Clickers in Biological Sciences

Clyde Herreid of the University of Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science has received a $500,00 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the use of clicker questions in case studies used in biology classes, with a particular focus on students’ emotional engagement with science.  (The University of Buffalo seems to be a happening place for clickers.  I mentioned their School of Dentistry’s use of classroom response systems on Monday.)  I haven’t blogged about the use of clickers in case studies yet, but I mentioned the practice in my book, citing Herreid’s paper on the topic (Herreid, 2006) as well as Peggy Brickman’s clicker-enhanced case study on DNA fingerprinting.

I’m glad to see an investigation of this pedagogy receive such a sizable grant, particularly given its emphasis on the affective domain.  However, the press release describes students using clickers like a game show buzzer, which is a bit misleading, now that I think about it.  On Jeopardy, for instance, only the fastest responder is allowed to answer, but when using clickers all students have a chance to weigh in.

Meanwhile, the Faculty Technology Center at Louisiana State University recently hosted a presentation on teaching with clickers by biological sciences professor Steve Pomarico.  Pomarico noted that before using clickers in his 250-student course, attendance would vary from 60% to 30% on any given day.  Now that he uses clickers and awards participation points for students responding to his clicker questions, attendance is never below 65%.  He notes that merely using clickers to take attendance is a poor choice, however.  Asking questions that let students test their understanding and provide instructors with useful feedback on student learning is a better use of the technology.

  • Herreid, C. F. (2006). “Clicker” cases: Introducing case study teaching into large classrooms. Journal of College Science Teaching, 36(2), 43-4.

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