Strategies for iClicker use from BISC 102

Joan Sharp and Erin Barley from the Department of Biological Sciences demonstrated some of the iClicker questioning techniques from their first year General Biology course. They use  iClickers because they promote student engagement in the context of a large lecture course and the technology is fairly easy to use.

An appealing feature of this demonstration is that the iClickers are used to probe student reasoning by using layered questioning strategies that guide students through a topic or case study; these are summarized below. If you are more interested in reading about the general advantages and disadvantages of iClickers, please see Questions about iClickers and Teaching with Technology.


This is a fairly common use for iClickers. These questions are valuable for gauging whether the students have completed assigned readings and have developed a superficial understanding of the material. Consider, however, that  iClickers used exclusively for this approach or attendance will create student resentment.


Charlie expressed a concern that iClicker questions are restricted to top level thinking that requires prior knowledge. In response, Joan described a compelling example in which an instructor had a series of  questions that incorporated visual images of DNA and chromosomes. Students were asked about the structure of DNA in replicated chromosomes, thus revealing a serious misconception about DNA during replication among the majority of learners. The instructor followed up with several iClicker questions with modified graphics that successfully resolved the misconception. Barb reflected that this approach requires a deep understanding of student reasoning so that an instructor can detect and correct the misconception.


One of the more powerful uses of iclickers in teaching large classes is through well-developed case studies. Erin and Joan have published A Tale of Three Lice: A Case Study on Phylogeny, Speciation, and Hominin Evolution. Through a series of slides and iClicker questions, students are asked to interpret data (phylogenetic trees) and explain how divergent evolution of apes into distinct species (including humans) drove speciation of their parasites. The study is designed to demonstrate that scientific studies do not always provide a definitive answer and to resolve a frequent misconception that humans evolved from apes (rather, all apes evolved from a common ancestor). Good case studies take time to develop, fortunately, there are many examples in the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.


It is very effective to combine an iClicker with a physical demonstrations such as those found in chemistry, physics or biology labs. The experiment can be described beforehand and discussed in small groups. Then students can make predictions prior to the demonstration. This approach enhances a students thinking about a process, and it engages them in the act of observation.


Want to find out if your students love or hate the iClicker? Ask them! Kathleen F. in BISC approaches the topic with some humor and polls her students to find out whether they find it keeps them awake, or bores them to bits.

Erin B. shows the student two types of emails: one is written in ‘textspeak’ with very poor grammar and the other is a nicely formatted professional email. She asks the students what they think is the best way to communicate.  As a result, she receives many legible nicely-worded emails from her students.


1) Students hate glitchy technology so ensure that you are confident with the approach and have things working well.

2) The clickers need to be treated as important by the instructor or else the students won’t value them. Use them to reinforce learning objectives.

3) Some students prefer a distance learning approach and may wish to skip lecture.  If there is a mark tied to clicker activity then make it worth their while for coming to class. Tell them why you have decided to use iClickers. Erin gives students full marks if they answer 80% of iClicker questions for a total of 2% of thE final grade.

4) Respond to their problems and let them know you are addressing their concerns.


1) National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science