I have been a little behind on the weblog for a while. I have a backlog of things that I would like to write about, and now I just need to find time to write.

But today I have time, and I would like to describe my first experience with Personal Response Systems, or “clickers.” I tried this in my Essential Calculus class, and they went over swimmingly.

I asked the Shell Centre’s Bottle Calibration problem. Essentially, tthe students had to match up each of six different bottles with one of nine possible graphs that would describe each bottle’s Volume (independent variable) vs. Height of Water (dependent variable) graph.

The students were first shown a bottle. The students then used the clickers to individually select a graph that describes the bottle’s height vs. volume graph. The students were shown the results and asked to discuss the results in the team. After 1-2 minutes of discussion, we re-voted.

This was always enough to narrow the choices down to two graphs, and usually enough to narrow it down to one (the teams were good at coming to consensus). We then had a large group discussion to justify why the graph fit the bottle.

This was a hard question, and the students got it pretty easily with the help of their teams. Also, there seemed to be improvement from the first bottle to the last. I am pleased with the results.

I had a little bit of time at the end of my second class, so I created a poll to ask how frequently students wished to use the clickers this semester. All but two requested that we use clickers “almost all of the time” or “often.” Only two students said “occasionally” or “never.”

Now I need to work more clicker days into the schedule.

10 Responses to “Clickers”

  1. Erica Says:

    Interesting! I’ve always wondered what good it would do to “vote” on questions that have a determinate answer. Now I understand it better. My dad is using them in his OChem classes this year too, and also really liking the experience. So, thanks!

    • bretbenesh Says:


      You raise a good point. I do go out of my way to explain that “consensus” is different from “correct.” Then I mumble something about “everyone used to think that the world was flat.”

      I think that the idea is that clickers force students to make a decision about the answer, which means they have to think about the problem. Then they are more ready for the discussion.

  2. Nick Says:

    We’ve actually used the clickers in some of our med school lectures. Personally, I think they’re great. It’s sort of like a self-test, but at the same time, it gives you a chance to deliberate with neighbors and get a feel for other people’s thought processes. Awesome!

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Cool, Nick! How frequently do you use clickers in medical school?

      Also, how is medical school going in general?

      • Nick Says:

        Only two professors have used them so far, but they both use them every time they give lectures. So I’d say we’ve used them for maybe 8 lectures only. One professor said that other profs would use them more often if the user interface on their end were a little better; she said that some profs get frustrated trying to incorporate them into powerpoint presentations.

        In general, medical school is going pretty well. It doesn’t seem too different from college, only faster and more information at once. Our anatomy class is awesome, but our molecular and cell biology course is more of a rote memorization course and involves a lot of minute details.

  3. bretbenesh Says:

    At this moment—having just finished using clickers for the second time and about to use them for the third time on Monday, I must say that I have little sympathy for the argument that “the interface is too hard.”

    But that is a little harsh. I did have to spend about 2 hours getting familiar with the system (it would have been 20-30 minutes, but IT had not installed one of the necessary drivers). Also, it only works with PowerPoint, which is difficult for a modern math professor (PowerPoint does not play well with LaTeX).

    I have heard that medical school is a lot of memorization. I hope that you are enjoying it!

  4. Derek Bruff Says:

    Re: Clickers, PowerPoint, and mathematical notation, I tend to ask more conceptual than computational clicker questions, which means I don’t often need much in the way of mathematical notation. That’s how I can live with using PowerPoint! Plus, the clicker system I use makes it very easy to cut-and-paste images (from, say, the PDF output of a LaTeX file) and turn them into answer choices.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Which clicker system do you use? I have TurningPoint, which seems to work fine. It probably is also easy to cut-and-paste images, but I just have not learned it yet.

      I am trying for more conceptual questions, too, but sometimes I just want a good old matrix to appear on the slide—and I would prefer that it be in \LaTeX.

      Thanks for the help, Derek—your book was a good starting point.

      • Derek Bruff Says:

        Glad you found the book helpful. I use TurningPoint, too. I type up all my lesson plan in LaTeX, including the clicker questions I want to ask. (Having everything in LaTeX makes it easy to recycle lesson plans in future courses.) When I pull up the PDF file for the lesson plan, I can highlight the mathematical notation in the clicker question, copy it, then paste it into a clicker question slide.

        An even handier trick is to paste the answer choices into the slide from the PDF file, highlight them, then click on “Convert to Image Slide” (I think that’s the button name). Turning then turns those images into answer choices recognized by the system. That way I don’t have to try to line up those images with the A., B., C., and D.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        Hi Derek,

        This is fantastic. I am preparing questions for another clicker class now, and I will try this.

        Thanks! Bret

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