RAP ON: Clickers in the Classroom

About the author: Tyler Read is a PhD student in the Engineering Psychology program at OSU and is currently studying perception in virtual reality. He is interested in attention, perception, and decision making. Also of interest is lapses in these processes and how these lapses can be mediated. This is part of our series of Research Advancing Pedagogy (RAPblogs, designed to share the latest pedagogical research from across the disciplines in a pragmatic format.

Ever used a classroom response system?  More commonly known as Clickers, these technological innovations promise to provide more venues for interactivity. Correspondingly, a good sized body of research on these devices and suggestions for their use exist (see Landrum, 2015). Clickers can be used for several in class activities ranging from checks on attendance to actual quiz taking. Generally, there is a positive effect on attendance and in class enjoyment when clickers are involved. The primary focus here is to look at the influence of clicker questions on learning.

What was done?  Shapiro et al. (2017) aimed to test clicker use on both factual and conceptual knowledge. They conducted two experiments. The first experiment tested the effect of clickers on comprehension and learning of in class material, similar to what would be presented in a lecture-based course. The study was designed to look at both factual and conceptual level knowledge. Using a live biology classroom enrolling 858 students, researchers created four conditions: Factual clicker question, conceptual clicker question, enhanced control clicker question, and control clicker question. Factual questions came directly after a fact a had been presented and the students were then asked to answer a question regarding that act. Conceptual questions were similar in which a conceptual slide was presented, and the subsequent question asked about the concept. The enhanced control was a way to check on the factual and conceptual questions while the control was a baseline. A second experiment with 299 students replicated the design of study 1 but was set in a class of a teacher that used a problem-oriented pedagogy.

What did they find?  In experiment, both factual and conceptual clicker question were associated with factual knowledge when compared to a control condition. Conceptual clicker questions did not promote better performance on conceptual exam questions. Students’ use of deep learning strategies mediated clicker effects. Specifically, clicker questions brought up exam scores of students that did not employ deep learning strategies to the same extent as deep learning peers. Experiment two showed no significant effect on factual exam questions or conceptual exam questions. Shapiro et al. suggest that students learned more from weekly problem-solving sets and factual clicker questions impede performance. The enhanced control condition also impeded performance. It seems that the superficial level of factual questions distracted students from deeper underlying conceptual knowledge. The enhanced control also drew attention away from conceptual information to factual information. In factual and enhanced clicker conditions students who reported prior knowledge did worse on conceptual exam questions.

What does this mean for us?  This finding should be taken in context. Clicker use and involvement in a course should take into account how the course will be taught. Lecture courses can benefit from clicker questions when it comes to learning about factual material. This could be both during lessons and later on exams. If your course is based on another form of pedagogy think twice about the use of clicker use and clicker questions. The use of clickers may impede students if they could interfere with other learning tools.


Landrum, R. E. (2015). Teacher-ready research review: Clickers. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1 (3), 250-254. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/stl0000031

Shapiro, A., Sims-Knight, J., O’Rielly, G., Capaldo, P., Pedlow, T., Gordon, L., and Monterio, K. (2017). Clickers can promote fact retention but impede conceptual understanding: The effect of the interaction between clicker use and pedagogy on learning. Computers and Education. 111, 44-59. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.03.017

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