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Tips for successful iClicker use

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

December 5, 2019

Students in classroom.Last week’s SIP discussed reasons why faculty might want to use Student Response Systems. This week’s SIP extends the discussion and provides tips for iClicker use.

With more than 7 million student users, iClicker is the most popular SRS in the U.S. today. Along with 1,100 other institutions, several Metropolitan State University of Denver departments and programs — including Physics, Computer Information Systems, Chemistry and the Faculty Senate — have adopted iClicker, and it is the only officially supported SRS at MSU Denver.

Given the popularity of iClickers, this SIP will use the term “clicker” to discuss best practices for all SRS.

Take a SIP of this: tips for successful clicker use

1. Use the University-supported SRS or a no-/low-cost alternative.

Expecting students to purchase more than one clicker (usually around $50) often breeds resentment and unnecessarily burdens low-income students. One particularly ingenious no-cost-to-students/low-cost-to-faculty alternative is Plickers. Plickers use QR-code-like cards (which can be printed from a free download) and a free smartphone app to deliver iClicker-level functionality for a nominal cost.

2. Practice using clickers before integrating them into classes.

Deliberately make some mistakes and see what happens. Check early in the semester that all responses are getting credited.

3. Collaborate with colleagues and students.

Consider observing a class taught by an experienced clicker user and/or consulting with an MSU Denver Learning Spaces Specialist. Share good clicker questions with other faculty members within and across your discipline and department. Collaborate with students by asking them to identify topics about which they would like to learn more or need additional instruction. See sample questions.

Chart of clicker questions for students.4. Have clear, specific goals for clicker use.

Do not attempt all the possible uses described above at one time. If you are a first-time clicker user, start with just one or two questions per class. Increase your use as you become more comfortable.

5. Explain to your students why you are using clickers.

For example, you might explain that clickers are a way of allowing everyone to participate in discussions, regardless of comfort level.

6. Make clicker use a regular, and important, part of your course.

If you treat clicker use as unimportant, your students will too.

7. Use a combination of simple and complex questions (see sample questions).

Many instructors make questions too simple. Focus on concepts you feel are important and that involve challenging ideas with multiple plausible answers that reveal student confusion and generate spirited discussion.

8. If your goal is more student participation, award partial credit for any response.

For example, award one point for incorrect responses and two points for the correct answer. With some questions, it is appropriate to give full credit to all students, such as when multiple answers are valid or when you are gathering student opinions.

9. If your goal is to increase learning, have students discuss and debate challenging conceptual questions.

Have students answer individually first, then discuss with those sitting next to them and then answer again (see SIP 4.9 for additional suggestions for helping students work in groups). Stress that conversations with peers can help us understand others’ perspective and reveal gaps in our understanding (unknown unknowns). The best questions for peer discussion are ones that around 70% of students can answer correctly before discussion with peers. This maximizes good discussion and learning. There is value in discussion even if a question is difficult and few know the answer initially.

10. After students respond, be sure to discuss wrong answers and why they are wrong, not just why a right answer is correct.

11. Have a plan and explain to students what will happen when a student’s clicker doesn’t work (e.g., dead battery) or forgets to bring it to class.

One simple response is to drop a small proportion of the lowest clicker scores for each student.

12. Talk directly about cheating.

Emphasize that “clicking in” for someone else is like taking an exam for someone else and is an act of academic dishonesty.

Still thirsty?  Take another SIP of this: tips for successful clicker use

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom.

Graphic created by Douglas Duncan, Ph.D., professor, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Topics: Best practices, Student Success

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