Getting students on-board with clickers and peer discussion

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 2, 2014

I have been blogging recently for the i>clicker blog (which has a lot of great articles on clicker use).  With their permission, I am reposting some of my articles here.


I work a lot with faculty who are considering using clickers and peer instruction. Many faculty confide in me that they are concerned that students will push back against this method. Nationwide surveys of faculty have shown that this is a common faculty concern — and keeps many instructors from trying new things in their classes.

Is this a valid concern?

Sure it is. But there are several steps that we can take to get students on-board with the use of clickers.

Student evaluations are important, and it’s easy for evaluations to drop when we try new things. There are even a few striking examples where students have actively petitioned against new, interactive teaching techniques. Such active push back is rare, though; in most cases, simply helping students to understand the value of what you are asking to do will help move them from sitting back, disgruntled, in their chairs, to actively participating.

Generate Motivation

While there is plenty of research highlighting how much more students learn when they vote on a question, discuss it with their neighbors, and have a whole class discussion on a topic, we have to face it: It’s simply more work for them. So we’d better make it worth their while to engage.

Student motivation is a HUGE factor in learning, in general (see more here). So if we want them to productively engage in peer instruction, we need to create an incentive to do so. I have gathered materials and approaches from instructors around the country, to see how they promote student buy-in, and found that they used several different approaches:

  • Justify the course approach — by explaining the research behind peer instruction, or talking about how people learn
  • Discussing relevance of course content — to indicate why it is worthwhile to learn these ideas, and to learn them deeply
  • Show students the impact of peer instruction — by giving them a powerful experience where discussion of a critical concept helps them to learn it

I believe that it’s more powerful to SHOW students (instead of telling them) why Peer Instruction and clickers will help their learning. Some instructors simply jump into the course structure, so that students can experience it, without any justification. We currently don’t have any hard data to show that any one approach is more likely to be effective than another – but it’s important to do something to help students reflect on the reasons for your instructional approaches.

The video below has an example of an instructor explaining to students why he is using clickers:


Establish Norms and Expectations

Another big part of helping students get on-board with peer instruction is simply to create an environment where discussing ideas in class is “what we do.” Some ways to do this include:

  • Make expectations explicit. What are penalties for cheating? Does the clicker count towards the course grade? What kind of behavior is expected during a clicker question?
  • Act on those expectations. If students aren’t discussing a question, what will you do? Telling students that you will call on them during the whole-group discussion if you don’t see them discussing with their neighbor can be a powerful motivator (and socially acceptable excuse) for them to grudgingly turn to their neighbor. And discussing student ideas during the whole-class discussion makes it clear to students that you DO expect them to be discussing the reasoning behind answers with their neighbors.
  • Make a safe space. If students feel that their ideas will be met with respect, they will be less hesitant to express them. Creating a classroom environment where students are comfortable and interested in exploring ideas can be a semester-long (and lifelong) project.

How Can You Do All This?

Here are some resources to assist you:

– See more at:



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