Clickers/Personal Response Systems

What are Clickers?

Clickers are wireless personal response systems that can be used in a classroom to anonymously and rapidly collect an answer to a question from every student; an answer for which they are individually accountable. This allows rapid reliable feedback to both the instructor and the students. Clickers are not a magic bullet – they are not necessarily useful as an end in themselves. They become useful when the instructor has a clear idea as to what they want to achieve with them, and the questions are designed to improve student engagement, student-student interaction (on-topic), and instructor-student interaction. Below are some videos and other resources to help instructors use clickers effectively in a classroom.

Video Demonstrations

  • Eric Mazur & Peer Instruction

    A short video showing Eric Mazur (Harvard University) implementing Peer Instruction using clickers.

  • Using Clickers in the Classroom

    A description of a wide variety of ways to use clickers in the classroom, by Russell James, University of Georgia.

Guides and Tips

Clicker Resource Guide view pdf
An instructor's guide to the effective use of personal response systems ("clickers") in teaching prepared by University of Colorado Science Education Initiative (CU-SEI) and University of British Columbia Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) staff and associates. This guide was written to help instructors use clickers in their classes in the most comfortable and pedagogically effective manner. It includes a section on frequently asked questions about the use of clickers and clicker questions and several good examples of clicker questions.
Tips for Successful “Clicker” Use view pdf
A nice 2-pager with Practices that lead to Successful Clicker Use and Practices that lead to Failure by Douglas Duncan, University of Colorado.
Tri-Fold: Ready, Set, React! Getting the most out of peer instruction using clickers view pdf
A "cheat-sheet" for clicker question choreography by Peter Newbury and Cynthia Heiner, Physics and Astronomy, UBC.
Thought Questions: A New Approach to Using Clickers view pdf
A 2-pager on a different way to use clickers: the question is open-ended and the voting is on whether the students agree or disagree with other students’ answer and rationale. Prepared by Teresa Foley and Pei-San Tsai, Integrative Physiology Dept., University of Colorado-Boulder.
Classroom Response System ("Clickers") Bibliography (Vanderbilt Center for Teaching) view site
A very extensive bibliography on clicker use and research (with links to digitally available papers).
Multiple Choice Question Writing Guidance, Brigham Young University Testing Center view site
Several guides for the creation of good multiple choice questions, including the excellent "How to Prepare Better Multiple-Choice Test Items: Guidelines for University Faculty". Also has guidance documents on writing other types of test questions.
Derek Bruff's Blog: Agile Learning view site
An active Blog (formerly called "Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Resources for engaging and assessing students with clickers"). Derek teaches math and statistics at Vanderbilt University and has written multiple books, including one on teaching with classroom response systems.
The Art (and Science) of In-Class Questioning via Clickers listen to podcast
This podcast describes some recent studies that highlight how clickers can be used most effectively. By Dr. Stephanie Chasteen, with Eric Mazur of Harvard University, Jenny Knight of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Ed Prather of the University of Arizona.

Question/ConcepTests Collections

PhysPort's "Where can I find good questions to use with clickers or Peer Instruction?" visit site
PhysPort maintains a curated list of sources for clicker questions (lots of collection here!).
SEI Course Materials system visit
A collection of course materials from the University of Colorado Science Education Initiative (CU-SEI) and the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI).


Peer Instruction: Engaging Students One-on-One, All At Once
Catherine Crouch, Jessica Watkins, Adam Fagen, and Eric Mazur, Research-Based Reform of University Physics, 1(1) (2007).
This is a thorough article that covers techniques of peer instruction, design principles and practices, and lots of data on results.

Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips
Jane Caldwell, CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(1), pp. 9-20 (2007).
A good review of research on clicker use, particularly in the context of teaching in the life sciences, including a set of guidelines for writing good questions and a list of best-practice tips.

Designing effective questions for classroom response system teaching
Ian Beatty, William Gerace, William Leonard, and Robert Dufresne, American Journal of Physics, Vol. 74(1), pp. 31-39 (2006).
This is a good paper discussing different types of clicker questions and the cognitive processes they can tie into.

Why I like clicker personal response systems
Eric Ribbens, Journal of College Science Teaching, pp. 60-62, Nov. 2007.
One Professor's account of what happened when he started using clickers: "I wandered into clickers expecting them to become another tool in my toolbox. Instead, I’ve found that clickers have somehow taken over my toolbox, rearranged my other tools, and started acting as an expert assistant."

Student Behavior, Attitudes, and Learning Using in-Class Questions with "Clickers" vs. a Show of Hands in a Large Introductory Geology Course
Andrea Bair, Jennifer Stempien, and David Budd, University of Colorado Geological Sciences (CU-SEI program), GSA conference poster, 2007.
Reports an investigation of student behavior, attitudes, and learning in two sections of introductory geology in which most course elements were the same (instructor, classroom, lecture content, assessments, and in-class questions); one section used clickers to vote, and students voted via a show of hands in the other section. The effects of each treatment on student behavior, attitudes, and learning were evaluated by means of classroom observations, student surveys, and student interviews.

Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions
Michelle Smith, William Wood, Wendy Adams, Carl Wieman, Jenny Knight, Nancy Guild, and Tin Tin Su, Science, Vol. 323 no. 5910, pp. 122-124 (2009).
When students answer an in-class conceptual question individually using clickers, discuss it with their neighbors, and then revote on the same question, the percentage of correct answers typically increases. To test whether this was truly due to increased understanding, the researchers followed the exercise with an isomorphic question that students answered individually. Their results indicate that peer discussion enhances understanding, even when none of the students in a discussion group originally knows the correct answer.

Experience Report: Peer Instruction in Introductory Computing
Beth Simon, Michael Kohanfars, Jeff Lee, Karen Tamayo, and Quintin Cutts, in Proceedings of the 41st ACM technical symposium on Computer science education Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, March 10 - 13, 2010.
This article describes the process and results of applying the Peer Instruction model with clickers in introductory computing courses, and concludes with observations, advice and suggested improvements.

Listening to student conversations during clicker questions: What you have not heard might surprise you!
Mark James and Shannon Willoughby, American Journal of Physics, Vol. 79(1), pp. 123-132 (2011).
This article reports on an analysis of clicker question discussions during Peer Instruction. They found that only about 40% of the conversations were of the "standard" type where students discuss their opinions relating to the physical attributes posed in a question and submit clicker responses that coincide with individual opinions. They also found that having high stakes (marks for correctness) was actually detrimental to the conversation.

Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions
Michelle Smith, William Wood, Ken Krauter, and Jenny Knight, CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol. 10(1), pp. 55-63 (2011).
This study shows that the combination of peer discussion followed by instructor explanation improved average student performance substantially when compared with either peer discussion or instructor explanation alone. They also found that all ability groups benefited from the combination approach, and that strong performers were not helped by the instructor-only approach, emphasizing the importance of peer discussion even among top-performing students.

Research-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction: A Literature Review
Trisha Vickrey, Kaitlyn Rosploch, Reihaneh Rahmanian, Matthew Pilarz, and Marilyne Stains, CBE—Life Sciences Education, 14(1), p. 1 (2015).
This article summarizes the research on Peer Instruction and its implications on how to best implement it.


Below is the complete catalogue of site resources on Clickers/PRS if you want to browse further.

Clicker Use, Clicker Question Examples, Clicker Research

Video: Upper Division Clickers in Action - info

What might clickers look like in a junior course? Take a look inside one of our classrooms, and hear students and...

Video: What Kinds of Questions Do We Ask in Upper Division? - info

Professor Steven Pollock walks through the questions that he asked in one day of Quantum Mechanics. He shares his...

Video: Writing Upper Division Clicker Questions - info

Struggling to figure out how to write a good question at this level? This short video gives a few quick tips from...

Why I like clicker personal response systems - info

Eric Ribbens, Journal of College Science Teaching, pp. 60-62, Nov. 2007.
One Professor's account of what...

Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions - info

Michelle Smith, William Wood, Wendy Adams, Carl Wieman, Jenny Knight, Nancy Guild, and Tin Tin Su, Science, Vol. 323...