Why I use clickers in small coursesPosted: August 20, 2011
I understand clickers for large lectures, but I’ve never gotten the point of them in a class of 10. Could you explain why you feel them useful in a class small enough that you can see all the students’ faces and ask them questions personally?
He provided me with a great opportunity to step back and consider my own personal reasons. Here they are. Please keep in mind that I am not trying to convince anybody that these are THE reasons to use clickers in a small classroom or to not use them, but are simply my reasons.
With clickers I feel that I can engage every student
I’m going to quote Stephanie Chasteen (sciencegeekgirl) from one of her posts in her series on clickers in upper-division physics. This is her response to a common argument against using clicker in upper-division courses:
Discussion is easy in small classes, we don’t need clickers. Some instructors do use other methods, such as colored cards, in small classes. The technology itself may not be as crucial, but the teaching method (of asking a question and encouraging students to discuss it with their neighbors) is still incredibly powerful. Plus, students can still “hide” in a class of 10. Or even a class of five. And so can their misconceptions. Students may think that they are following, but until they have to answer a challenging question, they may not be aware of difficulties that they have.
Despite the fact that I can ask all of them questions personally, when I ask one student a question I present the rest of the students the opportunity to “hide”. Just like in larger courses (well larger relative to 10), I want every single student to actually commit to an answer and become vested in the income. Without getting them to commit to an answer I feel that they often won’t fully consider what I am asking them. My analogy is that it is like the difference between having a character with an unfamiliar name in a book and just sort of mentally mumbling it every time you read it, compared to reading it out loud and having to actually commit to how you think that name might be pronounced. Committing to the specific answer with the clicker is like asking a person to try to pronounce that unfamiliar name, they can’t just mentally smudge it anymore. Without the clickers or some low-tech variation, I might be able to engage a few of the students in trying to pronounce the name out loud, and a few others might honestly try to do it without being called on. But like Stephanie says, students can still “hide in a class of 10.
Clickers help me create a safer learning environment for my students
Even in a class of 10, I find that there are usually some students that often do not feel comfortable discussing their understanding with the entire class. The clickers facilitate the argumentation process for these students in a smaller-group situation in which these students feel more comfortable, but are still help accountable for their answers. They help establish a culture where on most questions each student is going to be discussing their understanding with their peers. Clickers are not the only way to accomplish this, but are the way I do it.
Clickers are a very familiar pedagogical technique for me
I would say that my use of clickers falls much more in the “question driven instruction” camp then the “testing for understanding camp” (Ian Beatty talked about this in his AAPT 2011 Summer Meeting talk). And this has become a very familiar way to run a course for me. I am comfortable setting students up to learn the challenging application of a concept or to figure out how to proceed in a derivation through the use of clickers and group work on whiteboards.
Clickers allow me to record student understanding
As both a physics education researcher and somebody that continuously strives to improve my courses, the ability of the clickers to record snapshots of student understanding is invaluable.