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Chemistry- Student Response Systems (clickers)

Page history last edited by Scott Beckley 10 years, 2 months ago

Clickers in Action:  Increasing Student Participation in Chemistry Through the Use of a Student Response System




By Scott Beckley


What Are Clickers and How Do They Work? 

What exactly is a clicker and how does it work in the classroom?  A clicker system consists of two main components; the radio-frequency (RF) receiver connected to the instructor's computer that records students inputs, and two-way RF transmitters that students use to respond to questions or other visuals projected at the front of the classroom.  The most important feature of clickers is that it provides real-time feedback about student learning and grants student anonymity, which increases class participation.  

Why Use Clickers?

Besides the obvious benefits of identifying student learning and increased participation, students show enthusiasm and discuss and deliberate with peers while answering questions presented by their teacher.  That is, students are actively engaged in the learning process which supports deeper learning, increased motivation, and empowerment for students. 

What Are the Affects of Clickers on Teaching and Learning?

Clickers affect formative assessment activities because it allows teachers to incorporate a diagnostic feature that is student-centered.  Not only do clickers allow teachers to clearly introduce and represent the learning goal on the overhead, students can quickly identify the learning objective and the criteria for achieving them.  Although many teachers use student-centered teaching practices in their classrooms, clickers offer real time students feedback, and thereby can alter the course of a class period by identifying what students understand and what needs to be covered in more detail.  Thus clickers allow for opportunities to raise the overall achievement through engaged feedback cycles between the teacher and students. 

How Do Clickers Help with Formative Assessments?

Part of the technology of clickers is its ability to represent student responses in a histogram (see below).  The histogram shows the distribution of student responses which allows a teacher to identify what percent of students are answering correctly and also what answer choice they have selected, all in real time!  Other teachers use clickers to monitor progress, such as a pre-instruction, post-instruction assessment of learning gains.

Application to Teaching Chemistry at High School to 10-12th Grade Students


Review Previous Lecture Notes and Assigned Readings:

It is not uncommon for students to not follow the teacher’s instructions of reviewing lecture notes and doing their assigned readings.  The clicker system allows for a quick assessment of what percent of students can answer review questions correctly.  My experiences teaching in the classroom have identified that students begin to review more material throughout the semester when clickers are used.  It is suggested that clickers influence student performance by providing students with reminders about the need to review material outside of class to obtain mastery of the subject.

      Example question:

Predict the magnitude of the equilibrium constant for the reaction:

NH3 (aq) + CH3COOH (aq) ↔ CH3COOH (aq)

A)    K = 0        B) K = 1          C) K << 1        D) K >> 1


Reinforce Conceptual Understanding:

Conceptual understanding sample questions can be an excellent formative assessment measure and clickers can quickly measure how well students can differentiate related concepts.  Clickers are a great way to help identify alternative conceptions and allow teachers opportunities to identify what students understand and what concepts should be covered again.

     Example question:

Consider the following system at equilibrium: SO2 (g) + Cl2 (g) ↔ SO2Cl2 (g)

How will the following system shift when the volume is decreased at constant temperature?

A)    The position of equilibrium will remain unchanged.

B)    More SO2Cl2 will be formed until a new position of equilibrium is attained.

C)    More SO2 will be formed until a new position of equilibrium is attained.

D)    Kp will increase due to a shift in the equilibrium.

E)     Kp will decrease due to a shift in the equilibrium.


Develop and Enhance Visualization Skills:

Think of a traditional lecture setting where students listen and a teacher is lecturing.  Situations such as these are lacking a fundamental requirement of learning chemistry; students are not provided with visual representations of atoms, elements, and compounds.  Clickers allow teachers to go beyond verbal descriptions and crude hand-draw illustrations, which may confuse students.    

     Example question:

Which diagram shows the results after the mixture reacts as completely as possible according to the equation:     2S + 3O2↔ 2SO3

Survey Sample Questions:

A common strategy used by teachers is a pre-assessment measure to gauge students’ prior knowledge.  And while many teachers may address this measure through a show of hands or a quick group exercise, it is still difficult to accurately assess what students really know and understand.  However, when using clickers, the teacher is able to collect data that confirms students’ general performance on any given question.  These questions can be content specific or general questions, such as “how many students read the chapter?”, or “how comfortable do you feel about working in groups?”.  The use of clickers allows students to answer questions without other students being aware of the answer choices they selected, thus they do not feel pressured to vote any certain way. 

     Example question:

When clickers are used in the class, how comfortable do you feel when exchanging ideas with other students?

A)    Very comfortable

B)    Somewhat comfortable

C)    Neither comfortable nor uncomfortable

D)    Somewhat comfortable

E)     Very comfortable


Resources Supporting Classrooms Using Clickers


     This article showcases a high school using clickers to show how answers are just a click away!


     The link above provides an article that supports how clickers increase student participation in the classroom.


     This link provides a story about a teacher's observations of how clickers are beneficial but also have some drawbacks.


     The article lists advantages and disadvantages to using clickers in the classroom.


     A case study of the impact of clickers for data collection, student engagement, impact on exam scores, and student interests.


Additional Tutorial Resources for Future Learning about Clickers


     Dr. Russell James III from the University of Georgia presents on an audio/video description of some approaches to using clickers in the classroom.


     The Center for Instructional Innovation at Western Washington University present an audio/video that discussed how clickers can foster peer discussion and makes teaching more effective through rapid formative assessments.


    Tutorials for UCLA show how to create new lessons in a specific clicker program known as InterWrite.  It helps to see what steps are needed including setting a timer, the number of answer choices, font size, and question type (multiple choice, numerical, true/false, survey, etc.).


    This link provides access to information relating to software downloads, specifically a InterWrite clicker program.


Additional Resources

Asirvatham, M. R. (2010). Clickers in action – Increasing student participation in general chemistry. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc.





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