"Clickers" aka Classroom Response Systems

By Sandy Chapman and Peter Connor

Clickers are broadly used on college campuses to record student responses to questions posed during a lecture, discussion, quiz, or PowerPoint presentation.

A little larger than a harmonica, the clicker is actually a hand-held transmitting device beaming an infrared or radio-frequency signal to a receiver attached to a computer on the instructor's podium.

Each student makes their selection and presses the appropriately labeled clicker button (A, B, C, D…); the clicker software then sorts and collates the signals. The resulting graph appearing on the overhead at the front of the room displays how the students responded.

Clickers–Campus Standard

The iClicker Classroom Response SystemSince there is more than one CRS system on the market, many universities have more than one brand in use. Others, like Colorado State University, have opted to implement one brand, such as the i-clicker, campus-wide. Having one campus-wide system facilitates both faculty training and the set-up of electronically smart, clicker-friendly classrooms.

Upon request, clickers can be bundled with textbooks at an additional cost of $20.00 - $40.00, and on-site faculty training can be arranged through company representatives or your campus technical training department.

Clickers—Why Use Them?

So, what's so great about using clickers? Is this just another techno-fad? Generally speaking, instructors with very large classes have been the first-adaptors of clicker technology but, they are gaining popularity with those teaching in smaller venues as well.

For students engaged in comparing their responses with those of the rest of their classmates, clicker-use elevates active participation over passive observation. For instructors trying to gauge how well students have grasped concepts, classroom response systems provide an immediate, real-time feedback by which misconceptions can be determined and addressed.

Clickers—Types of Activities

While clickers can be used to take attendance or deliver short in-class quizzes that require students to only respond with literal yes/no, true-or-false answers, they also have higher-level applications.

Student response systems can be used in situations where students are required to apply prior knowledge or use higher-level, critical thinking skills to predict an outcome. For example, students can be asked to use what they have learned to predict the outcome of a physics experiment. Students become engaged anticipating whether their prediction was correct.

Responses being anonymous (the computer actually stores all students' responses for the instructor), clickers can also be used to poll students for their opinions, beliefs, or demographic data. Lively discussions will likely occur when the histogram showing the percentages of students responding one way or another in a sociology class emerges on an overhead.

Regardless of the type of activity, the content needing to be covered in a given period will limit the number of clicker questions that should be asked: veteran CRS users suggest no more than five or six in a single class period.

Whether clickers are a good fit for your classroom, subject matter and/or teaching style is a matter entirely up to you, but they're becoming a standard tool on campuses across the country. And they're here to stay.

Related Links:

For a collection of teaching ideas involving classroom clicker activities, please see Classroom Response Systems at Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching.

For discipline-specific scholarly articles on teaching with a clicker, please see the Classroom Response System Bibliography, also at Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching.

For a video-presentation on CRS use by Dr. Jack Brouillette, Colorado State University, Department of Sociology, please click on the View Video icon in the right-hand column.