Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Personal Response Systems and Learning: It Is the Pedagogy That Matters, Not the Technology

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Personal Response Systems and Learning: It Is the Pedagogy That Matters, Not the Technology

Article excerpt

Over the past two decades, undergraduate science education has experienced a pedagogical revolution as active-learning pedagogies have rapidly supplanted the traditional classroom lecture. This new teaching paradigm stems from a constructivist view of learning and holds that students create their own knowledge as they progress through courses rather than collect knowledge that is dispensed by the instructor (Bransford, 2000). Supporters such as Carl Wieman (Wieman et al., 2007) and Eric Mazur (2011) have developed and promoted active-learning strategies at all levels, especially in introductory undergraduate science courses. Examples of these research-based methodologies include justin-time teaching (Novak, Gavrin, Christian, & Patterson, 1999) and peer instruction (Mazur, 1997).

Peer instruction (Mazur, 1997) is a widely adopted active-learning pedagogy through which personal response systems (also called clickers) are often used (Abrahamson, 2006). During peer instruction, the instructor lectures for 10 to 20 minutes before asking a conceptually based question called a ConcepTest (see Figure 1 for an example). Students then use their remote transmitters to anonymously answer the question. If fewer than 75% of the students correctly answer the question, the instructor encourages the students to discuss the question and answer a second time. On the basis of this feedback, the instructor can gauge whether additional lecture time should be devoted to explaining the target concept. Even though personal response systems are commonly used with peer instruction, they are not required (Lasry, 2008).

Research has shown that both faculty and students have accepted the use of personal response systems. Undergraduate faculty members use the technology because it efficiently provides a means to formatively assess student learning in all types of classes (Sevian & Robinson, 2011). Students tend to embrace the technology as well and credit it with helping them learn (Crossgrove & Curran, 2008). There is also some evidence that the technology may promote a more inclusive learning environment (Steer, McConnell, Gray, Kortz, & Liang, 2009). Studies of peer instruction and the use of personal response systems in physics courses show that this type of interactive setting yields significantly higher learning gains when compared with traditional didactic lecture (Crouch & Mazur, 2001; Fagen, Crouch, & Mazur, 2002; Lasry, Mazur, & Watkins, 2008). Similar findings are reported from other science disciplines including geoscience (McConnell et al., 2006), chemistry (Butcher, Brandt, Norgaard, Atterholt, & Salido, 2003), and biology (Suchman, Uchiyama, Smith, & Bender, 2006).

As the popularity of personal response systems continues to rise, several authors have reminded us that significant learning gains stem from improvements in pedagogy rather than from the technology. Lasry (2008) noted that learning gains from using a personal response system and peer instruction are primarily due to changes in teaching practice, not the technology itself. Mayer et al. (2009) reminded us that often new educational technologies are rapidly embraced and claims are made that student learning gains are due to the technology rather than changes in how the course is taught. Recently, Beatty and Gerace (2009) reviewed the literature on personal response systems and noted that many studies confounded the technology with the pedagogy. They argued that studies should focus on the most effective ways of using the technology (i.e., the pedagogy) rather than the technology itself. Mayer et al. (2009) presented a learning model showing that personal response systems (when used with peer instruction) result in higher learning gains because students are engaged in deeper cognitive processing than students attending a traditional lecture. The literature clearly shows that the peer instruction paradigm, along with personal response systems, produces significant learning gains. …

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