When I was in college, my friends in science classes used clickers (aka Personal Response System aka PRS) in class to answer questions and get immediate feedback. These little remotes allowed the professor to know if the class was learning well enough to answer a multiple choice question, and they allowed the students to know how they were individually doing too (and possibly compare themselves to other students in the room). As a humanities student, I found this very unusual, but the idea stuck with me, especially after I heard that some students found them very useful and liked them a lot.
As I was planning my Roman history course, I wondered how I could do something similar in that course. I thought it would be an excellent way to break up the class so that it wasn’t all lecture, all the time (Yes, unfortunately, this course was early in my teaching career so it was a lot of lecturing). On the first day, I asked students how many of them already had a PRS system, and about half of them did. I did not want to force students to spend a lot of money on it for just this class, so I did not force them. Instead, I developed a better system.
How I did it
Each day, I passed out a small slip of paper with blanks to serve as an answer sheet. The students then knew how many questions to expect. Throughout the lecture, I would stop, change slides in the PowerPoint to a question, give the students a few seconds to answer the question, and then reveal the answer. At the end of the class, the students turned in the answer sheets with their names. I reviewed the answers in order to see how the students did, but their answers did not effect their grades because I wanted them to be fun and less stressful. I only used them to track attendance, which was a part of their grade that term.
Throughout the semester, I asked a variety of kinds of questions: multiple choice, very short answer (i.e. one or two words), and put a few events in chronological order—anything that could be done quickly and effectively review an important part of that portion of the class. These same forms of questions appeared on the exam, so the students were already accustomed to the examination methods before the first exam arrived.
- The students were given extra incentive to pay attention in class.
- The students had some idea of where they were during the semester, in terms of knowledge.
- I understood where the students were throughout the semester, not just after exam time. I developed a sense of who the good students were, and who might need extra attention.
- The students were better prepared for the exams and types of questions on them.
- It kept me honest and on my toes as a lecturer. As I delivered the lecture, I made sure that I covered the material in each question thoroughly so there would be no confusion, and the students then could answer an important factual question.
- It broke up the lecture. It became several blocks of lecturing instead of one constant lecture. This also allowed me to pause, get a drink of water, review what was coming next in the lecture, and be better prepared to continue speaking.
- It did not cost the students anything, but it did require me to have regular access to a printer and copier in order to provide the properly formatted answer sheet. I felt the need to provide the answer sheet because multiple choice questions required different amounts of space than putting events in chronological order.
- It did not require significant amount of extra time on my part. The work consisted of writing the questions, adding the slides to my lecture slides; making, copying, and cutting the answer sheets; and reviewing the answers. I tended to record when a student got questions wrong, but I did not penalize their grades so it took very little time. Overall, it was probably 15 minutes of work for each class.
- It made the students engage with the material.
- The students only engaged with the material on a factual level. They were not analyzing the motivations or beliefs of Romans. They were recalling what I told them, usually with the prompt of a multiple choice question. Depending on the course goals, this is fine. You could also ask questions in a way that forces students to engage with the material more deeply. Personally, I find that in-class writing helps students engage with the material on a more than factual level, but I will try to mix these strategies in the future so that students are both recalling material and engaging with it more deeply at different points throughout the class period.
- I could only gauge where students were after the class was over, not during it. This may have made some students write answers after I revealed the correct answer. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to watch for this during the course, but it is a theoretical possibility.