Clickers in (Very Large) Economics Courses

Jennifer Imazeki teaches a 500-student microeconomics course at San Diego State University, and she recently blogged about her use of clickers in this course.  In her post, she describes some advantages of campus standardization, her grading scheme, and her students’ (generally positive) response to learning with clickers.  She also describes a couple of teaching choices she’s made that I find particularly interesting.

Last semester, I also made a quiz available on Blackboard that students could take if they missed class; I take the higher of their clicker score or quiz score for a given day.

Imazeki notes that by giving her students the option of taking an online quiz, she minimizes the number of students who show up to class just to get their participation points.  Since these students are often somewhat disruptive in class, this works out well for the students who attend class while also giving Imazeki a way to keep tabs on the students who don’t attend class.

Imazeki also describes her use of the “pick-a-random-student-who-responded” feature of her classroom response system.

I tend to use this when I have asked the class to brainstorm examples or asked them a question that doesn’t really have a ‘wrong’ answer. Although students don’t love it, they don’t seem to hate it either.

As I’ve mentioned before, this feature can help prevent cheating with clickers (one student responding with an absent student’s clicker).  In a class of 500 students, it also offers a useful way to “cold call” students without having them feel like they’ve been singled out.

Imazeki also notes that she’ll have students draft responses to an open-ended question, then display a clicker question with preset answer choices.  Students are then asked to select the answer choice that matches their draft response.  With graphing questions such as the one she notes as an example (“Use a supply and demand graph to show what happens to price and quantity if X happens”), this approach seems particularly useful since drawing the right graph is a harder task than selecting the right graph from a set of options.

In a subsequent blog post, Jennifer Imazeki shares more results from a survey of her students about her use of clickers.  She notes what percentage of her students agreed with a variety of statements about the positive impact of clickers.  Then she writes:

The percentage agreeing with these statements has risen each of the three semesters I’ve taught the large lecture and the percentage disagreeing has fallen.

I think this is an important point.  Often when we try something new in our teaching, it doesn’t work out as well as we would like.  We haven’t really figured out how to make it work, and the students are used to it either.  Sometimes a teacher trying out something new and receiving poor feedback from her students gives up the innovation and reverts to her previous teaching methods.  However, as Imazeki’s data show, our use of instructional techniques can improve over time with practice and feedback.

(I’ve just noticed that this is the first time I’ve blogged about using clickers in the discipline of economics.  I have a couple of economics examples in my book, however, and I’ve heard from several economics instructors, including ones who teach very large classes like the one described here, that clickers can work very well in their discipline.)

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