Case study: Using clickers to support large-group interaction in maths

Multiple choice question on properties of sin(z) for some complex number, z. Includes 'Don't know' option.

Origin

School of Mathematics, Faculty of Sciences, University of Bristol

Contact

Suzi Wells, ESU, suzi.wells@bristol.ac.uk
Karoline Wiesner, Mathematics, K.Wiesner@bristol.ac.uk

Objectives

  • Increase the benefit to students of lectures by helping them engage more deeply with the material

What was done

Students were each given a voting handset at the beginning of the lecture. During the lecture several multiple-choice questions were presented, the students were given a couple of minutes to think about / discuss each one and vote for the correct answer. The lecturer had a hand-held receiver which allowed her to see the spread of the results. She would then discuss these in the lecture - providing instant feedback to the class.

Outcomes

What worked well

  • This approach was well-received by students.
  • The lecturer reported a very good atmosphere, especially given the large class size (100-120 students).
  • The technology was easy to use and required very little set-up.

Problems and/or issues

Distributing the clickers and collecting them in again was difficult without additional help. In this case boxes of clickers were placed by the door for students to collect on their way into the lecture and return on their way out. After several clickers went missing, about two-thirds of the way through the unit, the lecturer decided she could not continue to use the technology.

This is a fairly new approach and, although it seemed to work well, the lecturer would have appreciated the opportunity to discuss the approach with other colleagues involved in mathematical teaching. In particular, being able to share and discuss questions would have been helpful.

Student feedback

Informal feedback about the course as a whole was collected from students after two weeks (one third of the way into the course). Many students mentioned the clickers. There were a few (about 5) negative comments, from students who felt it took up too much time or did not benefit them. But of those that mentioned the clickers, the great majority were positive about the technology. Positive comments included:

"[The clickers] keep me engaged. It’s good."

"Clicker questions work well, but it would be even more helpful if you could write out the corrections."

"Loving the clickers!"

Tools used

  • TurningPoint voting handsets - creditcard-sized handsets with keys numbered 0-9
  • TurningPoint ResponseCard AnyWhere - receiver allowing votes to be counted without using a PC

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