Student holding an i-clicker

Personal Response Systems (PRS) or “clickers” allow an instructor to instantly query students and record their responses via infrared, radio frequency, or web-based devices. For infrared or radio-frequency clicker systems, students use handset that look like a TV remote control (see the image at right); they typically have several buttons to send a response to the instructor’s transmitter/receiver. Students’ responses can then either be recorded anonymously or identifiably (and graded), depending on the instructor’s preference. Note that these systems also give instructors the option to allow students to use apps on mobile devices, so an instructor can have three configurations:

  1. Student handset only (used with instructor receiver base)
  2. Student handset and Web-based devices (used with instructor receiver base)
  3. Web-based devices only

The web-based clicker format consists of apps students can access on their mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, and/or laptops). For more information on options for clickers, check out our guide on examples of polling tools that can be used as “clickers.”

Instructors can create questions ahead of time and incorporate them into any slide presentation software, such as PowerPoint or Keynote, or into the clicker software they are using. If an instructor gets inspired to ask an ad hoc question during a lecture, most clicker software will take a screen capture of whatever was projected for the class, which can include a question typed into the presentation.

Clickers are most often used for simple formative assessments. Students can get feedback on their learning and instructors can gauge students’ level of understanding during class and make adjustments as needed. Clicker questions can also be useful for breaking up a presentation with interactive exercises where students discuss their ideas and then respond. Most clicker systems also allow re-asking questions, so the instructor and students can assess how their responses changes over the course of exploring the lecture topic.

Choosing Options for a Personal Response System

Strategies for Using Personal Response Systems

Ask effective PRS questions that stimulate discussion or probe student understanding.

  • Use PRS activities to promote participation and attendance. Assign points for answering clicker questions during class. Students can earn points if they attended and completed a certain number of questions. This will give the instructor and the student feedback on students’ understanding of the material or on how well students understood readings, outside videos, etc. before beginning the lecture or discussion for the day.
  • Talk to students about using clickers. At the beginning of the quarter, it’s always good to explain the rationale behind your decision to use a personal response system and how (or if) they’ll be assessed as a means to garner student buy in.  Don’t be afraid to tell the students, “I’m experimenting with this format this quarter because I think it will help you better retain what you are learning and class and it will help me know where I need to spend more time in lecture.” Throughout the quarter, get feedback from students to see how they are liking the PRS system.
  • Ease into using a personal response system. If you plan to grade PRS questions, start with un-graded questions to allow yourself (and the students) to get comfortable with using the tool and trust the technology.
  • Plan how you will use PRS questions in advance and embed them into your presentation. Start with at least a few questions designed going into a presentation. The questions can be embedded into your presentation or loaded on screen. While you can add questions on the fly, it can be overwhelming to do this during class, especially when you are new to using the tool.
  • Ensure that your PRS activities are accessible for all students, including students with vision disabilities and students with accommodations for quizzes and exams.
    • To make PRS questions accessible for low-vision students, make sure students have clickers meant for the blind. You can direct students to purchase the iClicker Plus, which has no screen, has buttons identified with braille, and vibrates to indicate to the student that their answer was accepted by the transmitter.
    • Read the question out loud and describe any graphics/charts on the screen. This is useful to all students, but essential for low vision students. Alternatively, identify a helpful peer to sit next to a blind student in order to describe graphs/images to the blind student.
    • Be careful when using color, and think about using symbols to help identify colors better; color blindness is a very common issue among the general population.
  • If you plan to grade clicker questions, consider using them for participation points only. Some students will have accommodations that will not allow them to participate in in-class quizzes (which is essentially what graded clicker-questions serve as). By making them count for participation points only, all students will be able to complete them during class. If grading clicker questions is essential, discuss alternatives with the Student Disability Center for students who have accommodations for quizzes.

 

  • Use PRS activities to promote participation and attendance. Assign points for answering clicker questions during class. Students can earn points if they attended and completed a certain number of questions. This will give the instructor and the student feedback on students’ understanding of the material or on how well students understood readings, outside videos, etc. before beginning the lecture or discussion for the day.
  •  Talk to students about using clickers. At the beginning of the quarter, it’s always good to explain the rationale behind your decision to use a personal response system and how (or if) they’ll be assessed as a means to garner student buy in.  Don’t be afraid to tell the students, “I’m experimenting with this format this quarter because I think it will help you better retain what you are learning and class and it will help me know where I need to spend more time in lecture.” Throughout the quarter, get feedback from students to see how they are liking the PRS system.
  • Ease into using a personal response system. If you plan to grade PRS questions, start with un-graded questions to allow yourself (and the students) to get comfortable with using the tool and trust the technology.
  • Plan how you will use PRS questions in advance and embed them into your presentation. Start with at least a few questions designed going into a presentation. The questions can be embedded into your presentation or loaded on screen. While you can add questions on the fly, it can be overwhelming to do this during class, especially when you are new to using the tool.
  • Ensure that your PRS activities are accessible for all students, including students with vision disabilities and students with accommodations for quizzes and exams.
    • To make PRS questions accessible for low-vision students, make sure students have clickers meant for the blind. You can direct students to purchase the i>clicker Plus, which has no screen, has buttons identified with braille, and vibrates to indicate to the student that their answer was accepted by the transmitter.
    • Read the question out loud and describe any graphics/charts on the screen. This is useful to all students, but essential for low vision students. Alternatively, identify a helpful peer to sit next to a blind student in order to describe graphs/images to the blind student.
    • Be careful when using color, and think about using symbols to help identify colors better; color blindness is a very common issue among the general population.
    • If you plan to grade clicker questions, consider using them for participation points only. Some students will have accommodations that will not allow them to participate in in-class quizzes (which is essentially what graded clicker-questions serve as). By making them count for participation points only, all students will be able to complete them during class. If grading clicker questions is essential, discuss alternatives with the Student Disability Center for students who have accommodations for quizzes.

Clickers, Example 3

Students respond to questions in the middle of a 400-person lecture class using a personal response system. In this case, the instructor found PR systems particularly useful for (1) helping students glean an understanding of the questions they might encounter on exams, (2) modeling for students how they might apply course concepts, and (3) for modeling typical “human responses” in a class all about human behavior and psychology.

Submitted by: Victoria Cross (Psychology)

  • What are the goals?: To check student understanding of course concepts, to challenge students to apply course concepts to different scenarios, and to reward students for reading comprehension (with extra credit quizzes at the start of class).
  • What do students do?: Students respond to several questions – either individually or collaboratively – throughout the lecture.

“As we are learning new topics, humans can easily fall into the trap of feeling confident that we understand something when we actually have no idea of how much we don’t understand.  Students who will take neatly organized notes on definitions and concepts might mistakenly believe that they have mastered the material.  Challenging them to apply the material and to connect it with previously learned concepts can help illuminate how much they do or do not know.”

References & Resources

Funk, J. (2012). What 6 Years of Study Says About Using Clickers in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://edcetera.rafter.com/what-6-years-of-study-says-about-using-clickers-in-the-classroom/

Martyn, M.A. (2007). Clickers in the Classroom: An Active Learning Approach. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2007/1/clickers-in-the-classroom-an-active-learning-approach

7 Things You Should Know About Clickers. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7002.pdf