Using clickers to improve student engagement and performance in an introductory biochemistry class

Authors


Abstract

As part of ongoing efforts to enhance teaching practices in a large-class introductory biochemistry course, we have recently tested the effects of using a student response system (clickers) on student exam performances and engagement with the course material. We found no measurable difference in class mean composite examination score for students taught with clickers than for those taught in traditional lectures. However, there were significantly more students in the highest achievement category (91–100%) in the section that incorporated clickers than in any other section over five academic terms. Overall, students gave high approval ratings for the use of the clickers, particularly in increasing their participation and engagement in lectures. However, students who reported their performance to be in the lowest performance categories gave a lower level of approval for the use of the clickers than those who reported their performance to be in the higher performance categories. The implications for using clickers to improve teaching in biochemistry are discussed.

Recently, we have been attempting to improve teaching practices in the Department of Biochemistry. These efforts began in response to consistent feedback from students that our courses were “feared and hated.” Both students and instructors felt that the courses contained too much information and were highly inconsistent. We decided to address this problem by (i) introducing a new teaching program which specifically reduced course content and (ii) incorporating active learning strategies in the classroom. We hoped that the reduced content would lead to a better understanding of basic concepts and to better attitudes toward the subject [1] and that the active learning techniques applied in a large-classroom setting would have significant benefits for students in terms of engagement and learning [2].

The first changes we made included developing a one-term introductory biochemistry course (BIOCH 200) for which we prepared detailed teaching materials and standardized learning tools. These materials were intended to clearly define and limit the syllabus; to minimize the impact of variations in the quality or experience of instructors; to support a variety of student learning styles; and to encourage instructors to adopt active learning strategies. Overall, student feedback regarding BIOCH 200 has shown that they enjoy the new course and feel motivated to learn more biochemistry (data not shown).

Despite this improvement, we have found it difficult to effectively introduce active learning strategies in the classroom. We have consistently tried to engage students in one or two brief and varied activities during class time, but we have found that the students tend not to like the activities and are resistant to in-class participation. We have received feedback indicating that we should “give up trying to solicit class participation.” We have discussed this problem with colleagues who teach other introductory science courses and it appears that this is a common phenomenon.

Nevertheless, as student engagement has been shown to be highly correlated with learning, we still wished to improve student participation in class. To do this, we decided to test a student response system, in which students use remote, hand-held devices called clickers. A student response system (clickers) enables the instructor to ask a question as part of the digital presentation; each student uses their clicker to submit an answer anonymously, and the instructor displays a graph of the students' responses and is able to discuss the results with the whole class. Many studies have reported that the use of clickers positively transforms the large-classroom lecture experience and leads to more responsive instruction and better student understanding. Students tend to give very positive approval ratings (70% and above) for the use of clickers and generally perceive the classes to be more interactive, engaging and enjoyable [3, 4].

We introduced clickers in BIOCH 200 with the intention of improving active learning in the class room. In addition, we were also interested in determining the possible effects of clickers on the students' performance in examinations, on their perception of their learning, and on their engagement and participation in the class.

METHODS

This study involved students in one particular section of an introductory biochemistry class (BIOCH 200) in the Fall term of 2007. The study was conducted over a 12-week period in the Fall, 2007 (one academic semester). Three distinct sections of this course were offered in this term (A1, A2, and A3) and each section was a large-classroom, lecture format with approximately 150–190 students. Students enrolled in section A1 of this course were given the opportunity to use clickers in class for the duration of the term. Of 189 students in this section who completed the course, 174 chose to participate in the study and were loaned a remote.

Students in section A1 Fall 2007 of BIOCH 200 (the clicker section) were the experimental group in this study. Our comparison groups were the two other sections of BIOCH 200 taught in Fall 2007 (A2 and A3) and all other sections of BIOCH 200 taught since its implementation: Fall 2005 (4 sections), Winter 2006 (3 sections), Fall 2006 (3 sections), and Winter 2007 (3 sections).

As far as is possible in a multi-section, multi-instructor, large-class lecture format at a large university, all students in BIOCH 200 have an equal learning opportunity regardless of their section. All have access to identical learning materials, including recommended readings from the text, instructors' slide files, highly-specific learning objectives and practice questions. All instructors also work from the same extensive and detailed set of instructors' notes. All sections meet either for 50-minutes three times a week or for 80-minutes twice a week, and are taught at approximately the same time of day, starting between 11:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M.

As far as is possible, all students in BIOCH 200 also have an equal opportunity for performance evaluation regardless of their section. In each term, students in all sections write identical examination papers at the same time (consolidated) and so their performances can be compared directly. Although the performances of students in different terms cannot be compared directly, examination questions in each term are drawn from a large multiple-choice question database, and all questions in the database have difficulty and reliability scores associated with them. This means that examinations for all sections of BIOCH 200 have been highly consistent. Indeed, the range of mean scores for the 13 sections of BIOCH 200 completed before this study was only 68.76–75.80%.

The most significant difference between sections in this study was that in one section only, Fall 2007 A1, the instructors used the iClicker student response system extensively throughout the term. Each student was given the opportunity to borrow a hand-held student remote (clicker) and to answer questions in every lecture that were similar in style to the exam questions. The students' electronic responses were anonymous.

The clickers were used to pose questions about 4 or 5 times in each 50-minute lecture. The students were given up to 2 minutes to respond, depending on the complexity of the question. The instructors were able to gauge the time required for each question by monitoring the rate at which responses were collected. In some cases responses were collected in less than 30 seconds. A variety of questions was used in each class to achieve different goals. For example, specific questions were designed to: introduce topics; to assess students' background knowledge of a subject; to illustrate known misconceptions of a particular point; to determine whether new material had been understood and could be applied in a problem; to review material covered in the previous class; or to enable practice of a calculation that the students were required to apply in different situations. In some cases students answered questions alone and in other cases they were encouraged to discuss a question with their peers before voting. In cases where a significant proportion of the class answered incorrectly students were encouraged to discuss their answers and then re-vote. Once a final vote had been recorded, the instructors reviewed the responses with the class and clarified why the incorrect responses were incorrect. Overall, activity associated with the clicker questions accounted for up to 10 minutes (20%) of each 50 minute lecture.

Section A1 Fall 2007 was taught by two instructors whose main purpose for incorporating the clickers was to increase opportunities for active learning through student participation in the lecture. All other sections of BIOCH 200 had neither clickers nor the extra questions. No other feature of the course or its delivery was altered for any of the sections.

Students' Performance on Examinations

In this study, one of our objectives was to investigate the effects of using clickers in the classroom on student examination scores; that is to compare the performance of students taught by traditional lectures with those taught using the clickers. To do this, we compared the performance in consolidated examinations of students in the clicker section (A1 Fall 2007) with students in the other two sections (A2 and A3 Fall 2007). We also compared the performance of students in the clicker section (A1 Fall 2007) with that of students in all other sections of BIOCH 200.

Students in BIOCH 200 are evaluated in three multiple-choice examinations, two midterms and one final. The midterm examinations contain 50 questions which are answered in 1 hour and the final examination contains 80 questions which are answered in 2 hours. In this study, we compared mean composite scores among the sections of BIOCH 200. Each student's composite score (%) is calculated from their three separate examination scores; each midterm is worth 25% of the composite mark and the final examination is worth 50% of the composite mark. The composite score of an individual student indicates his or her knowledge and understanding of the material in BIOCH 200 relative to other students in that section. The mean composite score for each section was determined from the individual scores of all students in that section who wrote three examinations.

Students' Self-Reported Perception of Learning

The second outcome measure in this study was an attitudinal and informational student survey. A survey with both Likert-type and non-Likert type questions was administered to students in section A1 to evaluate their perception of the clickers and their effectiveness in the class room. A total of 152 students voluntarily completed the written survey at the end of term; Four of these had not used the clickers. A total of 174 students had borrowed a clicker for the study.

The informational part of the survey consisted of questions in which students indicated the importance to them of various course features using a scale of 1–5 (1 = did not use, 3 = neutral, 5 = essential) and reported their attendance at lectures (%) and level of achievement in the midterm examinations (<50%; 51–60%; 61–70%; 71–80%; 81–90%; and 91–100%). The attitudinal part of the survey consisted of 12 questions in which students responded using a Likert scale (1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree; 5, strongly agree). Questions 1–4 dealt with the perceived effect of the clickers on learning, understanding and exam performance. Questions 5–6 dealt with perceptions related to the use of the clickers during class time. Questions 7–12 dealt with the perceived effect of the clickers on attention, engagement, participation and enjoyment. Most questions were phrased so that Strongly Agree represented a favorable reaction to the use of clickers in lectures. Questions 5 and 6 were phrased so that Strongly Agree represented an unfavorable reaction. Three additional, open-ended questions gave students the opportunity to identify and describe relevant issues that were not anticipated in the survey questions.

In the final written survey, we asked students to indicate their approximate mark in the course at that point (two midterm examinations had been completed, each worth 25% of the total overall mark). Because the surveys were anonymous, we cannot guarantee that the students accurately indicated their mark. However, when we compare the distribution of the students' self-reported marks after two midterms with the distribution of actual marks after two midterms, we find that they are very similar (Fig. 1). A slightly greater percentage of students appear in the upper categories in the survey (self-reported) with a slightly lower percentage in the lower categories. This small difference could be related to students “rounding up” exam scores, putting themselves in the 81–90% category if they scored 80.5–80.9%. It could also be related to a greater proportion of higher-scoring students than lower-scoring students completing the questionnaire.

Figure 1.

The distributions of students' actual and self-reported marks. In the written survey administered at the end of the term, students were asked to indicate their current approximate mark in the course by selecting a category: <50%; 51–60%; 61–70%; 71–80%; 81–90%; or 91–100%. Self-reporting; the percentage of students in each category was calculated from the survey data (N = 152). Actual; the percentage of students actually in each category at the time the survey was administered was calculated from the examination data spreadsheet (N = 189).

RESULTS

Students' Performance on Examinations

Students in the clicker section (Fall 2007, A1) achieved a slightly greater mean composite score for the three consolidated examinations than students in the other two sections (Fall 2007, A2 and A3) (Fig. 2). However, we cannot conclude that this difference resulted from the use of the clickers because there have consistently been differences of this magnitude in mean composite score among sections in previous terms (Fig. 2). Further, the mean composite scores for all three sections in Fall 2007 (A1 = 74.6%; A2 = 72.1%; A3 = 69.8%) were within the range of mean composite scores that we have seen previously (68.8–75.8%) for similar examinations. Overall, there was no apparent difference in the mean composite examination score for students taught with clickers compared with those taught by traditional lectures.

Figure 2.

Comparison of mean composite examination scores for all sections. The bars show mean composite examination scores for each section of BIOCH 200 from Fall 2005 to Fall 2007. The composite examination score for each student was calculated from scores for two midterms and one final. Mean scores for each section were calculated from the individual scores of students who completed all three examinations. Examinations for all classes in a given semester are identical (consolidated). Examinations used from semester to semester are similar and questions on all exams are drawn from the same question databank. Standard error bars are shown. The Fall 2007 A1 section (light grey bar) used the clickers.

Despite the similarity in mean composite scores among sections of BIOCH 200, we observed that a greater than usual number of students in the clicker section (Fall 2007, A1) had obtained a grade of A or A+ (composite score ≥87%). Given this, we looked at the distribution of scores in each section of BIOCH 200. In the student survey, we had asked students to indicate their approximate mark in the course at that point by selecting one of the following score categories: <50%; 51–60%; 61–70%; 71–80%; 81–90%; 91–100%. Therefore, for each section, we calculated the percentage of students who obtained a final composite mark within each of these categories (defined specifically as ≤50.9%; 51–60.9%; 61–70.9%; 71–80.9%; 81–90.9%; 91–100%). We also combined the lower three categories into a single group, ≤70.9, because the value of N was low for each when considered as a distinct category. We found that a greater proportion of students in the clicker section (Fall 2007, A1) obtained a composite score in the range of 91–100% than ever before (Fig. 3A), whereas the proportion of students in the clicker section who obtained scores in the ranges 81–90.9, 71–80.9, and ≤70.9 was within the range of values obtained for all other sections (Figs. 3B3D, respectively). Specifically, 13.23% of students in the clicker section (A1, Fall 2007) are in the 91–100% category (Table I). Using Pierce's criterion [5], we find that this value is significantly outside the normal range for all sections of BIOCH 200 (Table I). (The maximum allowable difference from the mean (xi−xm) for this data set is ±5.951; for the clicker section (A1, Fall 2007) the difference from the mean is 7.043; no other section has a value that falls outside the maximum allowable difference from the mean.) This means that high-achieving students in the clicker section performed significantly better in three examinations than high-achieving students in all other sections of BIOCH 200.

Figure 3.

The fraction of students in each section obtaining composite exam scores in specific categories. The score categories were: (a) 91–100%; (b) 81–90.9%; (c) 71–80.9%; (d) ≤70.9%; these categories matched those that the students used to report their performance on the attitudinal survey. The Fall 2007 A1 section (light grey bar) used the clickers. *Outlier; exceeds the maximum allowable difference from the mean (xi−xm) using Peirce's criterion.

Table I. The proportion of students in each section of BIOCH 200 obtaining a composite score of 91–100%
Section% of section scoring ≥91 %Difference from the mean
  • xi–xm is the difference of a value from the mean. The data are skewed but meet criteria for being normal.

  • a

    Clicker section (Fall 2007, A1).

  • b

    Exceeds the maximum allowable difference from the mean.

Winter 2007 B22.0286−4.155
Fall 2005 A42.286−3.899
Fall 2006 A14.018−2.166
Winter 2007 B34.326−1.858
Fall 2005 A25.023−1.162
Winter 2006 B35.181−1.003
Fall 2005 A15.213−0.971
Winter 2006 B25.291−0.893
Fall 2007 A35.334−0.851
Winter 2007 B15.522−0.663
Fall 2006 A47.5141.330
Fall 2007 A27.6021.418
Fall 2006 A28.6802.496
Fall 2005 A38.7182.533
Winter 2006 B18.9872.803
aFall 2007 A113.2287.043b
Mean6.184 
Std. dev.2.826 
Peirce's R2.106 
max. allowable xi–xm5.951 

Students' Self-Reported Perception of Learning

The results of the attitudinal survey for BIOCH 200 section A1 are presented in Table II. Students indicated their response to each question using a Likert scale: 1, strongly disagree; 2 disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree; 5, strongly agree. The 12 questions are listed and the mean and standard deviation of the participants' responses to each question are given. The larger the mean value, the greater the students' agreement with a question. The table also expresses the students' responses as % agree and % disagree. % agree is calculated from the sum of students who responded agree or strongly agree. % disagree is calculated from the sum of students who responded disagree or strongly disagree.

Table II. Attitudinal survey completed by students in the clicker section (A1, Fall 2007)
Question%Agree%DisagreeMean ± SD
  1. Students indicated their response to each question using a Likert scale: 1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree; 5, strongly agree. Mean ± SD is the average response value ± standard deviation; n = 152 (the number of students that participated in the survey). % Agree is calculated from the number of students who responded agree or strongly agree. % Disagree is calculated from the number of students who responded disagree or strongly disagree.

1. The iClicker questions helped me to improve my learning.86.13.94.30 ± 0.85
2. The iClicker questions helped me to build a solid understanding of core concepts.84.93.94.13 ± 0.81
3. The iClicker questions were designed well for enhancing my learning of this subject.73.07.23.99 ± 1.01
4. I feel that this section of BIOCH 200 had an advantage in the consolidated examinations because of the use of iClicker questions.82.93.34.13 ± 0.82
5. I often wrote down the iClicker questions instead of answering them in class.29.650.02.67 ± 1.37
6. I think that the iClicker questions took time that would be better used for presenting information.16.458.62.41 ± 1.12
7. The iClicker questions helped me to focus and pay more attention in lectures.80.35.94.18 ± 0.97
8. The iClicker questions allowed me to engage directly with the content being presented.87.54.64.32 ± 0.88
9. The iClicker questions encouraged me to attend lectures more regularly.38.826.33.14 ± 1.26
10. I enjoyed the lectures more because of the iClicker questions.26.357.32.63 ± 1.15
11. I liked knowing how my classmates responded to the iClicker questions.69.110.53.86 ± 1.02
12. The use of iClicker questions in this course should be continued in the future.84.22.04.36 ± 0.87

The survey data (Table II) show that the majority of students agreed that the clicker questions used in class helped them to improve their learning (86%), to build a solid understanding of core concepts (85%), to focus and pay more attention in lectures (80%), and to engage directly with the content being presented (87%). The majority agreed also that they felt they had an advantage in the examinations over the other two sections of the course because of the clicker questions (83%), that the questions were well-designed for learning this subject (73%), and that the use of clickers should be continued in this course in the future (84%). The majority also agreed that they liked knowing how their classmates responded to the questions (69%).

In contrast, the survey data (Table II) show that only a few students agreed that the questions took time that would have been better spent presenting information in the lecture (16%). In addition, only a minority agreed that the use of clicker questions encouraged them to attend lectures more regularly (39%) or that they enjoyed the lectures more because of the clicker questions (26%). Interestingly, approximately one-third of the students agreed that they often wrote down the questions instead of answering them in class (30%).

To further investigate student attitude towards the clickers, we grouped the attitudinal surveys according to the students' self-reported performance in the course at the time the survey was administered (≤70%, 71–80%, 81–90%, or 91–100% average score on the two midterms). Two students had not indicated a performance category, so 150 of the 152 surveys were used. For each of the 12 questions on the survey, we calculated the % agreement reported by students in that category (Table III). (% agreement was calculated from the sum of students who responded agree or strongly agree.) Interestingly, we found that students who reported their performance to be in the lowest performance categories (≤70%) were less likely to be in agreement to many of the questions than students who reported their performance to be in the higher performance categories (71–80%, 81–90%, or 91–100%). Specifically, they were less likely to agree that they liked knowing how their classmates responded to the questions (56%) or that they felt they had an advantage in the consolidated examinations (70%). They were also less likely to agree that the clicker questions helped them to improve their learning (65%), to build a solid understanding of core concepts (70%), or to focus and pay more attention in lectures (65%). Students who reported their performance to be in the lowest categories did agree, however, that the use of clickers should be continued in the future (83%).

Table III. Student attitude toward the clickers versus self-reported level of achievement
Question% Agree by self-reported level of achievement
≤7071–8081–9091–100
  1. Students indicated their response to each question using a Likert scale: 1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree; 5, strongly agree. % Agree was calculated for each achievement category from the number of students in that category who responded agree or strongly agree. The performance category was self-reported by students on the survey. N = 23, 44, 58, and 25 for the achievement categories ≤70%, 71–80%, 81–90%, and 91–100%, respectively.

1. The iClicker questions helped me to improve my learning.65.210087.984.0
2. The iClicker questions helped me to build a solid understanding of core concepts.69.693.284.592.0
3. The iClicker questions were designed well for enhancing my learning of this subject.69.679.575.964.0
4. I feel that this section of BIOCH 200 had an advantage in the consolidated examinations because of the use of iClicker questions.69.684.187.992.0
5. I often try to write the clicker questions down instead of answering them in class.39.122.732.828.0
6. I think that the iClicker questions took time that would be better used presenting information.13.011.417.224.0
7. The iClicker questions helped me to focus and pay more attention in lectures.65.290.977.688.0
8. The iClicker questions allowed me to engage directly with the content being presented.78.395.586.292.0
9. The iClicker questions encouraged me to attend lectures more regularly.43.538.637.940.0
10. I enjoyed the lectures more because of the iClicker questions.30.420.520.744.0
11. I like knowing how my classmates respond to the iClicker questions.56.570.575.968.0
12. The use of iClicker questions in this course should be continued in the future.82.688.684.588.0

DISCUSSION

The main purpose for incorporating clickers in our introductory biochemistry classes was to increase student engagement and participation. At the same time, we were interested in determining whether there would be a measurable change in the students' performance on examinations relative to students taught by traditional lectures.

It is difficult to conduct research into the effects of technology on classroom learning because of the inherent complexity of the many variables involved in teaching practice and in assessment of learning. We realize that in comparing the standard (traditional) teaching environment of BIOCH 200 with the more interactive environment provided through the use of clickers that we were not able to control for effects such as an instructor's motivation and enthusiasm for one teaching method versus another. We were also not able to control for other indirect effects of using clickers, such as alterations in the students' attendance at lectures. Finally, we were not able to control for the Hawthorne effect [6], where the students in section A1 knew they were part of a research study which might have influenced both their survey responses and their learning behavior.

Despite these limitations, we believe we have shown that using clickers in an introductory biochemistry class is beneficial to the students. This finding is of significance for us because of the difficulty we have experienced in introducing interactive learning techniques in our lectures. Students in BIOCH 200 have tended to dislike the in-class, active learning strategies we have used, and they have generally been resistant to in-class participation. In contrast, with clickers the majority of students participated more in lectures and reported that they perceived an improvement in learning, understanding and their performance on exams.

Effects of Clickers on Perception of Learning and Performance in Examinations

To assess the students' performance in BIOCH 200, we calculate their composite score for three examinations. We then calculate a mean composite score for each section. Overall, we have found that the range of mean composite scores achieved by different sections of BIOCH 200 is small, and we believe that this is related to the examination format (multiple choice), the consistency and specificity of the learning tools that are available to the students, the repeated use of pre-tested questions from a large question database that we have created, and the use of consolidated examinations for all sections in each term. The small differences that occur presumably result from a variety of the often intangible variables that are important in teaching and learning.

In this study, students in the section that used clickers (section A1, Fall 2007) obtained a slightly greater mean composite score on the three consolidated examinations than students in the other two sections (A2 and A3, Fall 2007). However, we cannot conclude that this resulted from the use of the clickers because we have seen differences of this magnitude among sections of BIOCH 200 in previous terms (Fall 2005, Winter 2006, Fall 2006, and Winter 2007).

Overall, use of clickers had no measurable effect on the students' mean composite examination score compared with that of sections taught by traditional lectures. However, a significantly greater proportion of students scored 91–100% in the section that incorporated the clickers than in any other section of BIOCH 200 over the previous five academic terms. This observation suggests that use of the clickers benefited the high-achieving students most specifically, facilitating their performance in the consolidated examinations and enabling relatively more of them to obtain composite scores in the 91–100% category. The use of clicker questions in class enabled students to practice questions of a similar format to those that appeared on the three examinations. We hypothesize that high-achieving students benefited most from this practice because they were more able to interpret and answer the clicker questions in the time allowed than were the lower-achieving students.

Obviously, we cannot discount the fact that students using the clickers had different instructors than the other sections of BIOCH 200. However, at least 11 distinct instructors have been involved in teaching BIOCH 200 since Fall term 2005, and both instructors of the clicker section (Fall 2007, A1) have instructed several previous sections. Despite the variety of instructors used, the mean composite scores of all sections are remarkably consistent and the mean composite score obtained by the clicker section is within the range of scores that we have seen previously. We believe that this consistency in scores supports our suggestion that the use of the clickers led to the effects we are reporting here for high-achieving students. We acknowledge that these results might be more convincing if the investigation were repeated. However, we were unable to conduct a comparable study in the subsequent semester because we implemented an online game system for students in all sections of BIOCH 200 in addition to the clickers.

Our findings in this study are similar to those of Knight and Wood [2]. These authors found that an interactive environment specifically benefited higher-achieving cell biology students. They found that both grade A and B students had higher learning gains in an interactive environment than in a traditional environment, whereas grade C students made relatively low learning gains in both environments. More recently, Reay, Li, and Bao [7] reported that, overall, physics students who used clickers achieved higher scores in multiple-choice conceptual examination questions than those students who did not use clickers. We are aware that formalized testing is not necessarily the most effective way to assess learning, and we accept that the improved examination performance of high-achieving students in this study does not measure long-term retention of information or changes in behavior. True measurement of learning would be very informative, but requires a longitudinal investigation beyond the scope of this study. Here, we have measured the effect of clickers only on student performance in examinations; we rely on the students' self-reported perception of their effect on learning.

The survey data in this study is consistent with the examination data. Overall, the majority of students perceived a positive effect of the clickers on their learning, understanding and performance in examinations. A few students specifically commented in the survey that they would have done less well on the exams without the use of the clickers. However, students who reported their performance to be in the lowest performance categories (≤70%) were less likely to agree that the clicker questions had a positive effect on their learning, understanding and performance in examinations. Interestingly, the proportion of students who indicated that they “had an advantage on the consolidated examinations because of the use of iclickers” decreased in parallel with their reported achievement in examinations (Table III). This seems particularly compelling feedback, because it matches our finding that the performance of only the highest-achievers was improved in the examinations.

Although the majority of students responded positively to the use of the clickers, a significant minority of students, especially those in the lowest-achievement category (≤70%), did not feel that the clickers helped their learning or gave them an advantage in the examinations. We believe these findings have important implications for the introduction of technology into a learning environment, as a specific technology or activity will not necessarily benefit all students or even those that need it the most. This observation is in keeping with that of Metz, who recently reported that lower-division students were more likely than upper-division students to perceive weekly online quizzes as stressful, and less likely to describe the online quizzes as helpful to their learning [8]. Certainly, we will take these findings into consideration when planning use of clickers in our courses in the future.

Effects of the Clickers on Student Engagement and Participation

The results of the survey clearly demonstrate that the majority of students perceived a positive effect of the clickers on their attention, engagement, and participation in the class. In particular, 84% were in agreement that the use of clickers should be continued in this course in the future. This level of agreement is a significant recommendation from the students. These attitudinal results are consistent with trends in similar studies conducted in other disciplines; students typically give high levels of approval (70% and above) for the use of clickers.

Despite this high level of approval, the survey data also shows that students who reported their performance to be in the lowest performance categories (≤70%) were least likely to agree that the clicker questions had a positive effect on attention, engagement, and participation. Specifically they were least likely to agree that the clickers helped them to focus and pay attention in lectures and to engage directly with the content being presented. They were also least likely to agree that they liked knowing how their classmates responded to questions. These findings have important implications for improving teaching in biochemistry classes. Although a particular teaching tool may benefit a significant proportion of a student group, we need to take into account, in a large lecture, that one technology may not meet everyone's needs. We recognize the need to find ways to more effectively include those students who reported their performance to be in the lowest performance categories (<70%). For example, we could try the question sequence method of Reay, Li, and Bao [7]. Rather than asking one question per concept, these authors use a sequence of questions, each covering the same concept in a different context. We also recognize that effective teaching methods and question design are critical factors in the successful use of this technology.

Overall, based on this study, we believe that it is worth continuing to use clickers in teaching biochemistry in large lecture classes. This belief is based on our survey which clearly shows that the students in BIOCH 200 generally perceived significant benefits for their educational experience. Our findings concerning the examination scores of high-achieving students in the clicker section are also interesting but we realize their limitations and they did not play a part in our decision to implement the use of clickers in all future sections of our introductory course.

CONCLUSIONS

In this study, the majority of students indicated strongly that use of clickers enhanced their learning experience. However, students in the lowest achievement categories were less likely to agree that the clickers helped their learning or performance in examinations. In keeping with this, our examination data suggest that the in-class use of clickers improved the performance on examinations of only the highest-achieving students.

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Ralph Wright and Dr. Colleen Norris for help with the statistical analysis of the data in this article. The instructors would like to thank Cristina Arias for her invaluable practical support with the iClicker system during class and Dr. Jonathan Parrish for help with production of the figures.

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