Clickers Conference: My Session

Having led a number of workshops for faculty new to using clickers at my home institution and elsewhere, I was looking forward to the chance to lead a workshop for faculty with more experience teaching with classroom response systems at the clickers conference in Louisville the other weekend.  I knew I wanted an interactive session that helped participants share their experiences using clickers with each other and helped them see new ways they might make use of clickers.

I based the main activity in my session on one that Shelley Smith of the University of Minnesota at Duluth led at a session at the 2007 POD Network conference.  Since I developed something of a taxonomy of clicker questions during the process of writing my book, one featuring types of questions as well as types of activities commonly used with clickers, I had participants in my session at Louisville first write about a particularly effective use of clickers from their own teaching experience.  Then I described my taxonomy using examples drawn from my book.  (Thanks to Edna Ross, whom I interviewed for my book, who was present to share her story about using clickers to generate “times for telling.”)  Next I had participants use my taxonomy to categorize the clicker uses they had earlier described in writing.  I then asked a couple of participants share their uses of clickers with the whole group.  After each of these participants did so, I asked the other participants to categorize what was described according to my taxonomy and submit their categorizations using clickers.

As happened with Shelley Smith’s session at POD, this activity generated useful discussion about the ways in which instructors use clicker questions.  This was the first time I used this activity in a workshop, and it went very well.  (Shelley used Bloom’s Taxonomy in her activity, and she brought with her questions written by faculty members in various disciplines at her home institution instead of having participants write about their own uses of clickers.)

One participant shared a use of clickers she heard about from a colleague in the English Department at her institution.  He first posed a clicker question that asked his students to voice their opinion on the death penalty–did they support it or not.  Then he read a poem about a prisoner on death row.  Following the poem, he asked his students to respond again to the opinion question about the death penalty.  The results of the second question were different from the results of the first question, which not only provided the instructor and students with a view into student opinions, but also showed to the students the power of poetry to affect change in people’s perspectives.  (I didn’t catch the name of the participant who shared this story.  If you know who it was, please let me know.)

Ken Jones of the University of Texas at San Antonio shared a way in which he has used clickers in the past.  He first asked the students in his course if they would be willing to commit some particular breach of business ethnics.  (I forget the particular breach.  It was something about sharing private information, I think.)  Most of the students said they wouldn’t.  He then asked them if they would do so for some amount of money.  A few students said they would.  Ken then asked them the same question several times, each time increasing the amount of money.  More and more students said that they would take the money.

As with the poetry example above, Ken’s use of clickers revealed to him and his students something about his students’ perspectives and set the stage for a productive discussion of the topic at hand.  Both examples also generated productive discussion at my session regarding the multiple purposes instructors often have for using clicker questions.

After this activity, I asked participants which types of questions and activities they used most frequently in their teaching.  Conceptual understanding and application questions were the most popular, each chosen by about a third of the participants.  Student perspective questions came in third, chosen by 10% of the participants.

The activities most frequently used with clickers were uncovering student learning (chosen by 32% of participants), evaluating student learning (21%), generating small-group discussion (21%), and generating classwide discussion (16%).  Disciplinary differences were rather strong on this question.  Of those in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), 88% indicated they used clickers foremost to uncover or evaluate student learning.  None indicated that their primary use was to generate small-group or classwide discussion.  The responses from those in the humanities were just the opposite–none used clickers primarily to uncover or evaluate student learning and all of them indicated that they use clickers mainly to generate small-group or classwide discussion.

This was a non-scientific survey, of course, but I found these disciplinary differences interesting.  I know that a few of the larger campus studies of clicker use looked at the various ways that faculty use clickers.  I’ll have to see if these discipline-specific findings are consistent with those larger studies.

Thanks to those who participated in my session last weekend.  My only regret is that I didn’t collect what the participants wrote about their uses of clickers.  Had I done so, I could have shared those with the participants over email.  Next time!

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