kainoa Harbottle, theatre; and Daniel Stevens, music -- shared their thoughts about the educational value of clickers.

The event concluded with a round-table discussion that addressed teaching strategies, Web access clickers, integration with Sakai@UD and an orientation for new adopters.

For more information about the event, see the IT-ATS website.