Clickers beyond the First-Year Science Classroom.


This case study’s primary objective is to describe the implementation of the electronic-responsesystem (clickers) in a small second year physics course at a large public university. The paper addresses the impact of the clicker-enhanced pedagogy on students’ cognitive and affective outcomes, as well as students’ attitudes toward using clickers. We also outline some challenges faced by the students and the instructors with regard to using this technology. The paper suggests a few possible ways of addressing these challenges leading to the successful implementation of the clicker-enhanced pedagogy beyond the first year university science classroom. During the past decade, the use of electronic response systems (clickers) became very popular in undergraduate programs, both science and non-science alike (Duncan 2005; Hoffman & Goodwin 2006; Keller et al. 2007; Lasry 2008; Mayer et al. 2009; Milner-Bolotin 2004). There are many reasons why science instructors were so eager to incorporate clickers. First of all, during the past thirty years, physics educators developed reliable and easy-to-administer tests and surveys that allowed assessment of student learning (Hestenes, Wells, & Swackhamer, 1992; Perkins, Adams, Pollock, Finkelstein, & Wieman, 2004; Thornton & Sokoloff, 1998) and made the comparison of the learning gains across various educational institutions possible (Hake, 1998). These instruments helped new and seasoned instructors to evaluate their teaching Submitted to the Journal of College Science Teaching February 6, 2009 2 effectiveness more objectively in terms of student cognitive and affective outcomes (Mazur, 1997a, 1997b). Consequently, a significant number of instructors became conscious that traditional teacher-centered approaches have limited effectiveness in science classes, especially considering the changing student demographics, increased undergraduate class sizes, and a renewed emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. Furthermore, science educators have made a considerable progress in identifying student learning difficulties and designing teaching methods to address them (Arons, 1997; Kalman, 2008). Most of these methods incorporate active learning and student-centered learning environments (Hake, 1998; Svinicki, 2000) that encourage student-student and student-instructor interactions. Many instructors who incorporate these teaching methods in large undergraduate science classes rely on clicker technology for instantaneous feedback on student learning. Finally, science educators produced an extensive volume of research-based materials that help instructors to get started in using interactive teaching methods, such as clickers. For example, many of the science book publishers include clicker question in the textbook packages, so a new instructor can start by incorporating readyto-use clicker questions that come with the textbook. In addition there is a growing number of online databases dedicated to sharing effective clicker questions among the instructors (Harrison, 2005; Mazur, 1997b). However, while the effects of clicker-enhanced pedagogies in large undergraduate science classrooms have been studied extensively, little had been done to investigate clicker potential beyond the freshman year. The goal of this paper is to report on the implementation of the clicker-enhanced pedagogy in a small (25 students) second year physics course at a large public university. Submitted to the Journal of College Science Teaching February 6, 2009 3 Clicker Implementation in a Second Year Physics Course In large universities, the second and third year physics courses are usually significantly smaller than the general first year introductory science courses: tens versus hundreds of students. Upper level physics course are designed specifically for physics or chemistry majors, with the goal of solidifying student knowledge gained in the first year and introducing them to the more advanced fields of physics such as electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. These courses are cognitively more demanding than the first year courses, as they often require putting together multiple concepts and applying them to novel situations. In addition, upper level science courses demand 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 representation of physics problems. For the instructor, despite the small class size, teaching a second year physics course poses a challenge as this is often the first “real” university-level physics course experienced by the students that is aimed at developing higher order critical thinking skills in a physics context (Bloom, 1956). The “Modern Physics Course” described in this study fits perfectly within this description. The course was designed for the second year medical physics students (N=25) and covered some concepts of relativity and served as an introduction to the theory of quantum mechanics. It included four hours of classes a week and was taught by an instructor with the help of a Teaching Assistant. Due to the small class size and the availability of the HP tablet computers (Milner-Bolotin, Antimirova, & Zambito, 2008), the instructor had the flexibility to use computer simulations and online resources during the class at any time. As a result, the students were able to benefit from multiple resources. The students in this course have all Submitted to the Journal of College Science Teaching February 6, 2009 4 previously used clickers ( in their first year physics and chemistry courses and therefore not only had clickers in their possession, but were already familiar with the technology. Clickers were used on a daily basis with few rare exceptions of the classroom podium malfunction at which questions could not be projected on the board properly. On average four clicker questions were asked per class, and while most of them were multiple choice questions dedicated to the course material (Figure 1), a few were survey questions asking for the student anonymous feedback on the course and the use of technology. From the very beginning, the students were informed that five percent of their final mark will be based on their clicker participation: for every correctly answered question the students earned two points, for every attempted but incorrectly answered question, they earned one point. The procedure for the administration of the clicker questions is displayed in Figure 2. We call it a Modified Peer Instruction (MPI), since it is based on the original Peer Instruction methods proposed by Eric Mazur(Mazur, 1997b).