Sunday, April 2, 2017

Clickers and discussion in the flipped classroom

Lecture flow

Figure 1. Lecture flow
"Lectures" consist of a short introduction followed by Socratic questions and discussion. Ad hoc microlectures address lacunae.  With 200 students in the classroom, options for discussion and participation are limited, but not zero. My clicker question and discussion strategy follow online examples and colleague recommendations. Succinctly, this entails posing clicker questions for which points are only given to correct answers. Students have about a minute to figure out the answer by themselves. I count down five seconds to the end and give extra time if students ask for it. After the poll closes, it reopens on a new round of the same question. Students can collaborate in the second round by interacting with neighbors, TAs, or asking me for clarification. Voting preferences are displayed on the laptop computer running the clicker base displaying the degree of comprehension. When comprehension is high, I usually close the question (on the Clicker receiver) and then proceed to cold-call a student from a random list to discuss the different answers. When comprehension is low, I cold-call with the Clicker receiver still open and work with the students through the answers. This enables students to get at least some clicker points, prevents desperation, and keeps them focused on the question.

Student preparedness

Students are supposed to come prepared by work on the online module. While points and deadline on online quizzes stimulate compliance, experience and exit polls indicate that not all students come prepared.
Figure 2

Figure 2 illustrates students' response about their preparedness. It indicates that ~1/4 of the students come to class unprepared. I could ignore this fraction and tailor the lecture-discussion to the compliant rest. I am convinced this would be a bad idea, as it would dig a chasm between student types. My strategy instead is to aim for the middle, trying to keep the top students challenged while carrying along as many as possible.

Clicker question strategy

Clicker questions are a critical component of my course. Good planning and design is important for success. Bad clicker questions can throw the session into near chaos, causing confusion, delay, and students detachment from the lecture objective. The safest question, of course, is a dumb question, such as asking the students to spit back a fact that was just presented. It is also ineffective at teaching. In most lectures I attempt to take students though a Socratic journey that ideally should resolve into self discovery and deeper understanding. This is a more risky strategy, but one that offers potential higher rewards. I plan to illustrate successes and pitfalls of this in future posts. 

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