[Clickers in Upper Division Physics] 1. What does it look like?

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 19, 2009

I recently gave a talk at the AAPT about how we’re using clickers in upper division physics, and I keep meaning to include this as a post here! I wonder, should I submit this to The Physics Teacher, perhaps?

First off, you can download my powerpoint, as well as the accompanying videos, here. There are a whole bunch of different resources on clickers (clicker banks, videos in progress, useful links) at that website as well (http://STEMclickers.colorado.edu) and on my YouTube channel.

Clickers in the Upper Division 

Some people disagree with the use of clickers at the upper division (or even in the lower division). We find them incredibly valuable as a tool to engage students so they get (a) to talk to their peers, (b) get feedback on their performance in a private way, and (c) the instructor gets instant feedback on what the class is understanding. We typically ask a question, then ask students to discuss it with their neighbors to convince each other of their answer. They click in and we discuss the question as a class. I’ll write a post in more detail about clickers later, but if you want to know more, go to Derek Bruff’s blog, or take a look at his excellent book Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. He also has some resources posted here.

You can see more recommendations on books on clickers at my sciencegeekgirl picks page.

Using clickers in the upper division is a little bit controversial. Many faculty disagreed with our choice to use clickers at this level, and still do despite the data showing that it was an effective way to teach. There is a sense that clickers are “babying” the students, or not serious.

The history of upper division clickers at CU

We’ve been using clickers in the upper division at CU since 2004 in classes from Stat Mech, to Classical Mech, to E&M and Quantum, plus one graduate course (AMO) — a total of 26 classes and 10 courses. This hasn’t just been the work of Physics Education Research (PER) faculty — it’s been a real mix of PER and non-PER. One thing to note is that, with just two exceptions, faculty had taught an introductory course using clickers before they used it in the upper division.

We’ve been working on transforming two of our courses in particular, to be more interactive — junior level Quantum I and E&M I. Let’s look at Quantum I. This is typically taken by 2nd semester juniors, and is currently in its third semester of transformations. It was co-taught by a PER instructor (and expert clicker user), Steven Pollock, and a non-PER instructor (new open-minded clicker user), Oliver DeWolfe, this last semester.

Let’s see how this looked in action — here is a video showing Steve using clickers in this quantum class, students talking about what they got out of it, and Oliver discussing whether he thought clickers were a good thing.


Download this video as a .mov

Coming in future posts this week — what kinds of questions we ask in the upper division, what students think, and tips for success!

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