Large scale student-student-lecturer Interaction using clickers

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One of the more exciting developments in Higher Education has been the way in which learning spaces can now be transformed into an interactive fora where students are able to engage with one another in a constructive dialogue. This can take place even in a large lecture space. This can be achieved by using the full range of teaching equipment that is offered by the university. One of these technologies includes the use of clickers (aka PRS, who wants to be a millionaire). In this post, I have put together a range of resources that can wet your appetite for using clickers in lectures.

Why should we need to promote interaction in class?

Eric Mazur’s ground breaking teaching method of ‘peer instruction’ and ‘interactive learning’ illustrates the need to do so in this Harvard article. Mazur asserts that he is ‘far more interested in learning than teaching,’ and envisions a shift from ‘teaching’ to ‘helping students learn’ (Mazur, 1999). This is indicated through years of rigorous research with students.

What are Clickers?

Clickers provide a fun way to encourage active participation from your audience, gather feedback and easily gauge group-wide understanding. Students respond to questions posed during a PowerPoint presentation by pressing a button on their clicker. The responses are then detected by a wireless receiver which is connected to the presenter’s computer. Responses are instantly compiled by the computer and displayed within the PowerPoint presentation. Through the same technology, you are also now able to use the polling tool even if you aren’t using PowerPoint.

Turning Technologies manufactures the electronic Personal Response Systems (PRS) or ‘classroom clickers’ that we use at City University London to poll students’ responses to specific questions posed during lectures. For a list of guides on how to access clickers please visit this site.

How to construct the right type of questions to facilitate learning in lectures

Since there were a plethora of resources, I have listed a few below.

Mazur begins a class with a student-sourced question, then asks students to think the problem through and commit to an answer, which is recorded through a similar clicker system that we use at City University London and displays the overall tally. If between 30 and 70 percent of the class gets the correct answer (Mazur seeks controversy), he moves on to peer instruction. Students find a neighbour with a different answer and make a case for their own response. Each tries to convince the other. During the ensuing chaos, Mazur circulates through the room, eavesdropping on the conversations. He listens especially to incorrect reasoning, so “I can re-sensitize myself to the difficulties beginning learners face.” After two or three minutes, the students vote again, and typically the percentage of correct answers dramatically improves. Then the cycle repeats.

A recent large scale, longitudinal research study on using clickers in the classroom provides a healthy list of do’s and donts of using clickers (Funk, 2012). The main points that I have taken away from the research are about:

  • making sure students understand why they are using clickers
  • book end questions around concepts
  • using questions to promote critical thinking and discussion
  • making sure we are ahead of what the academic literature talks about in terms of using clickers

Much of the academic literature has been collated that focuses on clickers and the bibliography from Vanderbilt University takes you to a range of resources that includes use of discipline specific materials such as Nursing, Law, Psychology and Mathematics etc. Start with this bibliography from Vanderbilt University, which as of August 1, 2012, includes 283 entries.

A slide share of Writing great clicker questions from Stephanie Chasteen

A 10min youtube video How to use clickers effectively

Olivia Fox from the LDC describes top 1o tips for developing multiple choice questions(MCQs) in this post.

I also like Hendrich’s ABCD Model for Constructing Effective Scenario Questions

Usage of clickers at the University

Chris Wiley was invited to join the Turning Technologies’ Distinguished Educator programme following his presentation at the Turning Technologies User Conference at Aarhus University, Denmark in June 2012.  He is acclaimed to be the first ever Distinguished Educator to be appointed from the Arts and Humanities! You can read about it here. Chris is also one of our champions in his use of clickers in his lectures and here is his recent post.

Kate Reader blogs about the way the clickers are managed in the School of Arts and Social Sciences and includes a case study video of Dr Kielan Yarrow which looks at how he uses clickers in his teaching. You can read about his experience here.

If you are interested to know how clickers work with Moodle, then Byki Huntjens specifically allocates handset per student at the start of the year and she talks through the process here. All clickers can be linked to student names, so the results of each lecture are uploaded on moodle and the students get a ‘mark’ for each subject. This helps their understanding about which area needs more attention before the exam. Since Byki uses Multiple choice questions(MCQs) as part of the written exam, she feels that students find it easier because they have practiced this type of questioning throughout the year using clickers.

If you have any further tips on using clickers in large lectures or want to know more about just how to use clickers to best get students talking with each other then please comment or contact your local ed. tech teams.


Funk, J. (2012) What 6 Years of Study Says about Using Clickers in the Classroom [available online] [accessed on 5.-4.13]

Mazur, E. (2012) Twilight of the Lecture [available online]

[accessed on 5.4.13]

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