Clicker Questions

In this section, Dr. Jeremy Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom discuss their use of clicker questions in 18.05.

During class sessions, students voted electronically on answers to questions we posed using the Interwrite™ PRS system. These “clicker questions” were designed to help students think about concepts.

Our goal was to use the questions to generate rich discussions. One way we did this was by asking questions that defied consensus; that is, questions that evenly divided the class into two camps. This created a situation in which students wondered if they—or their peers in the other camp—were correct.

We often asked students to first respond individually to questions. Students’ votes were then displayed visually—at which point the two camps typically became apparent. We asked students sitting at the same table to come to a consensus as a group. As they engaged in this discussion, they continued to click in their responses, and it was possible to see dynamically how the plot of the responses changed. Eventually, we would ask volunteers from different tables to justify their responses. The volunteers felt confident in justifying their answers because they had already discussed the question with their tablemates. When different table groups didn’t agree, we continued the discussion. It was fun.

This kind of discussion format was important because we wanted students to know that mathematics is not simply about computing on a board. It’s also about thinking, communicating ideas, and coming up with convincing arguments. We wanted students to learn how to debate in mathematics.