Many tutors look for opportunities to embed activities in their lectures as a means of engaging and motivating their students, and especially to help them think about the material and enable real learning to take place. A common technique is to ask questions and use the students’ responses to check understanding and act as learning points. Unfortunately students who are not confident of the answer are unlikely to respond – and it is these students (and their mis-understandings) who really need to be heard. The tutor can of course nominate (pick on!) individuals to answer a question, but that can cause a good deal of anxiety and may raise difficulties associated with culture, gender and learning differences.
Student Response Systems (SRS) such as clickers (in-class wireless voting devices) and their web-based software equivalents enable all students to answer a question in a safe, anonymous way. The tutor sees a summary of their answers on-screen and gains useful feedback on any areas of difficulty so that they can either adapt their teaching to deal with those areas or move on swiftly if the students have firmly grasped the topic. The technology can also be used to gather student views or opinions, and the results used to stimulate in-class debate.
The greatest benefit, however, comes when SRS are used to support blended learning in which students study independently using carefully-structured online content and activities, then attend lectures which enable them to discuss and resolve any areas of difficulty. SRS is used to facilitate those discussions, check understanding and provide feedback. Peer Instruction is a sophisticated form of this approach.
There is a Student Response System special interest group which meets regularly to discuss best practice, explore the technologies available and share experiences and expertise.
Examples of use
Dr David Read (Chemistry) has made excellent use of clickers and they are widely used by the department.