Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU profs use clickers to gauge student interest, understanding

A technology being used by a wide variety of organizations, including churches and casinos, is growing in popularity in classrooms at the University of Denver. In fall 2006, the DU Bookstore sold 193 clickers, and this fall they sold 700 clickers.

Clickers, or audience response systems, are small rectangular devices that are numbered and lettered. The remote control device sends a signal to a small receiver plugged into a laptop USB port. When the instructor poses a question, students hit a button on their clickers. The answers are collected by the receiver and displayed on a laptop screen. 

So far this year, 14 DU professors have ordered clickers for their courses.

“People who have started using clickers find that it changed how they teach in very positive ways,” says Julanna Gilbert, Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) director. 

For example, instructors can lecture for 10 or 15 minutes, then ask a “clicker” question. Being able to view student responses immediately lets instructors know whether or not more time needs to be spent on the topic.

Chemistry and biochemistry Professor Joseph Hornback was one of the first DU professors to use the technology. He was awarded a $20,000 CTL grant in 2006 to implement clickers in his organic chemistry courses.

“I believe that active engagement in class is very important in student learning,” Hornback says. “Clickers promote this because they encourage attendance and the students must pay attention to answer the questions.” 

Hornback surveyed students in his organic chemistry class; 90 percent said they thought clickers were useful. 

While the technology allows professors to take attendance and give quizzes, it also can increase student interaction.

“I have found that clickers increase student engagement and participation,” says Tom Knecht, assistant professor of political science.

Knecht often asks students their opinions, and compares their responses to national opinion polls. 

“In many cases, students feel that their opinions are ‘wrong’ and shared by no one else in the class. Showing students that others feel the same way can encourage the reticent student to talk,” Knecht says.

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