While preparing for our recent minicourse on classroom voting at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, my collaborators from Carroll College and I had a series of productive email interchanges on a variety of aspects of teaching with classroom response systems.  At one point, I tried to describe how I’ve seen some terminology associated with clickers used in the literature, and I thought I might share that here.

Peer Instruction – This is the term used (and perhaps coined) by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur in his 1997 book Peer Instruction:  A User’s Manual to describe an in-class activity in which students discuss questions in small groups (usually pairs) prior to submitting their responses via a classroom response system.  Mazur and others typically have students answer clicker questions individually before engaging in peer instruction, but that step is optional.  Peer instruction doesn’t need clickers, but clickers can enhance the activity.  This term is less about what is done with the results of a clicker question and more about fostering active learning among students.

Agile Teaching – On the other hand, this term is more about what instructors do with the results of a clicker question than what happens prior to the submission of student responses.  It was used by Ian Beatty and his University of Massachusetts-Amherst physics education research group in a couple of articles.  References can be found in the notes accompanying my first podcast, an interview with Beatty.  They contrast “agile teaching” with “ballistic teaching,” which involves planning a lesson plan ahead of time, launching it (so to speak) during class, and not altering that plan in response to what is discovered about student learning during class.  Agile teaching, in contrast, refers to leveraging the results of clicker questions to adapt one’s lesson on-the-fly to respond to what one finds out about student learning.

Question-Driven Instruction – This is another term used by Beatty’s group.  They now this term to refer to lessons in which students learn by grappling with difficult and interesting questions.  This is a different use than the use of clicker questions to assess student learning at the end of a lecture.  In question-driven instruction, the questions are primarily used to help students engage with and learn new ideas.  Assessment of student learning might be involved, but it is not the primary purpose of question-driven instruction.  The Carroll College math faculty of Project MathQuest use term “teaching by asking” to refer to this approach to teaching.

Formative Assessment – This is a widely used term that refers to assessing student learning for the purposes of providing both instructors and students useful information for improving that learning.  It’s used in contrast to summative assessment, which is assessment used to evaluate students for the purposes of a grade or other judgment.  Using clickers just to administer a quiz would be an example of summative assessment.  Using clickers to find out what students know and don’t know so as to inform agile teaching would be an example of formative assessment.  Using clickers to administer a quiz in order to provide an opportunity immediately after the quiz to review the quiz with the students and deal with misconceptions highlighted by the quiz results is a useful blend of formative and summative assessment.

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