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Using clickers to enhance student experience in a large lecture course

H. Philip Zeigler, Virginia Valian, Sarit Golub, and Jeffrey Parsons (Psychology)


Jeff Parsons

Hunter’s Introductory Psychology course is designed to introduce students to novel ways of looking at topics in psychology that have implications for both their personal lives and for public policy.  Student enrollment in the course is among the highest of any academic discipline.  Professors Zeigler, Parsons, Valian, and Golub developed a co-taught, large-lecture (> 800 students) format for Introductory Psychology, with the goal of enhancing student experience and maintaining student involvement in the lecture hall. One critical factor in achieving this goal is the use of a student response system, aka “clickers.”

Clickers are wireless devices that can be used to collect responses from a group of people in real time.   When a question is posed, each individual with a clicker enters a response.  The results are instantly aggregated and displayed in a graph that can be projected to the front of the room.   Students in Introductory Psychology purchased their own clickers, which they were required to bring to each class session.  Professors Zeigler, Parsons, Valian, and Golub use the clickers for a range of purposes, including tracking attendance, providing in-class quizzes and exams, checking student comprehension, and generating student-lecturer feedback.

Students use the clickers to:
  • Replicate cognitive psychology experiments (using the clickers to collect real-time data)
    Professor Valian asked two groups of students to independently view lists of adjectives describing a hypothetical person.  In one group, two positive adjectives such as "generous" were introduced first, followed by two negative adjectives such as "critical;" in the second group the order in which the adjectives were presented was reversed.  Students were then asked to use their clickers to rate the hypothetical person in terms of adjectives such as "attractive" or "unattractive." Students in the group that saw the positive adjectives first were more likely to rate the hypothetical person positively, whereas students in the group that saw the negative adjectives first were more likely to rate the hypothetical person negatively.  The experiment demonstrates that the order in which we receive information about someone or something matters: first impressions really do count for more, even if future information complicates or disconfirms those impressions.

Cognitive psychology experiment
(View larger)

Anonymous survey

  • Predict the results of psychology experiments before seeing the actual data.
    Professor Golub asks students to “take a stand” and then try to figure out why they made the predictions they did.  After students have committed to a response using the clickers, she gives an explanation of the correct answer, in order to facilitate learning.  Professor Golub has found that regardless of whether students get the answer right or wrong, they remember the results better because they discover them as a way of finding out whether or not they got the question right.   
  • Participate in anonymous surveys
    Professor Parsons asks students to respond to questions regarding topics such as health or sexuality.  Because of the sensitive nature of these questions, responses are collected anonymously.