Clickers in the Social Sciences

I’ve often said that those teaching in the social sciences have the most options for using clickers.  Both content and opinion questions are typically on-topic in a social science course, giving these instructors the ability to use clickers in just about any way imaginable.  Case in point: The video below by Russell James, who teaches in the housing and consumer economics program at the University of Georgia.

James covers a lot of ground in this video.  He shares examples of several types of clicker questions he uses, including student perspective questions (sometimes used to connect student opinions with results from national opinion polls), experiment questions (in which students participate in experiments designed to illustrate certain economic behaviors), and prediction questions (in which students predict the outcomes of research experiments from the literature).  James moves very quickly in this video, so be ready to pause it in order to read his sample questions.

James mentions other uses of clickers, too, such as taking a minute at the end of each class to ask students the kinds of rating questions that typically appear on end-of-semester course evaluations.  He says this is the “number one” use of clickers that has transformed his teaching, since it generates regular data on his teaching effectiveness.  James mentions a use I would call a monitoring question–asking students to click in when they’ve finished a particular task.  He notes that this lets him know when it’s time to move on after an activity and that the count of students who have finished displayed on-screen sends a message to students who aren’t keeping up with their peers.

James also describes a game he calls “clicker wars.”  In this game, often used to review for exams, he divides his students into groups, perhaps based on gender or class year.  Each group is then divided into teams of two or three students each, and each team is given a single clicker.  James then poses questions to his students, and each team must come to consensus on its answer.  If a team misses a question, they’re out of the game as a team, but can still help other teams in their group.  The winning team gets some kind of prize at the end of the game, and the winning group gets a prize, too, although a lesser one.  James says this gives students a lot of incentive to stay engaged in the game throughout.

James also suggests a few ways to handle students who cheat with clickers by bringing their absent friends’ clickers to class, making it appear that those friends are present.  Most of James’ suggestions I’ve mentioned here on the blog before, but he had a novel one, too.  He suggests taking a digital photo of the class as a deterrent.  If a student’s clicker says that student was present but the student isn’t in the photo, that becomes an honor code violation.  James says that telling students you’re doing this will prevent some cheating.

Thanks to Russell James for sharing his creative ideas for teaching with clickers!

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