Raise your…Clicker!


Encouraging student participation in class can be challenging and down right uncomfortable.  I dare say there is not an instructor that hasn’t had to face deadening silence as they waited for a student to raise their hand.  But where there is a problem, technology has an answer!

Classroom response systems (CRS), commonly referred to as polling technology or clickers, have proven to be a valuable asset in today’s classrooms. CRS tools are used to collect data in real-time for the purposes of increasing learner engagement, assessing student performance, and boosting content retention. Methods include, but are not limited to, Poll Everywhere, Socrative, Plickers, ClassPager, and iClickers.   The later, iClickers is often recognized and used in higher education classrooms. Whether it is a large lecture class or twenty students in a seminar course, CRS can be used in any learning environment for any content area. The instantaneous feedback makes the learning process even easier and can be used to enrich class discussions, check for understandings and engage students effectively.  The results of poll response systems vary depending on the tool you choose. Responses may appear in an animated graph, chart or word cloud that you can embed in your lesson presentation. Many systems provide live results that update in real-time for the entire class to see.

Photograph of college students using clickers in a classroom (Nordell, 2016).

A basic use of clickers might include checking class attendance or taking a quick quiz on an assignment. However, instructors that seek a dynamic classroom environment can use clickers to promote interaction between students and gain formative assessment of student learning of new concepts being taught (Hall, 2016). Clicker questions may be used daily to promote problem solving and peer discussion. To foster student engagement, instructors start with “warm up questions” to review materials from previous classes, then move on to checking newly introduced concepts. Results are shown and then used to respond to student’s misconceptions. When students are not clear on the answer to a question, the instructor, in a think-pair-share fashion, can have the students partner to discuss the question and their answers. The students then re-vote and the instructor reviews the correct answer and summarizes the concept.

Created by the Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment at Western Washington University: http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/cii/

While polling systems are a great way to check for understanding, poll students’ opinions, and even administer formative assessment quizzes, they typically require the students to have a purchased a clicker, such as an iClicker, or have a phone, tablet or computer. The monetary investment can be prohibitive to adopting polling classroom practices.  Plickers, is an easy and free way to implement CRS in your classroom without the investment in technology equipment.  Plickers requires only that the professor have a phone or tablet with a camera and the students to have, you guessed it, paper clickers. While Plickers is a good low-tech option, it does have a few draw backs in that it can only be used in a class of less than 63 and you cannot export the data for use in other applications or ask open-ended questions.

Photograph of students using Plicker system (Benigni, 2014).

CRSs are a simple and versatile way to implement a variety of pedagogical best practices into classrooms, including active learning, formative assessment, and group learning. Poll questions can be used individually, in related sets, or in combination with other types of classroom activities. Implementing clicker strategies effectively increases the educational impact of lectures.  But perhaps best of all, students enjoy learning with clicker technology!  In one section of a biochemistry class at Johns Hopkins University, 92% of the students ranked the use of clickers as “helpful” or “very helpful” and often mention the clicker questions as one of the best aspects of the course. In the words of one student: “The more clicker questions, the better! I noticed that if there were more clicker questions, I was more focused and willing to interact with my peers. It also highlighted what parts of the lecture I did not understand and would have to review carefully before the exam” (Tift, 2015).

Share your thoughts?

Have you used a CRS in your course?  If so, how do students engage with the poll — do they need a dedicated piece of hardware or do they access the tool online or through a smart phone app? What formats do you find the most beneficial for viewing and interpreting the poll results? What are the pros and cons of CRS given your own particular classroom or professional setting?


Benigni, Mendi. Paper + Clickers = Plickers: An easy way to add integration to your classes. 26 October, 2014. http://tlt.cofc.edu/2014/10/26/paper-clickers-plickers-an-easy-way-to-add-interaction-to-your-classes/

Hall, Macie. Clickers: Beyond the Basics.  9 February, 2016. http://ii.library.jhu.edu/2016/02/09/clickers-beyond-the-basics

Nordell, Shawn. Integrating Active Learning with Clickers: Tips from a Faculty Workshop. 20 May 2016, http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/2016/05/integrating-active-learning-with-clickers-tips-from-a-faculty-workshop/

Tift, Kathryn. Making Learning Click. April, 2015. https://cer.jhu.edu/files/InnovInstruct-Ped_making-learning-click.pdf


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