Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Clickers beyond the First-Year Science Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Clickers beyond the First-Year Science Classroom

Article excerpt


During the past decade, the use of electronic response systems or classroom performance systems (clickers) became widespread in undergraduate programs, both science and nonscience alike (Duncan 2005; Lasry 2008; Milner-Bolotin 2004; Mayer et al. 2009; Keller et al. 2007; Hoffman and Goodwin 2006). "Clicker technology" consists of a radio-frequency receiver, individual student clickers, and the supporting software for the analysis of student responses (

There are many reasons why science instructors are so eager to incorporate clickers. First of all, during the past 30 years, physics educators developed reliable and easy-to-administer concept surveys that allowed assessment of student learning (Thornton and Sokoloff 1998; Perkins et al. 2004; Hestenes, Wells, and Swackhamer 1992) and made the comparison of the learning gains across various educational institutions possible (Hake 1998). These instruments allowed objective measurement of student learning in terms of their cognitive and affective outcomes (Mazur 1997a, 1997b). Consequently, a number of instructors became conscious that traditional teacher-centered approaches have limited effectiveness in science classes, especially considering the changing student demographics, increased class sizes, and a renewed emphasis on developing critical-thinking skills (Mazur 2009).

Furthermore, science educators have made considerable progress in identifying student conceptual difficulties and designing teaching methods to address them (Arons 1997; Kalman 2008; Kalman 2006). The majority of these strategies incorporate active learning and student-centered learning environments (Hake 1998), encouraging student-student and student-instructor interactions. Many of the science instructors who wish to promote active learning use clicker pedagogy. A quick online search using "clicker science education" keywords yielded more than 849,000 links, including more than 440 related books and book chapters. Finally, science educators produced an extensive volume of research-based materials that help instructors to get started in using interactive teaching methods. For example, many of the science book publishers include clicker questions in the textbook packages, so new instructors can start by incorporating ready-to-use questions. In addition, there is a growing number of online databases dedicated to sharing effective clicker questions among the instructors (Harrison 2005; Mazur 1997b). However, although the effects of clicker-enhanced pedagogies in large introductory science courses have been studied extensively, little has been done to investigate clicker potential beyond the freshman year. The goals of the study are (a) to demonstrate that clicker-enhanced pedagogy can be implemented effectively in a small (N = 25) upper-level physics course at a large public university; (b) to collect student and instructor feedback on effective clicker use in upper-level courses; and (c) to identify potential benefits of clicker-enhanced pedagogy beyond the first year, as well as instructional challenges and the ways of addressing them.

Clicker implementation in a second-year physics course

In large universities, upper-level physics courses are usually significantly smaller than introductory physics courses: tens versus hundreds of students. Upper-level physics courses are designed specifically for physics or chemistry majors, with the goal of solidifying student knowledge gained in the first year and introducing students to the more advanced fields of physics. These courses are cognitively more demanding, as they often require putting together multiple concepts and applying them to novel situations. In addition, upper-level science courses require a higher level of abstraction, attention to technical details, and rigorous mathematical treatment. As a result, the conceptual side of the topic is often neglected, focusing mostly on mathematical representations of physics problems. …

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