Dr. Victoria Cross, professor of Psychology at UC Davis, has been using clickers in her lower-division lecture classes for the last eight years. “The material requires a lot of critical thinking as the students apply ideas and analyze information,” Cross explains, “and this is challenging because the students often don’t have a lot of practice or a lot of confidence with these types of thinking.”
Cross needs to know if her students are truly comprehending the information and not just writing down definitions, and clickers provide a way for her to do just that. She uses clickers in three ways: comprehension checks, in-class data collection, and quizzes.
Cross polls the class to check their understanding. “I always ask application questions,” Cross says, “so I know that they really understand the concepts. Of course, doing this means you have to be willing to stop and go back if 75% of the class gets the answer wrong.”
In-Class Data Collection
Since Cross teaches psychology research methods, much of the subject matter concerns how people behave, and in a large lecture class, there is plenty of data just waiting to be collected. “I poll the students about various things and then use that data to conduct a mini-experiment right there in class,” Cross explains. “With 300-400 students, it’s pretty robust.”
Using their own data, the class proceeds to explore what an actual research design would be like. As a natural consequence, “the students really get drawn in. They want to know if the freshman did more reading before class than the sophomores.”
The clear benefit is student engagement, but the strategy also helps students gain a stronger understanding of how psychology research works.
At the start of every class, Cross’ students complete a 4-5 question quiz about the reading that counts toward extra credit. “This rewards students for being in class, on time, with their clickers ready,” Cross notes, “but it also doesn’t hurt the people who are late or absent.”
The quizzes also reduce student anxiety about tests because all of the quiz questions are sample test questions. This approach not only helps students learn the format of the questions, but also provides them with a study guide.
Furthermore, the quizzes help Cross achieve one of her top priorities: instilling good study habits. “I have a lot of freshman, and my use of clickers become explicit student training because they help students understand that high school study skills are not going to get them through college,” Cross says. “When students do the reading and realize how much more they understand from the lecture because they did the reading, they see that they have to prepare for class. Hopefully, they’ll start doing the same thing in their other courses.”
“If used correctly, and not as a punishment,” Cross concludes, “these clickers can really improve student learning and engagement.”