Use of Clickers in the Classroom

The use of clickers (also known as “classroom response systems”) can increase student attendance, participation, and enjoyment of courses (Bruff, 2009). Clickers can also facilitate active learning methods, which have been shown to have a clear impact on student learning (Freeman et al., 2014). Possible ways to use clickers include questions answered by individuals, as well as peer instruction, which follows a pattern of individual response à talk with a neighbor à individual re-response à full-class discussion (Mazur, 1997). Below are some strategies and examples for using clickers effectively.

 1.     Consider the teaching & learning objective of your clicker question.  


Examples of questions in alignment with this objective

Recall & understanding:
To remember and process facts, concepts or procedures;
To correct misconceptions

(1) A cannon attached to a train fires in the direction a train is moving. At what angle above the horizontal should it fire so that the projectile lands as far as possible from where it is fired?
(a) Much greater than 45° (b) Slightly over 45° (c) Exactly 45° (d) Slightly under 45° (e) Much less than 45° (f) Not enough information

(2) A cannon attached to a train fires in the direction a train is moving. At what angle above the horizontal should it fire so that when the projectile lands, it lands as far as possible from the cannon?
(a) Much greater than 45° (b) Slightly over 45° (c) Exactly 45° (d) Slightly under 45° (e) Much less than 45 (f) Not enough information
(Beatty, Gerace, Leonard & Dufresne, 2006)


Application: To apply knowledge and understanding to new contexts

(1) You promised to meet your friend, Jim, at 2 PM to help with his philosophy homework. At 1 PM, Sally calls to ask for help with her homework, but you haven’t made any promises to her. You believe that helping either Jim or Sally would produce an equal amount of good but you don’t have time to help both. What should you do?
(a) Help Jim (b) Help Sally

(2) You are on your way to help Jim, as you promised. On your way, you pass an accident. You could save someone’s life at the accident but that would mean breaking your promise to Jim. What should you do?
(a) Save the accident victim (b) Help Jim

(3) According to utilitarianism, what accounts for your different intuitions about whether you should keep your promise in the previous two cases? (a) Whether you can consistently will that your maxims be universalized (b) The amount of good produced by keeping your promise compared to the other option (c) The different motives of your actions (d) The existence of different duties of different strengths
(Kristen Hessler in Bruff, 2009, p. 82)


Critical Thinking: To analyze relationships, evaluate information, or support answers with evidence

On the first day of an Introduction to Anthropology class, the instructor elicits 4 student responses to the question, “What is civilization?” Students vote on the best answer, then discussion has students give reasons for their choices. The instructor notes that a debate in the field is the definition of this concept, and the class will circle back to the question throughout the term (Francisco Estada-Belli in Bruff, 2009).


To promote metacognition: To help students learn how to learn

How confident are you in your response to the prior clicker question?
(a) Very confident (b) Somewhat confident (c) Have very little confidence (d) Have no confidence

When did you start studying for the last exam?
(a) The night before (b) A few days before (c) A few weeks before


To gather feedback from students

The pace in today’s lecture was:
(a) Too fast (b) Just right (c) Too slow

The most unclear point from today’s class was:
(a) Expectations for Paper #1 (b) DuBois’s concept of “double-consciousness” (c) Key areas of disagreement between DuBois and Washington (d) Key areas of agreement between DuBois and Washington

 2.     Communicate objectives, process, and assessment approaches clearly with students.

Students tend to perceive clicker use more favorably when faculty encourage discussion about clickers and when there is active student discussion around the responses (Keller et al., 2007). 

Communication tips from Caldwell (2007) include:

Explain to students why you are using clickers and what you expect them to gain from the experience.

If clicker scores are part of the course grade, make updated scores accessible on a regular basis.  To further reduce anxiety and limit cheating, consider giving partial credit for any answer and full credit for correct answers.

Spend some time in the first classes training students to use clickers.

Be willing to adapt your lesson plan according to the outcomes of the students’ responses. Provide students with an opportunity to learn from their interactive discussions.

If you are incorporating class-wide discussion with clicker use, be sure to summarize the discussion afterwards with appropriate explanations of the correct answer (if applicable).

Discuss cheating with students, and clearly state that use of another student’s clicker is unacceptable.

Sources cited here:

Beatty, I.D., Gerace, W.J., Leonard, W.J., Dufresne, R.J. (2006). Designing effective questions for classroom response teaching. American Journal of Physics, 74(31): 31-39.
Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with classroom response systems: Creating active learning environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Caldwell, J. (2007) Clickers in the large classroom- current research and best practice tips, Cell Biology Education, 6, pp 9-20.
Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., Wenderth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics. PNAS, 111(23): 8410-8415.
Keller, C., Finkelstein, N., Perkins, K., Pollock, S., Turpen, C., & Dubson, M. (2007). Research-based principles for effective clicker use. AIP Conf. Proc. 951, 128
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. New York: Pearson.

Additional resources by discipline:

Biological Sciences:

Smith, M. K. et al. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323 (5910), 122-124.

Suchman, E., Uchiyama, K., Smith, R., & Bender, K. (2006). Evaluating the use of a classroom response system in a microbiology course. Microbiology Education, 7, 3-11.


Woelk, K. (2008). Optimizing the use of personal response devices (clickers) in large-enrollment introductory courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 85(10), 1400-1405. 

Computer Science:

Fan, K.Y. D., & van Blink, C. D. (2006). A comparison and evaluation of personal response systems in introductory computer programming. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois.

Martyn, M. (2007). Clickers in the classroom: An active learning approach. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 30(2), 71-74.


Freeman, M., Blayney, P. & Ginns, P. (2006). Anonymity and in class learning: The case for electronic response systems. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 22(4), 568-580.. 


Boyle, J. (2003). Using classroom communication systems to support interaction and discussion in large class settings. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 11(3), 43-57. 


Jenkins, A. (2007). Technique and technology: Electronic voting systems in an English literature lecture. Pedagogy, 7(3), 526-533. 


McConnell, D. A., et al. (2006). Using ConcepTests to assess and improve student conceptual understanding in introductory geoscience courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, 54(1), 61-68.


Bode, M., Drane, D., Kolikant, Y. B., Schuller, M. (2009). A clicker approach to teaching calculus. Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 56(2), 253-256.


Immerwahr, J. (2009). Engaging the "thumb generation" with clickers. Teaching Philosophy, 32(3), 233-245.


Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), 970-977.

Dufresne, R. J., & Gerace, W. J. (2004). Assessing-to-learn: Formative assessment in physics instruction. The Physics Teacher, 42, 428-433. 


Dellaire,D.H. (2011). Effective use of personal response “clicker: systems in psychology courses. Teaching of Psychology, 38(3): 199-204.


Mollborn, S., & Hoekstra, A. (2010). "A meeting of minds": Using clickers for critical thinking and discussion in large sociology classes. Teaching Sociology, 38(1), 18-27.

Wright, M.C. & Dolance, S. (2006). Learning from physics: Applying peer instruction to the undergraduate statistics classroom. Journal of Student-Centered Learning, 3(1): 49-54.

Adapted from Kathy Takayama, "Tips on Best Use of Clickers"