Clickers in Psychology: Change-Ups, Recaps, and Times for Telling

The Educational Support Team at the School of Arts and Social Sciences (ESTSASS) at the City University London recently posted a six-minute video interview with psychology instructor Kielan Yarrow about the ways in which he teaches with clickers. I can’t figure out how to embed the video here, so go watch it on the ESTSASS site, then come back here.

Dr. Yarrow identifies a few uses of clicker questions in his biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience courses:

  • By asking a clicker question every eight slides or so during his lecture, Yarrow helps students maintain their attention during class. See this classic article by Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish for reasons why this is so important: “The ‘Change-Up’ in Lectures.”
  • These “recapping” questions give Yarrow’s students a chance to test themselves on the content he’s just lectured on, which is useful to their learning. Plus, it gives Yarrow some feedback on how well the students followed his explanations. He’s not able to test them on every aspect of the content, but he can assess their understanding of one or two key ideas.
  • From experience Yarrow knows that students are likely to misunderstand certain concepts. He constructs “leading” clicker questions where common misconceptions are among the wrong answers. When students miss these questions, this gives Yarrow a chance to explain this misconceptions. Below is the “time for telling” example question seen in the video. The second option was the most popular one with 76% of the votes. However, the fourth option was the correct one. Only 15% of the students selected this answer.

The geniculostriate pathway carries information from the right eye to…

  1. The frontal lobe
  2. The left-hand side of the occipital lobe
  3. The hippocampus
  4. Both sides of the occipital lobe
  • Yarrow will sometimes ask a clicker question at the beginning of a lecture that he expects many students to answer incorrectly. This, too, creates a time for telling by engaging student interest in the subsequent lecture.
  • Since clickers allow students to respond to questions anonymously, Yarrow finds them useful for gathering mid-semester feedback on his courses and his teaching. He’ll ask a few clicker questions to follow up on points students make on more-traditional mid-semester surveys.

There’s no mention in the video of student discussion of clicker questions in small groups or as a class. With the right kinds of questions, ones that are challenging but not too challenging, clicker questions can go a long way toward fostering student discussion during class. Given the ways Kielan Yarrow talks about using clickers in this video, I’m guessing that he would be open to a little experimentation with peer instruction in his teaching.

(Hat tip to Sharon Flynn!)

Image: “Signaling,” Kai Schreiber, Flickr (CC)

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