Dr. Joel Karty, associate professor of chemistry, knows succeeding in organic chemistry is no small feat. It’s a tough class to teach, and students are required to take (and pass) it if they wish to attend professional school in the medical field.
“Teaching organic chemistry is intimidating, and it’s a high-profile class for a lot of students trying to get into medical school,” Karty said. “If a student’s not doing well, it’s easy to get down or depressed a little bit. The morale takes a big hit.”
To battle the frustrations that can accompany such a challenging course, Karty began searching for technologies that could help to improve student performance.
“[Clickers provided a way] to fix what wasn’t working well with my straight lecturing,” he said. “There were a lot of negative outcomes when I was teaching using a traditional science lecture format, stemming from my students perceiving me as droning on about stuff that doesn’t seem to matter. I was just looking for a way out of what I thought was a bad situation.”
Clicker Buy-Back Program
Once Karty determined clickers would satisfy his needs, he listed them as a required component of his course on his syllabus.
Karty’s students can purchase clickers from Elon’s bookstore, and Kathy Scarborough, campus shop manager, created a buy-back program for clickers, so students can resell them at the end of each semester.
“The clicker buy-back program works in exactly the same way as the book buy-back program,” Scarborough said. “Clickers are listed on students’ required materials lists online just like calculators are.”
Clickers for Karty’s course sell for about $40 at the bookstore, but because students can resell them at the end of the class, the net cost averages around $20.
“We make sure [the clickers] are going to be reusable,” Scarborough said. “Students can get half of the purchase price back as long as a professor confirms with us that he or she wants to use that same clicker next semester.”
Though clickers are an additional expense to students, Karty believes the educational advantages that derive from them outweigh their financial cost.
“This was one of those things that made me ask myself, ‘What’s the cost/benefit of clickers compared to students’ educational performances,’ and I’ve started to see that [they’re] really worth the investment.”
Using Clickers to Help Students Become Better Scholars
After initially using clickers to learn more about his students and to help them stay active in class, Karty began using them as a way to help his students become better scholars.
“I started using clickers as a way to hold students accountable for learning more of the material on their own, so they are less reliant on me, the professor,” he said. “I didn’t want class to be just, ‘Come, let me dump some information on you, and then leave and try to digest it later.’”
To ensure his students complete outside assignments, Karty uses clickers as assessment-type tools. He said his students are forced to read and comprehend chunks of material from the textbook before coming to class because he begins each class period with a clicker question relating to the homework. Karty’s students then work the problem and answer the question with their clickers. If the majority answers the question correctly, he reveals the answer and opens up the floor for discussion.
“We look at what makes the right answer correct, what makes other answers not correct, I pose questions to the students, and I get questions if they’re confused or if they’re surprised about why that’s the answer,” Karty said. “That’s the engagement factor. You’re not just awake and active, but you’re participating in a discussion.”
However, if the majority answers the question incorrectly, Karty does not reveal the answer but instead asks his students to discuss it with each other and then re-answer it.
“By doing this, students get to hear the insights their neighbors in the class have, so they can learn the material a little bit differently,” he said.
Karty repeats this same process multiple times throughout each class period.
“Every 10 minutes or so, we do another question,” he said. “It seems to put students out of their comfort zones, but the purpose is to make them better students.”
Overall, Karty’s chemistry students seem to appreciate his required use of clickers. Even when he does not ask about clickers specifically on his end-of-the-semester evaluations, Karty said most students comment on their effectiveness.
“I find it interesting and rewarding to see a lot of comments say something to the effect of either, ‘That was my favorite part of the course, and this is why…’ or, ‘I didn’t like the clickers, but I appreciate them because they made me better—they made me do the kinds of things I would not otherwise do,’” he said. “I would be lying if I said there aren’t some students who are upset and don’t see the value in [using clickers], but most students, after going through the year and reflecting, appreciate them and value that they had to use them. They can look back and say, ‘Yeah, that made me better.’”
If you are interested in using clickers in your courses and would like some assistance, contact Teaching and Learning Technologies at 336.278.5006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.