In this answer, user Robert Talbert stated that

There are some amazing things you can do pedagogically with clickers.

I'd like to see some examples. (Not that I'm eager to try that myself, but I'm just curious.) As I stated in one of the comments to the linked question,

I can't see much point in using such devices, at least in the context of teaching.

– but I'm probably mistaken. Please enlighten me, and at the same time give MESE users some neat ideas! :)


3 Answers 3


First of all I would highly recommend Derek Bruff's definitive book on this subject. There are more good ideas in that book than any one faculty member can expect to implement. If there's anything I do with clickers in the classroom that works, it's probably appropriated from Derek in some way.

That said, here are three ways I use clickers on a regular basis:

  • Warmup/entry quizzes. Students are given 2-3 questions at the beginning of class to activate knowledge that they will need from the day, usually some combination of review from the previous class or some major point from the pre-class reading and exercises that they were supposed to finish. Since I usually teach with a flipped classroom format, I grade these (well, the clicker software grades them and I just download the data) for a light preparation grade.
  • Peer instruction. This is a teaching style that Eric Mazur of Harvard University Physics pioneered. The class is organized around a series of small lectures that set up conceptual questions that are targeted at common or important misconceptions. Students use the clickers to vote on the questions, then if there's widespread disagreement on the answer (which there usually is if the question is good) the students are put into pairs and tasked to defend their choice to the other person for two minutes. Then students vote again on the same question after they've had a chance to discuss. Quite often, the second round of voting converges either on near-unanimity on the right answer or else it's 50/50. There's an enormous literature on the effectiveness of peer instruction if you want to Google it and learn more.
  • Formative assessment during a lecture. If your instructional tastes are more aimed at traditional lecture, you can insert "concept check" questions at significant moments in the lecture to check for student understanding. That way you have real-time data -- collected without having the personal or social biases inherent in hand-raising and other methods of getting student feedback -- that show whether your lecture is hitting home or not.

Again, though, Derek's book is awesome and encyclopedic, so check that out.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot! Now you make me want to at least try some of these ideas. Though $30 for a book aimed at just satisfying my curiosity and not something I am pretty sure I will use (I'm even not sure one can actually buy clickers in my country!) is not something that I'd consider... $\endgroup$
    – mbork
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 5:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If clicker devices are out of reach, you can just use index cards. Make up five for each student and put A, B, C, D, E on them. Then when you ask the "clicker" question, have students hold the card up with their answer, with the answer facing forward. It's hard to collect precise data this way but it still gets the job done, and the tech is nice and low. Re: the book -- the Kindle version is cheaper, I noticed. And maybe you could get your school's library to spring for it (or perhaps they already have it). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ It is worth noting that the first method also allows you to take attendance and rewards it. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexBecker That's right. It's important that clickers NOT be used ONLY to take attendance, but the fact the attendance data are there is a plus. Of course you have to take measures to ensure that, for example, one guy is not bringing in five people's clickers and registering them as "present". There are ways to defeat that. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 21:53

Several times in my high school Computer Science classes, my teacher used devices like this to administer quizzes in parallel with a lecture. That is, as he covered material, he would put up quiz questions on a projector, and we would answer with the clickers. The questions in general tested comprehension of what the teacher was saying, rather than parroting the words that had just come out of his mouth.

The specific devices we had were basically IR remotes, however, making their usage difficult. With one receiver and a couple dozen remotes, we had to fight over each others' signals to get our responses in. The fact that the remotes needed to be pointed fairly accurately towards the receiver was also annoying. These problems would likely be solved by different physical technology being put to use, though.

  • $\begingroup$ IR-based clickers are still around but for the past 7-8 years, the standard clicker models have been based on radio transmissions instead. That way you don't have to establish a line-of-sight between the clicker and the receiver (like you do with IR devices). In fact it's kind of hard to find recently-manufactured IR based clickers these days. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 14:12

Warning. Biologist is answering.

Our instructors are often in very large, very sleepy lecture halls. Clickers provide a stimulus for student discussion and trigger learning through testing effects.

Common uses:

  1. The instructor is about to begin a new subject. She opens a clicker question that contains a common misconception as one of the answer options. Students answer incorrectly. The instructor can now address the misconception and correct it. Students are given additional, new problems to answer, either individually or in groups, and then click in.

  2. The instructor asks students to rank a list of procedures, processes, steps in order. Can be done individually, and then in groups.

  3. If the instructor has assigned pre-class reading, students can take a 5-minute clicker quiz when they walk in to reinforce the assignment and remind them that the instructor will not be covering the basics.

Newer, web-based audience response systems can require students to draw a curve on a graph or type in a short answer. Some (Learning Catalytics) can determine which students answered correctly or incorrectly, and tell Marcos to "turn to Jane on your left and discuss your answer," maximizing student teaching.

Attached is an example of the research on the subject in biology:

Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J. K. (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10(1), 55-63.


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