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:
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 one 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:
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-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 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.