Getting feedback from students during a lecture allows teachers to estimate the degree to which concepts have been grasped. If many students seem confused, the professor can review the material again. Clickers allow students to provide answers to questions in real time, helping the teacher to monitor the degree of class understanding. Current models allow for multiple choice, text, and other input.
The questions posed when using clickers are usually multiple-choice. They should require conceptual understanding rather than computational skills or factual memorization. This is especially the case when using Peer Instruction, in which students first answer the questions with their clickers, and then take a few minutes to discuss their responses in pairs before answering again.
Classroom research shows that it is specifically Peer Instruction, and not clicker use by itself, which results in better overall conceptual learning – and without sacrificing problem-solving skills. (M. K. Smith et. al., "Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions," Science 2 January 2009, 122-124. Available online to HUID holders.)
The questions of the Force Concept Inventory are prime examples of questions well-suited for PRS use. It has since led to other "inventories" of questions that are useful for gauging students' understanding, such as in
Of course, instructors may also create their own sets of questions.
Another use is to have a numbered list of topics (perhaps in the form of a lecture outline), so that students can indicate which portions of the lecture were unclear. The lecturer can use this information as a guide on which points require further clarification, either in real-time or for the following class meeting.
Further advice on Peer Instruction and PRS use is available from various pioneers and experts on the techniques.
- Two articles in CBE - Life Sciences Education discuss tips and best practices for using clickers.
- The Mazur group's Education page addresses Peer Instruction specifically.
- PeerInstruction.net features a blog on all things PI.
- Former Harvard Math Dept. Preceptor Derek Bruff's blog and book are devoted to PRS use in teaching.
- Eric Mazur and Derek Bruff both also have articles on the getting started and best practices with PRS page from Turning Technologies, whose clickers are the standard in FAS.
A more general article "Group Inquiry Turns Passive Students Active" by Robert Kraft (College Teaching, 33 (4): 149-154) is available to Harvard affiliates on JSTOR.