Clickers as a teaching aid in Abnormal Psychology classes

Clickers as a teaching aid in Abnormal Psychology classes – Rosaleen McElvaney

My reasons for introducing clickers into my teaching were:

  1. I was concerned about the lack of participation of a significant proportion of students in the class
  2. Detailed feedback (Although feedback is sought verbally throughout the module, it tended to only come at the end of the semester through the Q6 evaluation forms which was useful in itself but too late for current students
  3. I was introducing multiple choice questions as an exam format this year and I thought that clickers lend themselves well to preparing students for this type of assessment.

This module runs over two semesters and the focus this semester is on understanding a range of mental health difficulties in terms of diagnostic criteria, prevalence rates, how people present with these difficulties and the evidence of how to help people with these difficulties. It is a 2 hour class each week.   Initially I planned to run a ‘Quiz’ at the beginning and end of each class.   I was impressed by the research indicating that doing the quiz alone enhanced learning regardless of whether the students had prepared for it in advance. I’m also aware of the value of immediate feedback and the benefits of students seeing their own own learning progress within a class and consolidating their learning at the end of class.

This idea of running 2 quizzes per class – as those of you familiar with clickers probably know already – didn’t quite work out. Waiting for students to give their answer, waiting for the programme to respond – this all took much more time than I anticipated. Also I realised on the first day that it was much better to discuss each question following students’ responses.  Their curiosity was piqued, they wanted to know why they got it wrong, why wasn’t the other response the correct one? So, the pattern was set from Day 1. The ‘Quiz’ takes up the first hour of the class, followed by a short break and a lecture on the topic.

As this is my first time to use clickers and to use the Quiz in the class, I had to develop the Quiz from scratch . The course textbook has an online companion website with test questions that are closely aligned to the material in the book.  I wanted to be very clear with students what material they needed to study to prepare for the exam as the textbook is very broad and very detailed and much of the material is not covered in class (or even necessary for this module). Therefore, I prepared two quizzes for each class – one that consists of about 35-40 questions, covers all the material necessary for that class, and is posted on webcourses in advance of the class (at the request of the students) and the second quiz runs to about 10-15 questions, all drawn from the larger bank. The latter quiz is the one we do in class.

We have now had the opportunity to use the clickers in six consecutive classes, covering a range of topics – depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorders, substance abuse and schizophrenia. For my part, I have found the students to be much more engaged. Students who I don’t recall ever speaking out in class are now asking questions – there is more permission to speak out as there is much more informal chatting about each of the questions. I’ve asked the students for informal feedback and the response has been very positive.  It’s fun, it’s interesting, it sparks their curiosity and they find they remember things better than from just listening to a lecture or reading powerpoint slides. Let’s hope it shows in the exam results!


About Muireann O'Keeffe

I am an educational developer currently working at DCU. I have a passion for researching and evaluating technology that can support and enhance learning. In the past I have taught on Masters programmes (Msc Applied elearning & Postgraduate Diploma in Third level Learning and Teaching) as well as Leadership development programmes.
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