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Understanding And Overcoming Student Based Difficulties When Transitioning From Multiple Choice (Clicker) To Open Ended Questions For Real Time Formative Assessment

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1513.1 - 12.1513.6



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Paper Authors


Frank Kowalski Colorado School of Mines

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Frank V. Kowalski (Ph.D., Stanford University) is a professor of physics at Colorado School of Mines. He is a strong advocate of using technology to enhance active learning and classroom communication.

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Susan Kowalski Colorado School of Mines

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Susan E. Kowalski (M.B.S., University of Colorado, Boulder) has been project coordinator for Colorado School of Mines' Classroom Communicator Project since its inception in 2002.

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

Understanding and Overcoming Student-Based Difficulties when Transitioning from Multiple-Choice (Clicker) to Open-Ended Questions for Real-Time Formative Assessment


The utilization of Tablet PC technology to facilitate open-ended questioning for real-time formative assessment is a very powerful pedagogical tool. We describe the challenges our students faced as we transitioned from multiple-choice (clicker) to open-ended questions for real- time formative assessment in two upper-level engineering physics courses. These difficulties were of three main types: increased student stress, more obvious differences in rates and levels of student learning, and distractions from the technology. We believe an awareness of these difficulties will help others who try to replace multiple-choice questions with open-ended responses in their classes. Furthermore, we have developed and described some useful strategies for overcoming these challenges.


In recent years, educators have enthusiastically embraced the use of individual student response devices (“clickers”) to incorporate more active learning into the higher education setting. Relatively inexpensive and easy to use, these classroom communication devices allow for individual student metacognition and real-time formative assessment even in very large classes. Much anecdotal evidence and a growing body of emerging data indicate that the use of this technology and the pedagogical shifts that accompany its use improve student learning.1-3

In basic models of classroom communicators, however, student responses are limited to the selection of choices presented in multiple-choice questions or, in some cases, brief numerical responses. Like many other campuses worldwide, on our campus clickers are used with great effectiveness in introductory-level courses, including the first three semesters of the engineering physics sequence. However, we hear of the frustrations of faculty members who find it difficult to probe higher-level thinking skills using the multiple-choice format. Furthermore, some wonder if these types of questions adequately prepare students for their post-graduation experiences in the field of engineering physics.

To move beyond such limitations of multiple-choice questions, we turned to the emerging pedagogical potential of Tablet PCs.4,5 We developed a web-based tool (InkSurvey) that allows students to use Tablet PCs to transmit open-ended responses created with words, sentences, or paragraphs entered manually via the keyboard, or with digital ink that allows handwriting, sketches, equations, graphs, derivations, etc. Elsewhere, we describe the advantages of this free pedagogical tool and how other educators can access it for their own classrooms.6 We have used the InkSurvey tool in nearly every class meeting for two courses: PHGN 361 Intermediate Electromagnetism (Spring 2006, 62 students) and PHGN 462 Electromagnetic Waves and Optical Physics (Summer 2006, 22 students).

Kowalski, F., & Kowalski, S. (2007, June), Understanding And Overcoming Student Based Difficulties When Transitioning From Multiple Choice (Clicker) To Open Ended Questions For Real Time Formative Assessment Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2887

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