Clickers are a natural fit for use in the physical sciences, where there is typically one right, or “best” answer to a question, and common errors in conceptual understanding or reasoning can lead to a wrong answer choice. But what about in other disciplines, such as the humanities and social sciences?
Encouraging critical thinking and discussion
- Reading quiz questions, to teach students to identify major themes
- Opinion questions, to initiate discussion and encourage critical thinking about course concepts
- Past experience questions, to use students as a sociological data set, relate materials to personal data, compare personal experience to the rest of the class, or to assess sociological theories by examining class data.
- Concept test-style questions (of the type that were found to lead to a more examination-like atmosphere), to encourage students to solidify their knowledge by applying concepts or theories to new situations
Reading quiz question:
In the reading, what gender combination led to the lowest likelihood of negotiating, as well as a poor evaluation if the job candidate does negotiate?
- Female evaluator, female candidate
- Female evaluator, male candidate
- Male evaluator, female candidate
- Male evaluator, male candidate
How much do you personally think cultural factors explain differences in evidence of violent behaviors between men and women?
- Not much at all
- A little
- They are sometimes useful
- They explain most of what we see
- Don’t know/other
Past experience question
When you were growing up, which of your parents earned the most money?
- Don’t have two opposite-sex parents/one or both didn’t work/varied from year to year
- Dad usually earned a lot more
- Dad usually earned a little more
- Mom usually earned a little more
- Mom usually earned a lot more
Concept test-style question:
Does the sex labeling of occupations affect supply-side gender discrimination, demand- side gender discrimination, or both?
- Supply side only
- Demand side only
- Both (correct answer)
- Don’t know/other
I found their discussion of their use of the personal experience questions to be particularly rich and interesting, and to highlight how different clicker use can be in sociology. In physics, we might ask a personal opinion or experience question to help students to relate their experience to real life, but in sociology, the subject matter of the course is real life. So, much like a demonstration or lab in physics gives students tangible experience with the subject of the course, personal experience questions can use students as a rich data set to demonstrate or cast doubt upon theories of how people work. Here is an example:
We asked students to use clickers to identify their race. Because the 2000 U.S. census question design did not include the term Hispanic or Latino/a in the question about race, we were able to use this question to prompt in-class discussion about the social construction of racial and ethnic categories.
The authors also outlined a sample class to demonstrate how this would work in practice:
- 5-minute lecture segment on household labor
- Large group discussion to define household labor
- Past-experience question on students’ households (see above) and division of labor
- Large group discussion of gender inequality in household labor
- 10 minute lecture on human capital explanations for division of labor
- Concept test question to test students’ understanding by applying to new situation, where woman outearns the man
- Opinion question on how useful students think that the human capital explanation is for explaining division of labor
The authors used participant observation, student surveys, student interviews, and student responses on a one-page free write, to assess the effectiveness of this approach in three different courses.
Students were quite positive, but there was a little bit of backlash due to the fact that the authors chose to give students participation points for answering the questions.
The researchers noticed that the use of clickers changed the class culture and environment, as students took the class more seriously and were more likely to attend. Students participated more both through the simple act of voting on the questions, but also because the displayed diversity of opinion prompted them to speak up to explain their responses. This is the first time I have heard of such an effect, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Clickers also created a better sense of community in the class, which can be tough in a large class.
Tips for Facilitation
In my work, I often stress how critical (and challenging) it is for the instructor to lead an effective discussion about the clicker question after the votes are in. The authors also report that this was a crucial aspect of the clicker question effectiveness. They also summarize several other important considerations in facilitation, most of which are repeated in the materials we have created in the Science Education Initiative:
- Write good questions that encourage critical thinking
- Frame how and why clickers are being used, and cite research on benefits of active learning
- Explain how student evaluation will be achieved with clickers
- Indicate the “clicking in” for another student is cheating
- Determine whether to include right/wrong answers in questions
- Consider issues of confidentiality
They have also created a nice guide: ” A Practical Guide to Implementing Clickers in the Sociology Classroom“, which you can download.