Clickers in the Chemistry Classroom

This fall, General Chemistry students experienced a new method for participating during their lectures. The Chemistry Department, led by Professors Nick Turro and Ged Parkin, extended their use of an audience response system (ARS), also known as "clickers," that began in the fall 2007 with a small pilot.

After the positive results during the pilot, where 30 units where randomly passed out to students, the department adopted the technology more broadly, requiring all students to obtain one. With an arrangement with the Columbia Bookstore, all General Chemistry students bought a clicker that was bundled with the required course textbook.

Students have enjoyed the opportunity to engage in group discussions to arrive at an answer and instructors felt that they were able to address student miscomprehensions as they arose. More importantly, most have found the technology easy to use and over 90 percent bring the unit to class. See more student feedback.

The use of the clickers requires planning so that they can be used in an optimal way. That means allocating lecture time to engage the students at critical points in the lecture. For example, the chemistry professors have posted a video of how this process works in the classroom. After the question has been asked and the results are tabulated, the professor asks the students to analyze their own thought processes. Rather than simply pointing out the correct answer, he creates a valuable teaching moment in he discusses each of the potential answers with student input.

The system consists of the handheld clickers used by the students, a receiver attached to a computer, and software to compile and format results which can be presented back to the students in real time.

The use of ARS is prevalent at the medical campus and the Chemistry Department is hoping to extend its use to other chemistry classes. Faculty wishing to explore this technology can borrow the 30-clicker system that was used in the pilot by contacting Dan Beeby at dbeeby@columbia.edu.