Classroom clickers may get in the way of conceptual learning, study finds

Clickers are commonly used for in-class quizzes and game-show like questions in a variety of college courses.

It has been widely believe that clickers help keep students engaged and help them understand what's being taught, but one professor discovered they might hurt more than they help in certain situations, Jeffrey Young writes for EdSurge.

Amy M. Shapiro is an interim associate dean of graduate studies and research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth (UMass-Dartmouth) who researched how clickers affect student learning. Shapiro says she has actually taught with clickers herself in the past, but reconsidered how she uses them after her research.

Shapiro studied the academic performance of 299 undergraduate students enrolled in a Classical Physics I course. The instructor used clickers with a mixture of factual and conceptual questions. Shapiro then analyzed how the clickers influenced student learning outcomes, based on exam grades and final GPA.

Shapiro found that clickers do help students memorize facts. However, many students had lower scores on conceptual questions after using the clickers. Shapiro believes using clickers for fact-based questions distracted students from thinking about the concepts within a lesson.

"Getting that factual question got them to hyperfocus on factual knowledge," she told EdSurge, adding, "It was almost like implicit statement of, 'just memorize it.'"

Grant V. O'Rielly, the associate professor of physics at UMass-Dartmouth who was teaching the course, says attendance in his course increased from approximately 60% to around 90% after he incorporated clicker quizzes into students' participation grades. He says he still uses clickers after seeing the study findings, but now he focuses on conceptual questions and discusses the answers with students (Young, EdSurge, 5/25).

Related: How active learning spaces support an evolving pedagogy

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