Washington, July 18 : Clickers are helping college students score better on physics tests, according to researchers.
In clicker classes, multiple-choice questions appear on a large computer screen at the front of the lecture hall. Students hold the wireless devices, which resemble small calculators.
They cast their votes for the correct answer based on their understanding of the part of the lecture that was just given. A bar graph shows the percentage of students voting for each answer.
The researchers found that Ohio State University students who used the devices during physics lectures were likely to score 10 percent higher in final examinations than students who didn't.
Clickers are being widely used to maintain student attention in large lecture halls.
"A hundred years ago, not so many people went to college, and classes were smaller. It was easier to engage students in learning. Now we have a class with 700 students in it. And the question is, how do you engage 700 kids? Well, clickers can do it," said Bill Reay, professor of physics at Ohio State.
Physics educators have expanded the use of clickers at Ohio State by developing sequences of questions to determine if students really understand the underlying concepts of a lecture.
During the study, Reay and his colleagues developed a three-question sequence to test students' understanding of Faraday's Law.
The class was shown a diagram of two wire loops of different sizes moving into a magnetic field, and asked which loop will experience larger induced voltage at the moment it enters the field. Reay expected that more than 80 percent of the students would answer it correctly.
"But not all students choose the correct answer for the right reason. A common misconception is that larger loops always have a larger induced voltage, which is not the case.
"That's why we then ask two more questions that involve loops of different sizes and shapes. The question-sequence method eliminates common student misconceptions, and helps students grasp the underlying concept in a short time," he added.
"Our research indicates that our sequence method of using clickers offers students a significant advantage on learning, and we are working to sharpen our methodology for measuring these learning gains," said Reay
During the 2006-2007 academic year, the clicker classes outperformed the non-clicker classes by an average of 10 percent -- a full letter grade -- on the multiple-choice part of their final exams. The clicker class averaged 72 percent compared to 61 pct of non-clicker class.
Both sexes had nearly equal gains in the clicker classes: females had a score gain of 6.2, and males a score gain of 6.7. In the non-clicker classes, the female score gain was 4.3, and the male score gain was 6.6.
he study appears in the June 2008 issue of the journal Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research.