Student motivation to engage with clicker questions

by Stephanie Chasteen on February 27, 2015

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the educational psychology literature lately, to better understand what the learning sciences has to tell us about student motivation – and how that might relate to what we should do as instructors to motivate students to engage in clicker questions. I wanted to share what I’ve found as a useful framework for instructors.

We can think of motivation in four main ways:

1. Punishment and rewards. Think behaviorism: rats, levers, and cheese. We’re motivated to seek rewards and avoid punishments. This is a pretty materialistic view of motivation, but we use it all the time. Praising students for participation in clicker questions, or admonishing them for texting during clicker questions, are fine motivators – but are pretty unlikely to result in the student internalizing the value of clickers. Points are another common reward – see my earlier post. Apparently experts only recommend using points to encourage participation in situations in which the students wouldn’t engage in the task otherwise, hoping that students will eventually see the value of that activity. Is that the case for your students? Perhaps, given our overworked student body, it often is.

2. Thoughts and beliefs. This is the cognitive side of motivation. Do the students find the clicker questions interesting? Will the questions help them to achieve their goals in the class? Are the clicker questions presenting realistic challenges for students, helping them to feel more competent? Do they feel intrinsically interested in the questions, and that they get a chance to try out new ideas during clicker questions? In a classroom which feels more controlling (e.g., clickers being used to track attendance, or check whether students have done the reading), students are less likely to become intrinsically motivated to engage in the questions.

3. Interaction of beliefs and the environment. Sociocognitive theory blends a cognitive approach with the behaviorist approach: The motivation to engage arises from students’ thoughts, ideas, and expectations but also from the type of environment that has been created (e.g., rewards and punishments, the difficulty of the task). Do students come into a class using clickers expecting a totally different type of environment? Do they feel unprepared for this type of thinking? Do they think that the clicker questions are useful? Do they feel that it’s within their ability to do well on clicker questions (self-efficacy)? Do they feel that clickers are helping them master the content (a “growth” mindset) or that it’s just important to get the right answer (“fixed” or “performance” mindset)? (Read more about mindset)

4. Relationships. Lastly, sociocultural theories specifically look at the relationships and interaction between people and groups in the classroom, and how this gives rise to cultural norms within the classroom. The source of motivation is the relationships that students develop with others, and the goals that the classroom community has found to be important.

So, these frameworks can be very helpful in helping us think about the reasons why we might be careful in how we frame clickers in our classroom, in order to help motivate students to engage. Here are some recommendations which relate to several of these four theories:

  1. Make the clicker questions interesting – as explorations of the content, but also relating them to things that students are already interested or familiar with
  2. Minimize rewards
  3. Avoid a controlling atmosphere where clickers are being used to “check in” on students
  4. Emphasize students’ autonomy during clicker questions (e.g., require them to be “on task” but allow them to choose how to direct their conversations)
  5. Use questions at a variety of difficulty levels – difficult ones to present a realistic challenge, and attainable ones to help support students sense of competence
  6. Use a variety of techniques to motivate diverse students
  7. Reduce anxiety by making expectations clear, supporting students’ sense of competence, and acknowledging difficulty of questions.
  8. Demonstrate stable links between understanding the clicker questions, and doing well in the course
  9. Emphasize that clicker questions help you to master the content – rather than emphasizing the correct answer to any one question
  10. Give constructive feedback
  11. Create a supportive classroom atmosphere

More resources:

This is a repost from my article on the iclicker blog.

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I’m excited to announce that the New Faculty Workshop videos are online!

This is a project that I helped with, doing the filming and editing of the presentations.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, the Workshop for New Faculty in Physics and Astronomy is a 3-day workshop for new faculty in physics and astronomy, which has been shown to have a pretty big effect on whether faculty try some new teaching techniques.

The workshops include:

  • leaders in physics education research and curriculum development
  • teaching techniques proven to work in many environments
  • cutting-edge developments in physics/astronomy curriculum and pedagogy

Here is a short video about the lecture series (which I also produced):

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Videos on scientific teaching

January 9, 2015

I wanted to make a pitch for a very nice set of videos on research-based teaching methods:  the  iBiology Scientific Teaching Series.  This is a series of videos about Active Learning in undergraduate biology education, but is applicable across STEM.  They are looking to publicize their videos, and get feedback! From the producers:   The videos include […]

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Feedback codes: Giving student feedback while maintaining sanity

January 5, 2015

One of the most important things in learning is timely, targeted feedback.  What exactly does that mean?  It means that in order to learn to do something well, we need someone to tell us… Specifically, what we can do to improve Soon after we’ve completed the task. Unfortunately, most feedback that students receive is too general […]

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Learning, and assessing, collaboratively: Group Exams

December 29, 2014

I am one of many who are convinced that people learn better in collaboration with others.  However, there’s always this somewhat disturbing schizophrenia when it comes to assessment — we spend all this time emphasizing group work and collaboration, but come exam time — it’s everyone for him or herself. So I was very excited […]

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Free webinar, December 11th: ClickerStarter

December 5, 2014

I’m giving another free webinar for i>clicker this coming Thursday, December 11th, at 10 am ET (7 am PT).  This is called “ClickerStarter for College Faculty” and is intended as a quick primer on the effective use of clickers for those who want an overview of the benefits and uses of clickers. Have you heard […]

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Clicker Q&A

December 4, 2014

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, […]

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Why NOT to grade clicker questions for correctness

November 15, 2014

One thing that faculty really struggle with is whether or not, and how much, to give students credit for their clicker question answers. You want to give students some incentive to participate, but grading opens a whole can of worms. One of my faculty workshop participants explained the dilemma very astutely: “If I do not […]

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Measuring and improving students’ engagement

November 2, 2014

I’ve been working over the last year or so to better understand how to promote student buy-in to interactive techniques such as clickers and group work.  That work resulted in a set of resources on how to “frame” students’ roles in the class, especially in the first week. Now I’ve been delving deeper into this […]

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What is effective feedback? And how do clickers provide it?

October 2, 2014

Another re-post from my work on the iclicker blog. Last time I wrote about how clicker questions fit into a theoretical framework of assessment, and some considerations for aligning your clicker questions with your goals for your course. This week I want to review some of the literature on what features and kinds of feedback are most […]

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Backwards design: Where clicker questions fit into a framework of assessment

September 14, 2014

This is a repost of my work on the iclicker blog.   Lately, I’ve been thinking about the purpose and approach that we take in various forms of assessment. Today I’d like to step back into a little bit of theory-land, and consider a broader framework of assessment, and the ways that clickers fit into […]

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Using clickers in social sciences and humanities: No-one-right answer questions

September 4, 2014

This is a re-post from my work on the iclicker blog. There are lots of different types of clicker questions you can draw from (see last post for some examples), but there’s a clear distinction between two types of questions: Questions that have a right answer vs. Questions that don’t have a right answer Questions that […]

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Opening your eyes to new types of clicker questions

August 25, 2014

This is a re-post from material that I’ve shared on the iClicker Blog. One of the best things that I think you can do to get fresh ideas for clicker questions is, simply, to look at lots of different types of questions. One of the things that I have enjoyed the most about giving workshops […]

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FTEP workshops on learning goals and clickers

August 12, 2014

I am giving a set of three workshops on learning goals and clickers at the University of Colorado; here are the slides and handouts for participants to download.  Please let me know if you have any problems with these or are looking for something that’s not here.  (I gave a similar set of workshops at […]

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Spreading reform – beyond development and dissemination (Raina Katri, #aaptsm14)

August 11, 2014

I’m catching up on some blog posts from the AAPT meeting.   I have to say, it’s nice to blog again, and I hope to make some time for it in the future! Writing a grant?   One effort that I wanted to make sure that more people know about is the Increase the Impact project […]

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Lessons learned from 8 years of institutional transformation (#aaptsm14)

August 7, 2014

I was so busy blogging about everybody else’s presentations that I haven’t had a chance to write about my own talk at AAPT!  I’ve been working madly for the past few months to pull together a monstrosity of data on the outcomes and lessons learned from our work in the Science Education Initiative at the University […]

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Plenary at #perc2014: Carl Wieman and the future of PER

August 1, 2014

My mentor Carl Wieman was called upon to synthesize some of the main themes of the physics education research conference (PERC) this year.  Here are some of the things he discussed.  Note, he had a hard job, to try to draw some meaning from a lively conference with a short preparation time! Talking to some of […]

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Apples vs Oranges: MOOCs vs Brick-and-Mortar course (Mike Dubson #aaptsm14 #perc2014)

July 30, 2014

The PERC bridging session was kicked off by my colleague Mike Dubson, regarding an experiment we ran at Colorado with a MOOC vs traditional university courses. MOOCs have been hailed as revolutionary educational technology. What other revolutionary technologies have affected education? The printing press, the gasoline engine (allowing us to eliminate one-room schoolhouses). But there […]

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Peer Instruction and Student Preparation (#AAPTsm14)

July 29, 2014

I write a lot about the effective use of clickers and peer instruction, so I was excited at AAPT to see a talk with some interesting results on this educational technique.  Judy Vondruska (South Dakota State University) spoke about the “Influence of previous subject experience on interactions during peer instruction.”  She was using clickers like […]

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The gap between knowledge and practice (#AAPTsm14)

July 28, 2014

I’m at the American Association of Physics Teachers conference this week, and will be liveblogging from a few sessions. One my main interests is in how to support successful uptake of innovative educational techniques.  My talk on Wednesday will focus on some of the outcomes from the Science Education Initiative at Colorado, and lessons learned […]

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