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By author: Trevor Murphy


Clicker unit

What are they?

Clickers are hand held remotes given to students in class that allow them to participate in polls. Data is collected from special slides created in PowerPoint using a software plugin called TurningPoint. The collected data is then displayed on the next PowerPoint slide. Williams has been using clickers since 2005.


Classroom polling has been used at Williams to achieve pedagogical classroom goals. Professor of Biology, Steve Swoap uses clickers to push his students to a new understanding of class material and to use peer instruction. Peer instruction happens when students are asked to explain to their neighbor why their answer to a polling question was correct. After some discussion, the question is repolled. In addition to assessing student comprehension of class content, classroom polling has been used in creative ways. Some of the purposes for using clickers have included:

  • Creating engagement in large intro courses.
  • Facilitating small group discussion.
  • Collecting anonymous responses to controversial questions.
  • Collecting preliminary data before conducting a study.
  • Response timing.
  • Collecting student presentation feedback.
  • Collecting data from psychology studies.
  • Giving interactive presentations at conferences.

Every year, Williams faculty and staff come up for new uses for clickers. Even so, clickers have yet to be put to use in faculty meetings or for making tenure decisions (That was a joke.)

What is involved in using clickers?

The special software used to create the interactive polling questions is installed on all lectern Macs and PCs, as well as all OIT maintained lab computers. The software is free to download so it can be installed on a home machine or laptop. The hardware consists of the clickers that go to the students, and a USB radio receiver that plugs into the machine you are using. The radio receiver need not be visible to the students, nor do students need to aim their clickers at the receiver. The presentation questions are prepared ahead of time using the special software which integrates with PowerPoint.

Are clickers for me?

Class time is precious and using clickers takes time. If you already have a teaching style that includes class discussion and interaction, clickers may be a good fit. It is also worth considering your comfort level with PowerPoint, the added hassle of managing the distribution and collection of clickers to students, and the time commitment that comes with adapting any technology into your routine.

Where can I get some clickers?

You can borrow a set of 30 clickers on a 3 day loan from the OIT Equipment Loan Center at x4091 located in Dodd Annex. There are class sets also available for longer periods of time from Trevor Murphy in OIT.


A substantial bibliography of literature on clickers can be found on Derek Bruff’s Vanderbilt Center for Teaching website.

In particular, I’d point out a 10 year study on clickers and teaching by Eric Mazur and Catherine Crouch and Eric Mazur of the Harvard Department of Physics originally published in the American Journal of Physics in 2001.

For an example of a site that serves as a repository for clicker questions, try the Journal of Chemical Education.

My own paper on clickers that was presented at the Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group in University and College Computing can be found here.