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Preliminary Results Of Using Personal Response Systems (Clickers) In A Conceptual Physics Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Technology in the Physics or Engineering Physics C

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.994.1 - 13.994.8



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Paper Authors


David Probst Southeast Missouri State University

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David Probst is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at Southeast Missouri State University who regularly teaches conceptual physics.

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Margaret Waterman Southeast Missouri State University

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Margaret Waterman is a Professor of Biology at Southeast Missouri State University who specializes in science education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Preliminary Results of Using Personal Response Systems (clickers) in a Conceptual Physics Course

We report the results of a study investigating the effectiveness of using a Personal Response System (clickers) in a conceptual physics course for non-science majors. In order to determine their effectiveness, clickers were used while teaching some concepts and not used while teaching others. We used the Force Concepts Inventory (FCI) as a pre-test and post-test to measure learning gains because most of the questions on the FCI test only one concept. By comparing learning gains for those concepts taught using the clickers with those taught without using them, the effectiveness of clickers in this type course was inferred. We found a statistically significant difference in the pre-test and post-test means for the sets of questions on the FCI that tested the concepts taught using the clickers, while no significant difference was found for the sets of questions that tested the concepts taught without using the clickers. This suggests that using clickers in a course like this does indeed improve learning.

I. Introduction

Personal Response Systems (clickers) have been shown to improve learning in various classroom settings when effectively used.1 After being prompted by a textbook sales representative to try them, I incorporated use of clickers into my conceptual physics course because I already used various methods to encourage student engagement in my classroom,2 and this seemed like a good method as well. After incorporating clickers into my instruction and using them for two semesters, I began to wonder whether or not they were having a positive effect on learning in my conceptual physics classroom. They were certainly facilitating students’ engagement with the concepts being taught, and anecdotal evidence suggested that they were improving learning, but I wanted more concrete evidence in order to justify the cost of the clickers for students. The Center for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at our institution offers assistance and small grants to faculty to study how their pedagogy is linked to learning. I was awarded one of those grants, called the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) grant, and became a SoTL Fellow. This study was designed to answer my question quantitatively.

Many institutions teach a conceptual physics course for non-science majors that students may take to fulfill their general education requirement in physical science. The textbook we use is Conceptual Physics by Paul Hewitt, although there are several textbooks available for this type of course. At our university, few academic majors require this course, so most students take it because it fits their schedule rather than because they must or because they are interested in physics. In addition, only one section of the course is taught each semester in large lecture format with from 60 to 80 students in lecture. It is always a challenge in large lecture courses to get students to genuinely engage the content of a class session, but this is especially true for a course like this where student interest and motivation are relatively low. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the chairs in the lecture hall are fixed to the floor, so group interaction is very difficult. The purposes of using the clickers are to facilitate student engagement with the concepts being discussed in a more active way than does simply listening or taking notes and to provide feedback to the instructor on whether or not more time needs to be spent on particular concepts.

Probst, D., & Waterman, M. (2008, June), Preliminary Results Of Using Personal Response Systems (Clickers) In A Conceptual Physics Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4174

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