As some teachers are just getting things rolling with clickers and peer instruction for the Spring, I thought I would share some questions that faculty have asked me about clickers and peer instruction. This is something I’ve added recently to my workshops, and am really liking it – I ask participants to share their questions in advance, and I discuss them during the workshop. I get a lot of insight this way as I’m preparing! (Read more about Just In Time Teaching)
So, here are some questions, and what I would say in response:
“How do I know students understood the topic, and are not just good at multiple choice questions?”
This is where skill in writing multiple choice questions comes in! If your students can get most of your questions right without really understanding the ideas, then you might need to rethink your questions so that they require the sort of reasoning that you want from students. Take a look at my earlier posts on How to make a good clicker question great and Opening your eyes to new types of clicker questions for some ideas.
“What is the best way to get students to work collaboratively in a way that helps them develop skills rather than just getting the right answer to the question?”
This is a big topic, that of getting students to buy-in to the use of clickers and, especially, to talking to their neighbors about the answer. Clickers should be a tool for creating productive conversation in order to get the maximum benefit. See my earlier post about Getting students on-board with clickers and peer discussion. Next month, I’ll be writing about points for clicker questions.
“Is it appropriate to use clickers as a means to poll students regarding their prior knowledge of a subject area?”
Yes! This is a great use of clickers, it lets you know where students are at, and target your instruction accordingly.
“Should students be given the clicker questions that are used in class as a study tool?”
I think so; if they’re good questions, they’re going to be helpful to let them reason through the ideas. However, we never post the answers to the clicker questions; once you give students the answer, that shuts down student thinking. You want them to have to put together the answer as part of their studying process. Plus, you don’t want the answers to get passed around if you can help it, so that next years’ students get a chance to answer them fresh, without knowing the answer.
“Do you require that every student in the class vote before closing the clicker question?”
In a small class, yes, but in a large class this is impractical. I try to give students plenty of time, and give them a count-down warning before I close the clicker question, but otherwise I just try to have a large majority vote.
“How much time would you spend discussing incorrect answers that have low frequency?”
Not much, but I would discuss them briefly. Sometimes students have answered correctly for the wrong reason, or sometimes they have simply given their neighbor’s answer without fully understanding it. Going over why the right answer is right, as well as why the wrong answers are wrong, helps make sure everybody’s on board.
“Should clicker questions become exam questions?”
I find clickers very helpful in class sizes down to 15-20; students can still “hide” in a small class, and the pedagogy is very useful in all size classes. The technology is also very helpful, in giving instant feedback to yourself and the students, and letting you save results for next year. That said, in classes that are less than 15 students, I will sometimes use colored cardsif the students don’t already have clickers and might grumble about the expense.
“How can I make thought-provoking questions, and structure answer choices so that all seem plausible?”
Practice practice practice! This is more an art than a science, though you can see the blog posts I mentioned earlier to help you think about different ways to write questions. One thing that I find helpful is to – as you sit down to write your lecture notes, think about where you might ask a question instead of telling students something. Or look for where you have to pause and think about something; that’s a great place for a question, because the students will definitely need to think about that. And the tempting wrong answers can come from a variety of places, such as student responses on homework and exams, things they say to you in office hours, or what other instructors think that students might say. Collaboration can be a great way to come up with great questions.
Good luck in the start of the semester! Feel free to post more questions in the comments.