Brooks Depro, assistant professor of economics, tried something new in his introductory-level economics courses last fall by incorporating clickers into his lectures. Professor Depro participated in TLT’s Clicker Pilot Program, serving as one of several clicker pioneers who tested out various uses for clickers. I met with him to find out more about his experience.
Q: Why did you start using clickers?
Given the one-hour, 40-minute time length of his economics courses, Professor Depro was looking for a way to avoid monotony in his classes. While researching different options on the Web, he discovered clickers.
“I was looking for ways to break up the class, and I had read some things on several blogs that this is one way to get students a little more engaged in the class and break up the class,” he said.
Q: What are some specific ways you use clickers?
Professor Depro uses clickers as a way to reinforce course material. He assigns readings to students for homework, so they are familiar with course terminology and ideas before class begins. Professor Depro then conducts several mini-lectures throughout the lecture period, presenting series of questions to students concerning the material he just discussed.
“After they see (their) responses, they get into groups or pairs and describe why they gave (their) answers and talk through the answer,” he said. “Then, they’re given an opportunity to respond to the question again, and I reveal the correct answer.”
Depending on the correctness of the second set of responses, Professor Depro either revisits key points of the lecture or proceeds to the next lecture and set of questions. His questions are primarily multiple choice, and they focus on larger concepts instead of definitions or terms.
“It’s making sure they pull the key ideas or the key concepts out of the reading…” he said, “with questions related to their understanding of the concepts that were presented in the text.”
Professor Depro formulates questions that apply to real-world scenarios, so students can relate classroom material to their everyday lives.
“We use an application that’s similar to what the book describes as an example, but (it’s) different to make sure they’re really understanding rather than just memorizing the concepts,” he said.
Q: What advice would you offer to faculty who are interested in doing something like this?
Students expressed positive sentiments to Professor Depro concerning clicker usage, and because of this positive feedback, he plans to continue using clickers in the future.
“The students do like it,” he said. “They seem to be happy with it.”
Professor Depro explained students have liked responding anonymously to questions because anonymity allows them to contribute real, true input without worrying about the threats of grades or peer-type concerns, too.
Professor Depro said students mentioned they would like to answer more opinion-type questions, too, so he plans to incorporate some of these in his question sets this spring.
Q: What are some of the downsides of using clickers?
Learning the clicker software to develop questions was the most difficult challenge Professor Depro faced while using clickers last semester. But, like most things, the program became more familiar to him and became easier to use as time progressed.
Q: Do you have any additional information or comments you would like to share?
Professor Depro acknowledged there are many different ways instructors can use clickers in their classrooms, but he was pleased with his experience and methodology.
“I started really small,” he said. “I think it was good that I just focused on one way (to use clickers), so I could get practice on doing it and seeing how well it worked versus doing a bunch of different things and not really doing them the right way. I feel like the students weren’t overwhelmed, and they ate it up pretty quickly and understood the process.”
Professor Depro also found it helpful that the clicker technology allows instructors to recycle questions. Though he does not plan to use exact versions of last semester’s questions in his new classes, Professor Depro will use the basic foundations of those questions as a framework to follow.
“I’ve found that I would like to probably change some of the questions, so that’ll involve either adding new questions or revising the existing ones, but they’re all saved, so I won’t be reinventing the wheel for sure.”