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Improving Learning with iClicker

Best Uses of iClicker

Once you’ve figured out the basics of how iClicker works, you’ll find that iClicker can be used in many different ways in the classroom. Depending on what your goals are, you can usually put these activities into one of two categories:

  1. Assessment – helping you and your students understand their current level of knowledge and understanding. This should include both formative assessment (which helps the instructor understand if instruction is working or needs to change, and summative assessment, which is mainly focused on “final” understanding for grading purposes.
  2. Active Learning – helping your students form a deeper understanding of the concepts they are studying. Remember – even if a student memorizes a formula or concept word for word, chances are, those words mean something different to you as an topic expert than they do to the students as novices. It takes time and direct engagement with using the concepts for students to construct a useful understanding of the ideas in their minds.

Depending on your time constraints, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do both of these things at the same time! Many instructors use the term “engagement,” as a goal for the use of iClicker – let’s explore what that can mean. Research suggests that while using iClicker to break up a lecture and make sure they are paying attention can be helpful, larger gains come from the use of devices like iClickers to inspire discussions between students solving complex problems. This is on example of “active learning.” By looking carefully at the results (including taking the time to listen to some of the individual students discussions), this can also be considered a form of Formative Assessment. Simply observing this is not enough, though: don’t miss the opportunity to tailor instruction to take into account the thinking of the specific students in your class! A quick and easy way to do this might be the following sequence:

  1. Ask a tough application based question that combines concepts.
  2. Have the students answer it using the clickers.
  3. Have them discuss their answers, by either having small groups talk together, or having individuals describe their response to the class.
  4. You may offer hints, but don’t tell them the answer!
  5. Let them answer the question again!


Assessment with iClicker

While there is much variation in usage, we find that it is common to have a “quiz” to start off a class, in which the students answer questions about a previous class, or a reading from the students’ homework. Instructors also will use questions to “break up a lecture” or “make sure students are paying attention” at various points in a lecture – or sometimes even just as a means of taking attendance! These kinds of questions tend to focus on students doing facts and procedures, and far from engaging students, tend to push them to disengage with the materials and view them as something to memorize for the test then forget. Using iClicker for attendance purposes is highly discouraged! as studies (and our experience here at U o M!) have shown students resent this, and instead become less engaged and simply find ways to cheat the system.

Facts and procedures are important – in order to have a deep, connected, and usable understanding of content, students must have some command of this information. It is the medium with which high level, connected thinking occurs! Simply knowing those facts and procedures, however, is not enough. Alone, they form “inert” knowledge, that students find hard to apply or connect to their work and their lives.


Active Learning with iClicker

Active learning isn’t simply another “new fad” of instruction; rather, it’s a best practices, application oriented understanding of how many ideas in education can and should be used together to achieve the engagement and positive and significant student outcomes. U-M’s CRLT describes active learning as “a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content.” If you notice, this focuses on what Bloom refers to as “higher order thinking” in the famed “Bloom’s Taxonomy.”

Here are some ideas for thinking about how you can use iClickers to incite discussions that help students develop a deeper understanding of the principles in the content you teach:

Discussion Questions as an Opportunity for Formative Assessment

  • Tool to inform instructor of specifics of student thinking/learning.
  • Test concepts alone or as part of a system, and look for:
    • Response times
    • Reason for results (You’ll need to ask more probing questions!)
  • Use results to direct Reviews/Revision Cycles in Projects/Papers/Etc.
  • REQUIRES TIME, and either prep or thinking on the spot!!!
  • Pre-test/post-test
  • Misconceptions/preconceived notions

Intrinsic Motivation Ideas

  • Tailor questions to the specific class, communities, or current events
  • Give students ownership/responsibility
    • Allow students to create questions
    • Give them choices about the direction to take a subject
    • Give them an opportunity to create answers.
  • Relate it to the field – many of the students have either made a choice to be in the course, or are deciding what path to take for their lives. Take opportunities to give insights into the field, and how learning this will be important in a larger sense.

Extrinsic Motivation Ideas

  • Create Friendly Competition (either individually or as teams)
  • Give small bonuses for things:
    • Finding (hopefully intentional!) errors or ambiguity, pointing out multiple correct answers, or when there are no correct answers
    • The bonuses don’t even have to be points or actually a thing.
  • What about attendance points?
    • No! Students routinely say how much they hate this.
  • Gamification/Gameful Learning

Create Space for Thinking and Creativity

  • Fight the culture of memorizing facts and procedures.
  • Make sure they understand that it’s explicitly ok to “fail”
  • Explicit rules for engagement
  • Make time and be flexible
  • Things won’t always work out as planned
  • Flip/Blended/Hybrid Classrooms
  • Don’t just ask about the materials – ask about other things
  • How hard was the homework/how long did it take?
  • How is the preparation going for a project or test?
  • What direction to take something?
  • How are you doing today?
  • Start with easy questions, build up

Productive Questions

  • Language is important
  • Ambiguous language –> ambiguous ideas.
  • Clarifying language can clarify thinking. (Chair ex.)
  • Make goals and thinking explicit
  • Look up student misconceptions in your content area!
  • Ask a series of questions, to engage on different levels of thinking:
  • Checking for attentiveness (fact Oriented)
  • Require application (procedures/process oriented)
  • Focus on the synthesis of multiple ideas (principles/complex/evidence based reasoning)
  • Ask questions that specifically encourage discussion, or questions with follow up question or caveats.
  • Situational answers
  • Ask questions that allow for revision and refinement
  • Making learning (i.e. changes in thinking) visible is important to both students and instructors.
    • Ask the same question twice
    • Encourage thinking based on evidence and principle
    • Recognizing that facts and procedures come from evidence and principle, not just authority, is important in any field

Sample Question Categories

  • Exploratory questions: probe facts and basic knowledge
  • Challenge questions: interrogate assumptions, conclusions or interpretations
  • Relational questions: ask for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues
  • Diagnostic questions: probe motives or causes
  • Action questions: call for a conclusion or action
  • Cause-and-effect questions: ask for causal relationships between ideas, actions, or events
  • Extension questions: expand the discussion
  • Hypothetical questions: pose a change in the facts or issues
  • Priority questions: seek to identify the most important issue(s)
  • Summary questions: elicit synthesis

List derived from Cornell University, Teaching and Learning in Large Lectures

Guiding Discussion

  • All in-class collaborative activities are generally a 3-step process:
  • Introduce the task. Consider assigning small group roles.
    • Think – Pair – Share
    • Debating Groups of 3. The middle person takes notes and the people on the right and left take different sides of an argument to defend. The middle person decides which argument is the strongest and reports to class.
  • Give students time to engage in the task
  • walk around and listen!
    • > 60 seconds, < 5 minutes
    • Debrief with Class