More from my round-up of articles on clickers in the health professions…

Reference: Kenwright, K. (2009). Clickers in the classroom. TechTrends, 53(1), 74-77.

Notes: This short paper from Kathy Kenwright (University of Tennessee Health Science Center) serves as a concise introduction to teaching with clickers, complete with a brief review of the literature.  As with Cain and Robinson (2008), the lit review isn’t comprehensive, but Kenwright does a good job of discussing the major benefits of clickers in the context of reported studies.  Most of her observations are not specific to any one discipline.  For example, she notes that clickers facilitate formative assessment of student learning, as well as agile teaching.  She mentions the importance of the display of results of a clicker question and the use of clickers to facilitate in-class quizzes on pre-class readings.

I have concerns about a couple of Kenwright’s recommendations, however.  She notes that many students in the health professions must pass national board exams, and uses this to support her claim that one shouldn’t ask too many clicker questions during class.

Asking too many questions during the lecture leaves less time to convey important content.  In a curriculum such as the Clinical Laboratory Science program, there is a defined body of knowledge that must be delivered to the students.

She’s speaking of a coverage model of education here, which is problematic, as I’ve mentioned here before.  I would argue that since students will be required to excel at the multiple-choice questions seen on these national board exams, they should spend plenty of class time practicing these kinds of questions.  Clicker questions based on these exam questions work well for that.

Kenwright also notes that asking clicker questions “on the fly” during class can take too much class time:

If they are added during class the class will be kept waiting while the instructor is typing in the question and answer choices… There is nothing wrong with reverting to an old-fashioned show of hands, or calling on a particular student for an answer.

Asking “on the fly” questions doesn’t require you to type questions into your clicker system–asking them verbally usually does the trick.  Moreover, if there was nothing wrong with a show of hands, there wouldn’t be any reason to use clickers to begin with.  Why are clickers better than a show of hands?  Because students don’t answer questions independently when you go with a show of hands (Stowell and Nelson, 2007).

What’s your view on the coverage issue?  Is a lot of active learning possible in health professions education?

Image: “Stethoscope” by Flickr user vitualis / Creative Commons licensed