Article: Fies & Marshall (2008)

Reference: Fies, C., & Marshall, J. (2008). The C3 framework: Evaluating classroom response system interactions in university classrooms. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17, 483-499.

Summary: The authors interviewed and observed nine instructors in different disciplines and surveyed students in one of their own courses (in which clickers and hand-raising were used to respond to questions during alternating weeks) in order to analyze ways in which both teachers and students make use of and react to classroom response systems.  The authors organize most of their findings in a “framework of interaction” they call the C3 framework.

The authors observed that some instructors focused more on performance goals, using clickers to take attendance and administer quizzes.  Other instructors focused more on mastery goals, using clickers to practice agile teaching, facilitate peer instruction, ask one-best-answer questions, create “teachable moments” by creating on-the-fly questions in response to student comments, and make use of student suggestions for answer choices.  The authors note that instructors tended to use clickers in ways that matched their existing orientation toward performance or mastery goals; using clickers did not significantly change their goals.

Feedback from the students studied indicated that students appreciated finding out where they stood among their peers and that clickers increased their participation in class.  There were also indications that in the weeks that clickers were used, student understanding deepened, although comments on the end-of-semester meta-reflection indicated that students were not always aware of this.  It should be noted that the students studied were mostly female pre-service teachers taking a physical sciences course.

The C3 interaction framework developed by the authors includes three components, each of which can be viewed from a teacher or student’s perspective:

  • What concerns does the teacher/student have?  Performance goals or mastery goals?
  • Where should a class be centered?  On the students or on the teacher?
  • Who should have control of the interactions in class?  The students or the teacher?

They note that each of these Cs is a continuum, not a binary choice, and that the element of control tends to be a function of the other two elements.

Comments: Probably the most important point the authors make is that clickers can be used in ways that align with an instructor’s existing orientation toward performance or mastery goals or toward teacher-centeredness or student-centeredness.  I would argue that using clickers can lead to instructors to adopt more mastery-oriented and student-centered teaching practices, but as Fies and Marshall point out, this change is not automatic.  Given the flexibility of the technology, instructors are quite able to adapt it to their existing teaching practices.

The authors point out that a more restrictive technology, one that only supports mastery orientations and student-centeredness, might encourage more instructors to change their teaching practices accordingly.  However, such a technology might not be of interest to instructors not already teaching in student-centered ways.

What then might help instructors think about their teaching choices in ways that open them to consider mastery orientations and student-centered teaching?  I wonder what kind of assistance in using clickers the instructors in this study were given.  Perhaps pedagogically-oriented workshops, working groups, or consultations would have helped the instructors consider other options for using clickers than the ones that aligned with their existing teaching practices.

Some instructors have “teachable moments” of their own when using clickers, finding out from the results of a well-chosen clicker question that their explanations of certain topics were not making sense to students.  This can lead instructors change their teaching practices to include more formative assessment of student learning.

What ideas do you have for helping instructors consider student-centered teaching practices (with or without clickers) in ways that make sense in their particular teaching contexts?

Regarding the C3 framework, it seems to me that the framework describes a single continuum, not three potentially independent continuums.  This single continuum would have mastery goals, student-centeredness, and student control at one end and performance goals, teacher-centeredness, and teacher control at the other end.  If the framework really describes three potentially independent continuums, I would like to hear about an instructor that had mastery goals but was teacher-centered or a student-centered instructor with performance goals, for example.

One of the student comments reported in the article stood out to me as a reason for not participating in class that I hadn’t heard before: “I do not want to seem like I am trying to hog class time.”  I often hear that students are hesitant to speak out in class for fear of being wrong or of having a perspective not shared by their peers.  This idea of deference to other students’ learning opportunities is a new one in my experience, although it makes sense to me, particularly with certain students.

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