[Itech] Fwd: TP Msg. #950 Clickers

Teresa Franklin franklit at ohio.edu
Tue May 26 21:04:00 EDT 2009

Hello All,

Thought you might enjoy this discussion about Clickers!

Teresa Franklin
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Tue, May 26, 2009 at 2:31 PM
Subject: TP Msg. #950 Clickers
To: tomorrows-professor at mailman.stanford.edu

"Instead of creating chaos, faculty find that when everyone gets a remote
control (and you ask good questions), everyone ends up on the same channel."


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The posting below looks at the impact of an important new technology on
faculty lecturing and student learning.   It is by James Rhem, executive
director of the National Teaching & Learning Forum and is #45 in a series of
selected excerpts from the NT&LF newsletter reproduced here as part of our
"Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all
aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you
can check it out at [http://www.ntlf.com/] The on-line edition of the
Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues
eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of
learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 18, Number
3, March 2009.© Copyright 1996-2009. Published by James Rhem & Associates,
Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: The Disappearing Tenure-Track Job

                       Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

            --------------------------------------- 1,883 words


Clickers have been quietly marching over the horizon of attention for
several years. Only early adopters, however, and schools with enough money
and vision to try them have come to understand that, far from being simply
the latest new gadget, they offer students a pedagogically powerful blend of
intimacy and anonymity that can move them from passive to active learning
with the click of a button (and a battery of well-crafted questions).

Rapid improvements in the technology and especially the publication of Derek
Bruff's Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creative Active Learning
Environments (Jossey-Bass, 2009) seem poised to place clickers in faculty
consciousness across the board. The attention the book has already received
offers some index of the growing interest in clickers. Bruff has already
been profiled by the on- line newsletter Inside Higher Education and the
Chronicle of Higher Education.

                                        How They Work

For those who don't know, clickers are hand-held devices similar to the
remote controls for televisions and other media devices. They can send a
specific electronic signal to a central receiving station connected to a
computer equipped with software that tabulates the responses and can then
display the
distribution of answers on a bar graph.

In operation-especially in quantitative fields with concrete correct and
incorrect answers-a professor presents a multiple choice or true/false
question. Students respond by pushing buttons for answers (a), (b), (c), and
so on. Then, normally, the professor shows the bar graph of how the class
answered. Quickly, students can see where they stand in terms of how well
they understand the material, and (just as importantly) where their
classmates stand, and where they stand in relation to these peers. And
students get all of this very specific feedback on their learning without
risking a moment of embarrassment. The anonymity of the system allows
students to confront little important truths about their progress (or lack
of it) without risking a thing.

Faculty schooled a few generations back when shame and guilt were felt to
have at least some pedagogical value-that is to say, in a time when students
felt ashamed to make a poor grade or come to class unprepared-the ascendance
of this new teaching environment may seem strange. However, as the emphasis
in education has shifted over the centuries from building character to
simply learning, it all makes sense. (And, of course, whether shame and
guilt actually built character remains an open question.)


The anonymity is "pretty important," says Derek Bruff, who teaches
mathematics and serves as assistant director of the Vanderbilt Center for
Teaching. "Students are often hesitant to speak up in front of their peers,"
he says. "A key element in that is the desire not to be wrong or foolish in
front of their peers, especially in a class where there are right/ wrong
answers. In other classes, they don't want to stand out or be the one with
the strange opinion."

Peer pressure, says Bruff, "dampens conversation." The anonymity that
clickers provide is one way of dealing with that. "It's not the only way,"
Bruff concedes. "There are professors that are able to create a safe
environment where that's not a problem."

If escaping peer pressure and taking refuge in anonymity prove such positive
elements in teaching
and learning, a question that comes immediately to mind is, where do
cooperative learning and other small group activities fit in? The answer? On
the next click, so to speak.

Offering an answer via the clicker establishes a "buy-in," says Bruff, a
commitment not simply to an answer but to the learning process. With this
threshold crossed, passivity has begun to be left behind. The anonymity
allows cumbersome emotional baggage to be left behind as well, lending both
a purity and a more animated sense of mission to the next step, the familiar

                                                       The "Think Moment"

"We use the think-pair-share method a lot here," says Bruff, "think, talk
with one, talk in the larger group. There's more risk at each stage, but
giving students a warm-up experience is important because many need that
moment. If a hand in the first row goes up to answer a question, their
thinking is stopped. The class is then moving on. Maybe they needed 30 more
seconds. Giving the 'think moment' is helpful. Then, in the pair, they get
to practice saying what they think, and they get to hear other thinking
which then sharpens theirs."

The silent, private "think moment" operates like moving from warm water to
hotter and hotter baths in a hot spring, for example, and finally into
strong currents where one may have to swim against the tide intellectually.

Just as this technologically enhanced learning environment intensifies the
focus on learning and recognizing where everyone stands in the process
moment to moment, it also intensifies the burden on faculty to become "agile
teachers." For example, when clickers first began to be used, showing the
bar chart of student responses immediately was expected. As their use has
grown and influenced faculty understanding
of group behavior and learning patterns, whether to show or not to show the
graph has become an important "thinking-on-your-feet" decision. Even if most
students agree on a correct answer, how deeply do they understand the
reasoning behind it? Sometimes, to make sure their learning goes more
deeply, faculty withhold the results and ask students to turn to their
neighbor and talk out the reasons for their answer, especially if their
neighbor gave a different answer.

"When I have that happen," says Bruff, "I tell my groups, 'Even if you
agree, talk it out because you could both be wrong.' I want them to test
themselves a little bit."

It's the "thinking-on-your-feet" challenge that burdens faculty. "That's a
roadblock for some faculty," says Bruff. "They want 'ballistic teaching,'"
he says with a laugh. "Launch lecture, and once it's off, it's off on its
way." Clickers offer lots of chances for mid-course corrections, but their
use also demands something of a chess player's mentality of knowing not only
how the pieces move, but which move to make next for maximum advantage.
Sometimes, the best move does turn out to be "creating times for telling,"
says Bruff (using a phrase coined by Schwartz and Bransford), time for a
little lecture students need and which skillful use of clicker questions can
lead them to want. For example, anticipating a common misconception, faculty
may ask a
question experience has shown them most students will answer incorrectly.

"The instructor then reveals the correct answer," says Bruff, "often through
a demonstration. The students are surprised most of them got the answer
wrong and it makes them want to hear why the right answer is right and the
answer they gave is wrong."

                                                       Making Good Questions

Successful use of clickers turns on the skillful use of good questions.
"Writing good questions I would have to say is the hardest part" of teaching
with clickers, says Bruff. But it's also the most exciting part because it
causes faculty to become intensely intentional about their teaching moment
to moment, not just lecture to lecture. "That's why I like to talk about
clickers with faculty," says Bruff, "because it generates this kind of
conversation: 'What are my learning goals for my students?'"

There are content questions asking for recall of information, conceptual
questions seeking evidence of understanding, application questions, critical
thinking questions, and free-response questions. When and how
to ask the right kind of question in response to where the students actually
sitting before the faculty
member are becomes the proof of good teaching in that moment.

One of the most interesting aspects to emerge from the use of clickers has
to do with the flexibility of the multiple choice question to stimulate
thinking and learning. "Many people think of the multiple choice question as
being only about factual recall," says Bruff, but the one-best-answer
variation probes much deeper. "A really good teacher can write really good
wrong answers to a question," says Bruff, ones that key into common student
difficulties with material. "When I really like 40-60% of my students to get
it wrong. And I'd like them to be split between a right choice and several
wrong choices, because then that means I have tapped into some
misconceptions that are fairly common and need to be addressed and the
question is hard enough to be worth talking about."

                                                 Metacognition and

Some of the problems that have emerged in using clickers have also turned
out to reveal opportunities for increasing student learning or rather
student learning about their own learning. Bruff, a mathematician, began to
ponder how much confidence he could have in student learning reported via
true/ false questions or even some multiple choice questions. In a true/
false situation, for example, students might guess and have a 50% chance of
lodging a correct answer. Multiple choice questions might be constructed to
include an "I don't know" option, but then the matter of discouraging
student engagement becomes an issue. Students might retreat to the safety of
an "I don't know" answer rather than commit to a response they felt
uncertain about. Pondering this problem has led a number of pioneers in
clicker use, like Dennis Jacobs at Notre Dame, to marry self-assessments of
confidence levels with decisions about right or wrong answers. So, for
example, in Jacobs' system (where clicker responses are graded) a correct
answer in which a student indicated high confidence would receive five
points. An incorrect answer that a student had expressed high confidence in
would receive no points. On the other hand, an incorrect answer in which a
student indicated low confidence would receive two points.

"If a student gives a right answer," says Bruff, "but realizes they aren't
confident in it, they have a little metacognitive moment thrust upon them:
they have to ask themselves 'Why wasn't I more confident in my
answer? What are the standards of evidence in this field that would allow me
to be confident in my
answer?'" By the same token, a student aware enough of his own learning to
express low confidence in an incorrect answer receives partial credit for
sensing that he didn't know, thus encouraging him as a learner rather than
thumping him for getting something wrong. With this system, he gets both the
positive and negative points to be made through the question.

                                                Creative Options Everywhere

One of the strengths of Bruff's book on clicker use lies in the wide range
of faculty examples he includes. That range evinces impressive imagination
and commitment among faculty to improving student learning, itself a
pleasure in reading the book. And, while the dominant use of clickers falls
in scientific fields, the book includes rich examples of skillful use of
clickers in humanities courses as well. Moreover, while clickers offer the
most efficient means of collecting student responses, the overall emphasis
falls on collecting those responses and on the dimensions of psychology,
motivation, and cognition involved in their use. Hence, Bruff includes
discussion of some low-tech means of collecting student responses as well.

With clickers, as with so many other new technologies, the greatest benefit
seems to lie in the way they uncover new means of improving one of the most
ancient of transactions-teaching and learning. Socrates would be proud.

Contact Ferek Bruff at: Derek.bruff at vanderbilt.edu

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Dr. Teresa Franklin
Associate Professor
Instructional Technology
Educational Studies Dept.
313D McCracken Hall
College of Education
Ohio University
PH: 740-593-4561
Fax: 740-593-0477
franklit at ohio.edu
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