A New Kind of Clicker Question

If you ever want to find out the latest and greatest techniques for using clickers, look no further than the sciences. Physicists like Eric Mazur, and his peer-instruction method, have paved the way for revolutionary ways to use clickers to promote deep learning.

The latest ‘new’ style of clicker question comes from the Science Education Initiative at the University of Colorado. They’re being called thought questions, and they offer a method for asking non-multiple choice questions with clickers. Here are the steps to developing thought questions:

  1. Identify your learning goal. All clicker questions should be based on a learning goal.
  2. Create an open-ended question that requires students to apply previously learned principles or heuristics.
  3. Present the thought question, and then give students about 5-7 minutes to discuss the question in small groups.
  4. Select a group to present their answer and rationale to the class.
  5. Use clickers to have the class vote on whether they agree with the answer and rationale.
  6. If most of the class disagrees, select another group to present their answer and rationale.
  7. Repeat clicker voting until the majority of the class agrees with an answer and rationale (Foley & Tsai, 2010).

I see thought questions as highly adaptable to information literacy instruction. For example, if your learning goal is to have students be able to articulate the appropriateness of a source for a particular situation, you could present them with a thought question that illustrates a real-life scenario. Likewise, you could present a thought question that requires them to debate the best starting point for a particular research topic.

I prefer open-ended clicker questions for information literacy instruction for two reasons: they promote deeper thinking than multiple choice questions, and in many ways they are easier to write than multiple choice questions (writing good distractors for multiple choice questions can be challenging).

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Mouse Mischief: An Alternative to Clickers

There are a number of free alternatives to clicker systems out there. Poll Everywhere and Socrative are two that come to mind. But, today I wanted to highlight one you may not be familiar with – Mouse Mischief by Microsoft. It’s a free PowerPoint add-in that allows you to connect up to 25 wireless mice to a presentation. Your students are then able to interact with your presentation with those mice.  You insert questions, polls, and drawing activity slides into your slide show, and then students use their mice as clickers to answer the questions (each mouse is assigned a unique icon). You get the polling feedback. While Microsoft has marketed this primarily to the K-12 sector, I see potential for it in smaller colleges where class sizes (and possibly budgets) are slim. It would be especially useful for those library demos in non-computer situations, and it does not rely on an internet connection to work. The only caveat is that it works best with Windows 7 (and presumably Windows 8) operating systems. If you are still stuck with Windows XP SP3, you can only connect up to 5 mice.