More Best Practices for Writing Clicker Questions

My post last week pointing to a few collections of best practices for writing clicker questions seemed to go over well, so I thought I would return to that topic.  As it happens, I put together my own list of best practices to share at the minicourse on teaching with clickers that Adam Lucas and I led at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Francisco last week.  The following list summarizes some of the resources from my earlier post and adds a few tips of my own.

  1. Note your rhetorical questions and turn them into actual questions. You might scan your old lesson plans for rhetorical questions embedded there.  You might also have a TA or student take notes on the rhetorical questions you ask during class.
  2. Consider multiple-choice questions that wouldn’t make sense on exams.  For instance, asking a question with more than one right answer (perhaps where one answer is a little better than the other) wouldn’t work on an exam, but this kind of question does a great job of generating discussion during class.
  3. But align some of your questions with exam questions! If students figure out that your clicker questions aren’t helping them prepare for other, more significant evaluations, they’ll tune them out.  Your clicker questions should align well with your exam questions in content and style if not format.
  4. Base wrong answers on common student misconceptions.  How to discover common student misconceptions?  Use your intuition, of course.  You can also look through old exams, recent homework, and even pre-class quizzes completed by students the night before class.  There’s also the option of using answers provided by students on-the-fly during class.
  5. Consider how many correct answers you expect to receive.  Anticipating the results of a clicker question will help you think about what it might accomplish in class.  Don’t beat down your students; ask some easy questions every now and then.  However, too many easy questions can turn students off.  To generate discussion, aim for 30-70% incorrect answers in most cases.
  6. Aim for conceptual understanding and application, not just factual recall.  Ask yourself what you want your students to know or to do by the end of class, then design your question around those goals.
  7. Add confidence levels to questions with only two answers.  For example, instead of having the answer choices TRUE and FALSE, use the choices TRUE – High Confidence, TRUE – Low Confidence, FALSE – Low Confidence, FALSE – High Confidence.  This will give you more nuanced data on where your students stand with the topic at hand.
  8. Revise your questions over time by replacing unpopular answer choices, listening for new answer choices in student discussion of a question, and sharing your clicker questions with other instructors for feedback and suggestions.
  9. Finally, don’t stress out. If your question isn’t perfect, you can adapt.  Test questions that are worded a little bit incorrectly can cause problems, but you can roll with imperfections in your in-class clicker questions.

What are your suggestions for writing effective clicker questions?

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