Teaching with clickers
What is a clicker?
It is an audience response system that encourages students to participate in class by submitting responses to interactive questions. Student can submit answers with either a clicker box or a connected device (smartphone, laptop…).
Clickers at EPFL
EPFL uses the Turning Technologies products. We currently have about 1’300 clickers and 700 smartphone licences.
An example of use
Clickers can be used in a wide range of contexts and with a lot of different methods.
In the video below (in French), Cécile Hébert, Professor of Physics, explains how she uses clickers to maintain the attention and encourage the participation of her students in Materials Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering.
Teaching with clickers
Why use clickers ?
- Increase interactivity and participation in class, and therefore improve students’ attendance;
- Make students more active during lectures;
- Allow students to get feedback on their learning;
- And allow you to get feedback on your teaching.
The benefit of clickers is maximised for lectures with a large audience.
Other strategies can also be used as a complement to (or instead of) clickers to make students active in the classroom.
How to get started?
This website provides you with both technical information and pedagogical advice to help you prepare yourself to use clickers in your teaching.
When to get started?
If you are interested in using clickers in your lectures, we recommend to start preparing yourself at least one month before the beginning of your course.
EPFL uses the Turning Technologies products.
What equipment do I need?
The system simultaneously manages students voting with either of two different types of devices:
- A hardware clicker (also called “clicker box”);
- A smartphone, or any other internet enabled device.
To create polls and to receive students votes on your computer, you need:
- The TurningPoint software installed;
- A hardware receiver to receive clicker votes;
- And/or an access to the EPFL shared licence to receive smartphone votes.
How to get set up?
Choose your equipment:
Contact Ludovic Bonivento (ludovic.bonivento epfl.ch or +41 21 693 35 94) and provide the following information:
- Your name;
- The name and code of your course;
- The expected number of students (even if not final);
- Your choice of equipment: A, B, C (non exclusive).
When to get set up?
To ensure that the equipment is available for you and to have time to test it, we recommend that you ask for equipment no later than two weeks before the beginning of the semester.
How do clickers work?
The diagram below gives an overview of the clicker system.
To be able to create polls and receive polling results, you must have the TurningPoint software installed on your computer.
Then, there are two (non exclusive) ways for students to answer your polls:
- Using a clicker box, i.e. a ‘hardware’ clicker (officially called a ResponseCard).
► You need a receiver to collect clicker responses;
- Using a smartphone or any other internet enabled device.
► You need a ResponseWare Instructor Account, which gives you access to the EPFL shared licence and allows you to collect internet responses
For information on installation and setup, please see the following web pages:
The TurningPoint Software
► For PC
► For Mac
Download and installation
Please contact us, we will give you instructions to install and download the appropriate version of TurningPoint depending on your configuration.
How to create questions and start polling?
TurningPoint allows you to poll questions either from PowerPoint or from another presentation application (PDF, KeyNote, etc).
1. Launch the TurningPoint software
You will see the main screen (called “dashboard”) as shown by the picture below.
2. Connect your receiver and/or your ResponseWare account
3. PowerPoint or not?
Choose by clicking on the dashboard:
- PowerPoint polling: this will launch PowerPoint with an additional tool bar allowing you to create questions and to start polls;
- Anywhere polling: this will start a standalone polling window that you can use on top of your presentation application.
To create questions, use the “Content” tab of the main screen.
We suggest you to test both the PowerPoint polling and the Anywhere polling in order to choose the solution that best fits your needs.
You will find information on how to use each solution in the documents in the section below.
Resources and documents
For more information, please read the following documents:
Receiver & clicker boxes (hardware clickers)
Your computer must have a USB port to plug in the receiver (see one of the two existing models below) that you need to collect clicker votes.
A receiver can be loaned to you for the whole semester or for specific dates depending on your needs. To get a receiver, please contact Ludovic Bonivento.
How to set up?
Plug the receiver in a USB port. In the TurningPoint software, check in the top left corner of the main screen that the receiver is detected, as shown below: the receiver icon is colored and there is a number below.
Receiver and clickers exchange data through a common “channel”. By default, the channel is automatically set to 41. The Receiver Channel Number appears just under the receiver icon.
Note: when used within 100 meters of another receiver, each receiver needs to be set on its own channel to avoid interference. If this is the case, click the Receiver channel number and select an alternate channel from the drop-down menu as shown below. You will have then to inform your students of the new channel so that they can set their clickers to the same channel.
When you borrow a receiver, we also loan you one or two clickers so that you can test your receiver.
Information for your students
Information on how to use a clicker box is available here.
ResponseWare (smartphone clickers)
Collecting smartphone votes requires internet access both for your computer and for the smartphones of your students. Please check that your classroom is equiped with a wifi network (see here for a more detailed specification). If necessary, contact the network services of the DIT.
It is important that the internet connection on your computer be as stable as possible to avoid loosing internet access in the middle of your session. Connecting your own computer through a network cable is the most recommended solution, if it is possible in the room you use.
You need a ResponseWare account to access the EPFL shared licence that allows you to receive smartphone votes.
Please contact Ludovic Bonivento to get your ResponseWare account.
Some smartphones and some browsers are not supported, please check the technical requirements (in the Specs tab) and inform your students.
How to set up?
First ensure that your computer is connected to the internet.
In the TurningPoint software, use the link at the top right corner of the main screen to start a ResponseWare session.
Choose the parameters of the session depending on your needs (you can find detailed information on those parameters in the TurningPoint user guides).
Login in will generate a session ID. This session ID will show up in the top right corner of the TurningPoint main screen as long as you are connected.
You have to provide the session ID that has been generated to your students so that they can vote. They can use their smartphone or any other internet enabled device and either:
- Browse the ResponseWare website (http://responseware.eu);
- Or use the ResponseWare app (only for Android and Apple devices).
Information for your students
Information on how to use a smartphone to vote is available here.
If it is the first time you are using clickers, we suggest you to ask for personalized support or to register for our “hands on” workshop on clickers. More information here.
Clickers are not particularly useful or revolutionnary in themselves. Clickers are just a tool, and what really matters is how you use it.
Below are some key factors of success when designing a clicker-based course.
1. Prepare your questions
- Focus your questions on concepts that are important and challenging for students to learn (you will spend lecture time on those questions, time that you will not be able to spend on something else)
- Use simple question types like MCQ so that students focus on understanding the content of your question, not its form
- Choose carefully the formulation of questions and of the response options
For each clicker question, we suggest checking the following points:
|Why ask this question?||
|What do you ask?||
|How do you ask?||
|When do you ask?||
2. Re-think the structure of your course
- More interactivity = less lecturing! A typical one-hour lecture can include 3 to 4 questions. But you can also structure an entire lecture around clicker questions…
- Choose the key moments at which you will ask a clicker question depending on your goal
(e.g. assess prior knowledge, assess understanding, detect misconception, apply knowledge, relate to other concepts…)
3. Prepare to interact with students around questions
- Prepare yourself to react to students’ responses – first because you can get unexpected results, but even when all students have the righ answer, it is important to debrief it with them (even very shortly) because they may have chosen the right answer for the wrong reasons…
- Use the results of the vote in your lecture, e.g. to introduce your next lecture part, to start a debate, to adapt the plan of your lesson, etc.
- Use an interaction strategy to maximise students’ participation
4. Practice before class
Because clickers are technology, we recommend you to practice before class (and if possible in realistic conditions) to get used to the manipulations of the equipment.
In particular, it is important to get familiar with the TurningPoint software:
- Test PowerPoint polling vs. Anywhere polling and choose the solution that best fits your needs;
- Create various types of questions, start a poll, check how students will have to vote on each question and reflect on how you will interpret the resulting chart.
We also highly recommend you to test the system in the classroom, bringing some voting devices with you.
► It is important that you take time to test your questions in slideshow mode before your class.
And if you are going to allow students to vote with their smartphones, don’t forget to check that:
- Your computer can connect to the wifi network and you can start a ResponseWare session;
- Another device, e.g. a smartphone, can access the wifi and access your ResponseWare session.
Before the first class
It is important to inform your students in advance (the week before the beginning of the course, for instance) that you will be using clickers and to indicate to them how to get equipped.
Information on how to contact your students is available on this page.
Below are examples of the kind of information you can send to your students.
During the class
Students are more likely to participate to your clickers activities if they understand how it can help them learn better.
At the beginning of the first class – and then again from time to time – it is useful to tell your students why you are using clickers and how they can benefit from it.
After the class
If your students have borrowed a clicker from the Library, please remind them at the last class (or just after) to return their equipment before the end of the semester.
A typical lecture with clickers follows this general pattern:
- First present a short part of the content of your lecture (10-15 min.).
- Then ask a question.
More information below on how to ask a clicker question effectively.
- Make students vote.
- Use the results of the vote : debrief with students, start a whole-group discussion around the “why” and the “why not”, adapt the plan of your lesson…
You can then ask another question, or start to present the next part of your lecture.
A one-hour lecture can typically include 3 to 4 questions.
Alternative schemas can be used to generate even more interaction with and among students using clickers. Check-out the interaction strategies presented on this page.
How to ask a clicker question effectively?
Asking a clicker question is at the same time simple and delicate.
Be sure to follow these 5 steps:
- Display the question. You can read it out loud for students and give explanations if necessary but keep it short.
- Start the polling and give short voting instructions, including an indicative timing information e.g. “I give you 2 minutes to think about your answer and to vote”.
Step back, don’t say anything. Just monitor the evolution of the number of votes or the level of noise in the room. When noise decreases or when you have a sufficient number of votes, jump to next step (but note that there no point in waiting for a 100% response rate…).
- Announce the imminent closing of the poll and wait 30 seconds for last minutes votes.
Count down, then close the poll.
- Display the results and debrief with the students.
How to encourage participation?
Clickers are not magical, the participation rate is never guaranteed. That is why we suggest you to:
- Explain to your students why you are using clickers and how it can help them learn.
- Start smoothly e.g. with a simple question (like a demographic), an ice breaker or a “testing the system” question. Help them feel safe interacting with you – it may take time to install a participative climate in a student group.
- Use clear and short instructions.
- Give students time to think.
Use silence and wait for votes without doing anything – silence is tough, but if you keep talking they will listen to you instead of thinking and answering your question.
- Ask the students to discuss their answer with their peers before voting.
Verbalizing and sharing their reasoning with others will reassure them and they will be more willing to participate. During discussion phases, walk around in the classroom to get feedback on what is happening.
- Adapt to what is happening in the classroom.
Be flexible on the participation rate and on the timing – give more time if students discuss a lot the question, stop the polling if students are starting to talk about last night’s party.
- Always encourage students to share their reasoning and explain their answer.
When a student gives a wrong answer in front of the others, don’t express any judgement on it. Instead, ask students who have voted differently to share their answer. Only after that, confirm which is the correct answer and why, and ensure that it is clear for everyone in the classroom.
Below are examples of strategies that you can use to generate interaction in your class using clickers. These strategies build upon two key principles:
- Give students time to think about their answer to the question in order to generate their own opinion.
- Allow students to discuss their answer with others, having a chance to explain the reasoning behind their answer and confronting it to the reasoning of others.
This strategy is the clicker-based version of the Think-Pair-Share activity (Lyman, 1981). The peer discussion part of this strategy gives students the opportunity to check their answer before sharing with the whole class, therefore decreasing barriers to participation. This strategy is therefore very useful for difficult questions where several answers are possible, or when your participation rate drops.
How to proceed?
You may also include a voting step between phases Think and Pair so that students commit to their individual answer before discussing with others. In that case, we suggest you not to show the resulting graph to students so that it doesn’t influence too much their opinion. With this additional step, this strategy is then very similar to the Peer Instruction strategy described below.
Developed by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, Peer Instruction (Mazur, 1997) is a research-based, interactive teaching method which uses peer discussion as a way for students to deepen their understanding of a concept by learning from each other.
The figure below illustrate the principles of this method. In class, you start by giving a short lecture on a core idea or concept (you may also have asked to students to study more detailed material at home). Then you ask a clicker question designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. If the results of the poll show that students are divided on the choice of the correct answer, you ask students to discuss the question by pairs or in groups. During this process, students verbalize their reasoning, debate and assess their understanding of the concepts, which is the goal of the method.
How to proceed?
After the peer discussion phase, the results of the second poll should show an increase in the proportion of correct answers.
However, it may happen sometimes that answers stay spread or even that the proportion of wrong answers increases. This is usually the symptom of a misunderstanding – either the concept has not been understood or the question or its distractors are not clear enough.
In such a case, it is recommended to start a whole group discussion to identify the reasons of the misunderstanding. You can ask students to advocate for the choices they made, e.g. “Can someone who answered B tell us why they made that choice?” or “Would someone like to explain why they picked the answer they did?”. It is very important to welcome their answer without commenting on it right away until several opinions have been heard. At that point, you can moderate a debate among students or clarify as needed so that the correct answer is clearly identified.
You can find more information and material on Peer Instruction on the following pages:
You can find other ideas and strategies for using clickers on the following pages:
We need to get all clicker equipment back (receivers and clicker boxes) at the end of each semester to prepare the loans for the following semester.
If you would like to extend your clicker loan to an additional semester, please contact Ludovic Bonivento.
How to return your equipment?
- You can send it by internal mail (please check that the envelope is very firmly sealed to avoid any accidental loss):
EPFL E-DAF CAPE
- You can bring it to the BP 1137 office, please contact us to ensure that someone is present to take delivery of your equipment.
- We can come and pick it up at your office, please contact us to arrange a meeting.
Tell your students
If your students have borrowed clickers from the Library, we kindly ask you to send them an email requesting that they return their clicker to the Library before the end of the exam session.
We offer individual support covering both technical and pedagogical aspects of teaching with clickers. Don’t hesitate to contact Cécile Hardebolle for personalized advice.
We offer a “hands-on” clicker workshop twice a year.
Below are the dates of the next workshops offered by the Teaching Support Centre this year. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.
Please notify us if you find any broken link in the list below.
3 raisons de faire voter les étudiants pendant les cours!, Ariane Dumont
Tips for Successful “Clicker” Use, Douglas Duncan, University of Colorado
Writing effective clicker questions, Instructional Services of the University of Iowa
Teaching with clickers, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching of the University of Michigan
The 3 best times to ask your students questions, Christopher Machielse
1 seconde pour répondre au prof!, Ariane Dumont
University websites on clickers
Classroom Response Systems (“Clickers”) @ Vanderbilt University
Clickers Community of Practice @ Georgetown University
Teaching with clickers : Types of Activities @ University of Michigan
Teaching with clickers @ University of Iowa
Clicker Resources, Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative @ University of British Columbia
Enhancing Student Learning in a Graduate Research and Statistics Course with Clickers, Lydia Kyei-Blankson (2009)
Clickers in Upper Division Courses, Stephanie Chasteen, Kathy Perkins, Steve Pollock, & Mike Dubson (Physics, CU), AAPT Winter Meeting, Chicago (February 2009)
Peer Instruction: Ten Years of Experience and Results, Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur, Am. J. Phys., 69, 970-977 (2001)
Clickers in the large classroom: Current research and best-practice tips, J.E. Caldwell, Life Sciences Education, 6(1), 9-20 (2007)
Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions, M. Smith, W. Wood, W. Adams, C. Wieman, J. Knight, N. Guild & T. Su, Science, 323(5910), 122-124 (2009)
An empirical study of personal response technology for improving attendance and learning in a large class, A. Shapiro, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning , 9(1), 13-26 (2009).