Classroom polling (iClickers or low-tech pseudo-clickers)


First a quick reminder:  CTI is still holding office hours for Canvas.  The schedule has shifted to Mondays from 11:00-1:00 in Rhodes 191.  As no one has class today, it may be a chance to get that question resolved; feel free also to send your TAs.

A 50- or 75-minute lecture is a long time for students to sit quietly, take notes, ignore text messages, and maintain attention on your engaging words of wisdom.   So, every now and then, it is good to wake them up and an easy way to promote such periodic engagement is through the use of classroom polling methods such as iClickers.

iClickers are a very low-investment, easy to implement active learning strategy. The vast majority of the undergraduates already own iClickers (from freshmen courses), and the on-line version that uses their cell phone (REEF) is relatively cheap (though does have the disadvantage of having cell phones out during lecture).  You can consider experimenting even without having any specific grade consideration.

Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative at UBC has written a helpful guide that explains benefits and best practices of iClickers (http://www  Page 2 has an executive summary, pages 6-11 get into the best practices, pages 20-27 is an FAQ.

Some quickies:

  • Questions can be used to introduce a subject by having students “predict” a result; this gets them invested in understanding the new material.
  • Polling is a great way to uncover common mistakes or misconceptions. After a student commits to an answer, and especially if they get it wrong, they become much more invested and are more likely to retain the correct information.
  • Coming up with tempting wrong answers, based on mistakes you know students tend to make, improves the efficacy of the clicker questions. It’s also helpful for us as faculty to see whether students are “with us” or getting lost.

If you’re thinking of using them in your classroom, faculty at MTEI or staff at CTI can get you started. If you’re not interested in getting new software involved in the middle of the semester, you can use “pseudo-clickers”: ask multiple choice questions and have students vote by holding up different colored index cards, or holding up 1, 2, or 3 fingers. That loses the benefit of instantaneous histograms of their answers but retains the benefit of students committing to an answer.