Teaching Using Clickers and Games: Some Ideas and a Request for More

Recently, blog reader Elizabeth Lawley, who teaches game design and development at Rochester Institute of Technology, emailed me to ask if I knew of any game-like uses of clickers. A few uses came to mind, some more interesting than others, and I’ve listed them below. However, I’m not expert in game design, and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here. So I’ll throw the question to you: How have you seen or heard of clickers being used in game-like contexts? What am I missing?

Here are the uses I thought of…

Games for Exam Review – This is a pretty traditional place for games to show up in college teaching, although the games involved are usually just variations of Jeopardy or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Clickers can certainly enhance these kinds of games, however! The two blog posts of mine filed under “Games” mention these kinds of games.

Team Competitions – Again, these aren’t very complicated games, usually involving nothing more than putting students in teams and keeping track of which team has answered the most questions correctly. Most of the clicker vendors provide some tools for doing this kind of thing, sometimes with fun themes (like car races or horse races) useful in K12 settings.

Classroom Experiments – This term can mean different things, but I use it to describe the kinds of activities sometimes seen in social science courses (particularly psychology and economics) where students generate data that supports classic results. For instance, an economics instructor (Cheung 2008) used a classroom response system to collect and analyze data generated by having his students play the “ultimatum game” to make some points about motivation and generosity. And Bill Hill (interviewed in my book) used clickers in his psychology courses to collect student data in a memory experiment. In both cases, there exist good experimental data in the literature, but having students generate very similar data “live” during class offers some pedagogical advantages. (I’ve blogged about a couple more examples.)

Question Trees – This is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of game in which students determine how the class will proceed by responding to a series of branching clicker questions. I’ve blogged about this a couple of times, and Hinde and Hunt describe something like this in David Banks’ 2006 edited volume, Audience Response Systems in Higher Education.

The latter two types of games are much more interesting to me since they tap into what I see are two important components of modern game design: simulation and player-influenced narratives. I don’t know much about game design, however, so I’m eager to hear your ideas on potential connections between clickers and games!

Image: “Settlers” by Flickr user Steve Webel, Creative Commons licensed and an image of my favorite board game.

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