One innovation that has infiltrated physics education over the last ten years or so is “clickers”. These are little devices that students use to remotely enter answers to multiple-choice questions presented by the instructor. I see several possible goals for their use:
- take attendance or use in assessment (mini quizzes)
- help students to pay attention and to promote active learning
- help students to evaluate and to improve their understanding
- allow instructors to assess average understanding for the students and to adjust lectures accordingly
One drawback I have found to clickers is that there is a significant cost in time or money to students, instructors, and IT. I have adopted a low tech solution where I simply use colored and lettered cards. This obviously prevents the first goal from being achieved, but that is not an important one to me.
Some of my questions are on my website or linked to the University of Maryland physics question of the week. I project these during lecture while others I simply write on the board. I try to give about half a dozen of these “clicker questions” during every 50 minute lecture. Ideally, these questions require some deep thought, though sometimes they are of the nature of “which kinematics equation should I use to solve this problem?” Most students really seem to enjoy the more interesting questions and learn from them. One student even reported that he had been given one of my clicker questions during a job interview!
At the summer 2010 AAPT meeting, I had the opportunity to learn about many resources for “clicker questions”. I was particularly impressed with the University of British Columbia's website where they provide guidance on effective use of clickers as well as links to clicker questions. I will expand my database of questions and re-evaluate the way I use these questions during lectures.
On a related note, I attended a workshop on alternatives to traditional problems. One idea presented was “context-rich problems” which are realistic, complex, and interesting. The University of Minnesota Physics Education Research Group can be contacted for some of these. Other ideas presented at the workshop included “Jeopardy problems” (students write questions to given answers), ranking tasks, questions with more than one solution, questions that cannot be answered with the given information, and questions with wrong answers provided (students must correct the answers). I like these ideas and I intend to implement them this academic year.
If anyone has additional links to clicker questions or non-traditional problems, please let me know.