Technology, specifically smartphones, can be distractions in the classroom. However, if used correctly instructors can take advantage of technology to engage students and further the learning process. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (2011, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning), authors Svinicki and McKeachie outline tips and tricks for instructors leveraging clickers in the classroom. Clickers, or student response systems, are commonly utilized to promote active learning by enabling a large number of students to send their responses to poll questions posed by their instructor. There are even Web-based response systems that you can use to allow your students to use their cell phones to respond to your polling questions – channeling those potential distractions into engaging activities!

Clickers can be used to evaluate students’ knowledge of a subject or to quickly check a students’ understanding of new concepts during lectures. Instructors can then adjust the pace or content of the course to better a student’s learning experience. Svinicki and McKeachie suggest that clickers seem to be most effective when used to gauge students’ conceptual understanding and when combined with active learning approaches, such as ‘Think-Pair-Share’ or ‘Peer Instruction’. Clickers are less effective at engaging students when used just for classroom management, such as checking student attendance.

Clickers require that both instructors and students have specialized software and devices, but technology is now evolving and students and instructors can now use their cell phones to achieve the same result that clickers provide. Utilizing personal communication technology, such as cell phones, as a tool for interactive teaching and learning can help bring student culture into the classroom, therefore encouraging involvement.

Svinicki and McKeachie Outline Several Tips for Effectively Using Clickers:

  • Before introducing the new technology into your class, examine your teaching style and set goals for using the clickers.
  • Clearly explain to students why clickers are being used in the course. In addition, make sure you communicate your expectations of students and establish ground rules for all to abide by.
  • Create thoughtful and effective clicker questions before each lecture. Questions should encourage conceptual or critical thinking.
  • Take time to experiment with the use of the clickers during the first couple of classes. Allow both students and faculty to become comfortable with the technology.
  • If administering tests using clickers, do not allot too many points to a single test, as it may create nervousness for the students as well as temptation to cheat.
  • If clicker technology is used to track student’s attendance, be sure to use it for other purposes as well. Clickers can be used to evaluate students’ understanding, generate ideas for classroom discussion, or encourage students to think more critically about course content.
  • If you are using clicker technology to examine students’ understanding, be sure to recognize and comment on students’ responses. Based on the feedback from students, you can adjust the pace or content of the lecture to better serve their needs. (pp 246-247)


Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Share your ideas for using clicker activities in the comments.