Clickers in use in learning and teaching at Macquarie

A number of Macquarie academics use clickers as a tool to facilitate active learning approaches. I would like to share some recent examples of how this tool can lead to more active, engaging and, I believe, more productive learning experiences. Hopefully this will encourage and inspire you to try some of these approaches in your own practice.

A Bit About Clickers

‘Clicker’ is a generic name for devices that allow a user to enter a choice that is collated with other responses.  The system then displays the results, allowing students to participate in in-class polling. Traditionally, clickers typically require third-party software and hardware to work, however individuals can now use their own mobile device to act as the ‘clicker’ and a program on the internet collates and displays the results.

I define the former category as third‐party proprietary clickers and the latter as bring‐your‐own-mobile-device clickers (BYOMD). I find that BYOMD on balance have more advantages.  As a consequence I have been working with a number of teachers to use BYOMD, specifically Socrative, since Sesssion 1 2014.

Research supports the use of clickers in class for active learning and peer instruction. Oigara & Keengwe (2013) found that students’ perceptions of use of clickers with active learning strategies helped them to better understand the subject matter compared to a traditional lecture, it also promoted individual and group participation, increased engagement and provided students with the ability to see what their peers knew. Students use feedback from clickers to adjust their own understanding of concepts (Krumsvik & Ludvigsen, 2012).

“Raised hands” by TrueMitra Licensed for use by Macquarie University
“Raised hands” by TrueMitra Licensed for use by Macquarie University

Clickers can also be used to facilitate peer instruction in a lecture. They can act as the vehicle for students to participate, engage and discuss concepts from the lecture with each other. In peer instruction, students discuss their understanding of concepts with their peers and by articulating their ideas engage in deep learning (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).

Dan Daugaard, Applied Finance Centre

Some of you may have already read about how Dan Daugaard uses Socrative in his unit ECFS854. In ECFS865 Investments seminars, Dan uses Socrative to inject interactivity and receive feedback from his students. Specifically, Dan asks questions in class on foundational knowledge. If the responses from students indicate a lack of understanding, he will address this then and there by further explaining the concept in more detail. He also uses the free text response option, so that students can provide their own examples of a specific concept. Dan would then look at the responses and use them to pick out illustrative examples. Students see that their contributions are valued and a more likely to contribute in future. Dan also noted that students start to discuss their responses with other students creating energy and enthusiasm for the content being covered.

“use of in-class polling in lecture” by Chris Froissard ©2015 Macquarie University
“use of in-class polling in lecture” by Chris Froissard ©2015 Macquarie University

Kirsty Davies, Macquarie Law School

In a totally different context, Dr Kirsty Davies, a lecturer for LEX102: Sustainability, Science and the Law, uses Socrative with over 100 students in C5C T1 Theatre. Kirsty firstly uses Socrative to ask students their opinion on a particular issue, next presents a case study, and then asks if they have changed their opinions. The example I saw was exploring the case of the “supertrawler” FV Margiris and the influence of public opinion and science on federal environmental law. After the case study, some students expressed surprise over the way this issue was played out. Socrative allowed students to not only vote on whether the case study changed their viewpoint, but also allowed them to provide free text comments anonymously. Kirsty went through some of these comments to highlight particular viewpoints. The students were animated and interested in seeing what their peers had wrote and were looking for their own comments. There was energy in the room, as students had reflected back their opinions and comments on such an interesting case study.

Kirsty says she has “found Socrative to engage my students individually and collectively. It is always a challenge with a large cohort of students to ensure that each student has a voice; this technology enables this level of engagement. The students love it and I plan to continue to use it in future offerings of units I convene. I am technophobic and was surprised as to how user friendly this technology is. My thanks also to Chris and his team who patiently supported my training and delivery of Socrative over two semesters. My only concern with this tool is surrounding students listening to the Echo recording of the lectures while polling is being conducted. This technology seems to be limited to engaging students who are present in the lecture hall. ”

Dr Alison Vicary, Department of Economics

Dr Alison Vicary has bravely used Socrative in her ECON110 Macroeconomic Principles class, which has over 600 enrolments.  I use the adjective “bravely” because she took on the use of Socrative wholeheartedly, has embedded in-class polling throughout her lectures, and has a large class where things could go wrong very quickly.

Alison lectures in 2-hour blocks in W6D Lotus Theatre. She uses all the different question types in Socrative: multiple choice, True/False and Free text to instil energy and interaction in her class. Students are actively canvassed for their opinions, and asked to indicate what they know about macroeconomic issues. Alison uses this to shape her lecture, address questions and to include viewpoints and comments from her students in her presentation. This leads to a sense of the lecture being a two-way street, an exchange of ideas and comments, a conversation between the students and the lecturer.

Alison had a few comments about her experience with Socrative: “Socrative was useful to ascertain and clarify general knowledge issues about economics. [These weren’t addressed] in the course but useful in figuring out what I am working with in terms of context for applying the theory. [Socrative helped me to use] facts as a hook for theory [and to address] intellectual misconceptions. Open-ended responses didn’t work in the large lecture.”

A positive experience

In general I have been surprised at the number of students that have participated in in-class polling, particularly in Alison’s lecture. However this should not be too much of a surprise as the surveys we conducted with Dan Daugaard’s students indicated a high penetration of mobile devices and laptops in the student population. Students had at least one device and sometimes even two that they brought with them to class capable of allowing them to participate in in-class polling.

On the whole, the experience of all three academics: Dan, Kirsty and Alison, has been positive, and they all intend to continue using the technology in their future classes.  As with all new technology, there have been some technical issues, however these academics made the assessment that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Some are even starting to extend its use and make changes to the technology in their classrooms to better facilitate the use of this technology. For example, Dan’s classroom at the city campus has implemented multi inputs/multi outputs that enables dual displays; essentially he’ll be able to show the in-class polling results on one screen and the lecture materials on the other.

I have also been encouraged to see teachers, when they are supported and encouraged, will try new technologies if they can see a benefit to their students. This willingness to explore new teaching tools, where there is a clear benefit and research to support its use, I believe will lead to improved learning experiences for students and teaching experiences for staff.

Further reading

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), 970-977. doi:

Oigara, J., & Keengwe, J. (2013). Students’ perceptions of clickers as an instructional tool to promote active learning. The Official Journal of the IFIP Technical Committee on Education, 18(1), 15-28. doi: 10.1007/s10639-011-9173-9

Krumsvik, R., & Ludvigsen, K. (2012). Formative E-assessment in plenary lectures. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 1(7), 36–54.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: MIT.

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