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What are Clickers?

The following is a transcript of the "What are Clickers?" multimedia presentation available here.

Welcome to this presentation which briefly answers the question "What are Clickers?"

I am Olga Urban, Online Technologies Coordinator of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University. This presentation will provide NIU faculty and staff with a quick introduction to clickers as well as briefly discuss a few of the educational benefits and considerations for using this technology in the delivery of instruction.

So what are clickers? Clickers are small handheld devices used in the classroom to collect student responses to interactive tests and quizzes.

There are many terms used interchangeably in reference to the same technology. Some of this terminology includes such names as a personal response system, student performance system, classroom performance system, classroom communication system, audience response system or an interactive response system. The goal of this technology is to promote communication and interaction in face-to-face classes.

The second generation clicker technology which has been adopted today by a lot of educational institutions typically consists of the following components: student response pads, a receiver, a software package, and a projector screen. Student response pads, or clickers, are small handheld devices which students use to enter their responses. The signal receiver is a device which is connected to a classroom computer and used to receive infrared or radio signals from the student response pads. The software that is included with the student response system needs to be installed on the classroom computer. This software is used to record and process collected student responses. A projector screen is not really part of this technology, but it is beneficial to have in the classroom to be able to display test results to the students.

Although the popularity of the clicker technology in education has grown in the last few years, the technology itself is not by any means new. The first generation of clickers emerged in the mid 1980s when several scientists came up with a prototype of the new teaching tool called Classroom Communication System (CCS). The CCS system Classtalk was first tested in a physics class with great results. It became commercially available in the early 1990s, and it was used successfully by a number of universities for quite a few years.

In the late 1990s, the second generation of classroom response systems appeared. eInstruction CPS and EduCue PRS led the way. These systems use handheld response pads and infrared or radio frequency signals to transmit data. Some of the other companies that use this kind of student response system technology are iClicker, TurningPoint, Quizdom, and InterWrite.

The development of the third generation of clickers is currently underway. This technology uses laptops and PDAs instead of handheld response pads as student response devices. And the data is transmitted via a wireless network that laptops and PDAs connect to.

So how do clickers work? Here's a typical setup.

In the classroom, the instructor presents a question to the students either verbally, or in the written form using a PowerPoint presentation or the classroom performance software. The question can be either in multiple-choice, true/false, yes/no, or numeric format.

The instructor can give the students some time to discuss the question among themselves. After discussing possible solutions, the students then submit their answers to the question by using their response pads or clickers. Each response pad has a serial number which belongs only to one specific student in the class. The response pad transmits data using infrared or radio frequency signal to the receiver attached to the instructor's computer.

The software installed on the computer collects and processes the data from the receiver. The instructor can then instantly show a histogram of the answer distribution to the students or he/she can store results in the database for later viewing and reporting. The results displayed on the screen are anonymous to the students. They only see their response pad numbers, but not their names. To the instructor, though, the results are not anonymous. The instructor can identify individual student responses by the response pads’ serial numbers which belong to specific students.

eInstruction CPS (Classroom Performance System) is a clicker technology that has recently been adopted by NIU as the centrally supported clicker system. NIU has decided to standardize on the clicker technology from eInstruction CPS to ensure that faculty have central support in terms of training and technical assistance and students do not have to purchase several different clicker devices during their time at NIU.

NIU has chosen CPS for several reasons. First of all, CPS is very easy to install, and it can be used both on a PC or a Mac. Secondly, CPS allows to create a variety of interactive tests and quizzes. Additionally, it integrates well with Blackboard and allows seamless transfer of session data into the Blackboard Gradebook. Blackboard course rosters can be imported into CPS, and CPS software can then be set to sync automatically with the Blackboard Gradebook every time a CPS database is updated. The CPS-Blackboard Connection allows faculty to engage their students in the classroom, record student responses to interactive tests and quizzes and then upload the information to Blackboard for review. Faculty can also poll students and take attendance, and the collected data can be uploaded to Blackboard where both students and faculty can view the results.

One of the reasons why the clicker technology is becoming increasingly popular in education is the ability of students to be actively engaged in the classroom. Clickers facilitate student collaboration and dialogue, especially in large classrooms where it can be hard to achieve active student participation. As they are using their response pads to answer questions, students are provided with an opportunity to get instant feedback, even in a large class.

It has also been noted that clickers increase student engagement and attention as well as motivate participation by invoking the "Fun Factor." Clickers provide a great way to break up monotonous lectures and improve class attendance. Additionally, the clicker technology enables faculty to identify areas where students need improvement and then customize instruction on the fly to target those areas more closely. Because the technology promotes collaborative and interactive learning, students tend to retain the material learned interactively better. In general, clickers are a great educational tool for promoting collaboration and interaction between students and faculty as well as providing instant feedback to questions.

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center provides online tutorials, handouts, as well as face-to-face workshops that address the use of clickers in the classroom in greater detail. Visit the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center Web site for more information about upcoming programs and resources for NIU faculty and staff at NIU faculty and staff who would like to use eInstruction CPS in their classes need to contact eInstruction's Educational Consultant for a Starter Kit. More information about the request process and contact information can be found on the Teaching with Blackboard Web site at There you'll find step-by-step instructions for requesting an eInstruction CPS Starter Kit and getting started using CPS.

Last Updated: 12/12/2007