Encouraging College Student Active Engagement in Learning: The Influence of Response Methods

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  • Encouraging College Student Active Engagementin Learning: The Influence of Response Methods

    Michele L. Barr

    # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

    Abstract The purpose of this study was to examine the use of two student response methodswithin selected college lecture halls. Kinesiology majors from three universities were asked torespond to questions during two consecutive lectures, one using clickers and the other usinghand-raising. Participation and comprehension rates were statistically significantly differentfollowing the use of the different response methods. Participant survey responses revealedinsight into student participation, question presentation, perceived cognitive engagement, andoverall learning in traditional lecture settings using the response methods.

    Keywords Active Engagement . Cognitive Engagement . Active Learning . ElectronicResponse Systems (ERS) . Clickers

    Developing the ability to think critically is vital for success in the world today as the pace ofchange continues to accelerate and complexity and interdependence continue to intensify.Higher education teaching methods have been challenged to foster the deep understanding thatleads to academic success and real-world performance (Michael, 2006). According to Draper,Cargill, and Cutts (2001), a major problem with large lecture classes is the traditional approachinvolving content dissemination and lack of interaction resulting in extreme passivity on thepart of the students. Students dutifully take lecture notes, usually without thinking about whatthey are writing and without the opportunity to interact with the lecturer or with other students(Lass, Morzuch, & Rogers, 2007).

    The challenge to cultivate student understanding has created a surge of interest in newer,alternative methods of teaching with a focus on deep learning rather than the content-centeredemphasis of many large lecture classes (Ramsden, 2003). Deep learning is learning withunderstanding in contrast to surface learning or rote learning. According to Ramsden, deeplearning occurs when the student is dynamically engaged with the subject matter. The student

    Innov High EducDOI 10.1007/s10755-013-9276-x

    Michele L. Barr is Lecturer in Kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton. She earned her Ed.D. inInstructional Leadership in Higher Education from Argosy University. Her research interests include cognitiveengagement strategies for college students and assessment as a teaching tool. Her special interests include theprofessional development of new teachers.

    M. L. Barr (*)Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd, Fullerton,CA 92831, USAe-mail: mbarr@fullerton.edu

  • must focus on the content of a task such as problem solving, preparation of an essay, or practicalwork and the relationship of that task to other parts of the course or previous knowledge. Activelearning or active engagement is an alternative to traditional lecture methods and includes anyinstructional strategy that requires students to engage in meaningful learning activities and thinkabout what they are doing (Lasher, 2004). If then, as claimed by Ramsden, deep learning isdependent upon the students level of engagement, active learning strategies should result indeep learning.

    Learning and Clicker Technology

    New technologies are emerging that align with the goals of active engagement and deeplearning. One such technology is Electronic Response Systems (ERS), or clickers. Indevelopment since the 1960s (Judson & Sawada 2002), this technology enables the instruc-tor to pose a question to a class using electronic presentation software, such as PowerPoint.Questions are generally multiple-choice or true/false formats. Student responses are renderedvia small, hand-held remote keypads. Student responses are instantaneously recorded andcan be displayed, providing opportunity for immediate feedback and discussion. It isimportant to note that, while clicker technology is relatively new, the use of interactive,instructive questions to teach students has been used by instructors since the time of Socrates(Caldwell, 2007).

    Recent years have witnessed a surge of interest in understanding the pedagogical implica-tions of clickers in the higher education classroom. Trees and Jackson (2007) concluded thatclickers could function as a potentially valuable classroom tool, stating, however, that theireffects in the classroom are complex (p. 1). Perceptions of students and instructors regardingthe use of clickers during a lecture are generally positive (Caldwell, 2007; Durbin & Durbin,2006; Fies &Marshall, 2006; Judson & Sawada, 2002; Simpson & Oliver, 2007). Hake (1998)reported that the use of clickers improved students problem-solving skills. Others havereported that clickers stimulated the interest of students for the subject matter (Beekes, 2006),improved the depth of student learning (Cue, 1998), and provided a useful tool for checkingcomprehension (Elliot, 2003). Judson and Sawada (2002) stated that clickers have demonstrat-ed a positive effect on student learning gains when used to enhance active-learning strategies.Dangel and Wang (2008) discussed the notion that clickers increase student engagement andprovide prompt feedback, both of which are known to promote learning. These authors furtherdiscussed that research supports the use of clickers when coupled with pedagogical techniquesto promote such deep learning. Davis (2003) summarized her findings using clickers stating thatthe technology has the potential to improve student participation overall, to reduce academicanxiety, to allow for increased equity of input, and to facilitate the teachers knowledge ofstudent understanding.

    Evidence indicates that clickers result in improved learning outcomes. Caldwell (2007)reported that clickers have a positive effect on student exam grades and overall course grades. Itshould be noted, however, that in this study clickers were used over the entire semester andattendance was compulsory. It is impossible to ascertain whether improvement in exam gradesand overall course grades was the result of clicker use or of the increase in routine attendancealso reported.

    Yourstone, Kraye, and Albaum (2008) reported that students in lecture courses utilizingclickers versus those who did not demonstrated significantly higher midterm and final exam-ination scores. The authors proposed that the immediate feedback provided to both the studentsand the instructor via clicker technology may change the dynamic of the classroom. They

    Innov High Educ

  • suggested such dynamic alteration to the class process can ensure that the material beingpresented is understood. Lasry (2008) supported this notion, stating that the real contributionof clickers, due to the immediate and precise student feedback they offer, lies more on theteaching rather than the learning side of education. Lasry examined the effectiveness ofMazursPeer Instruction (PI) using both clickers and flashcards as student response methods. PI is astudent-centered teaching approach that requires every student to apply and explain coreconcepts to their classmates (Mazur, 1997). Crouch and Mazur (2001) reported thatimplementing PI in their introductory physics courses increased student engagement in discus-sion, understanding, mastery, quantitative problem solving, and conceptual reasoning. Lasryreported that clickers had a motivating effect over the course of the semester. However, Lasryconcluded there were no significant differences in conceptual learning gains or in examinationscores when comparing clickers and flashcards

    Draper and Brown (2004) stated that getting students to be interactive is often a teachingchallenge. Graham, Tripp, Seawright, and Joeckel (2007) discussed advantages of using clickersincluding the ability to poll an entire class and to provide immediate and public feedback, whichallows the instructor to gain a sense of how well students comprehend the material. Poulis,Massen, Robens, and Gilbert (1998) noted that the difficulty inherent in gauging studentcomprehension during a lecture may result in a house-of-cards effect, which occurs whenthe lecturer is explaining a subject to students lacking the understanding of its precursor. Withoutthe precursory knowledge the student is, in effect, building a structure on a shaky foundation.Clicker technology allows the instructor tomake sure that the majority of students understand thematerial just presented before moving on, thereby decreasing the house-of-cards effect.

    A common rationale for using clicker technology has been to engage more students in atraditional lecture setting. Participation in the classroom has been shown to have a positiveimpact on cognitive, meta-cognitive, and affective learning outcomes. Beyond favorablelearning outcomes, Gupta, Fadil and Kale (2009) argued that participation in class not onlyallows students to interact with each other and the instructor, it also allows them to gain socialexpertise as well as to access and process information they would not have had opportunity todo on their own. One drawback of a traditional lecture is the limited opportunity for students torespond. Often student responses to questions posed by the instructor are limited to the mostknowledgeable in the class who are also willing to answer in front of their peers (Graham et al.2007). The very nature of clickers is that they increase participation in a lecture class byallowing all students to respond to questions posed by the instructor (Caldwell, 2007).

    Despite the importance associated with some form of participation in the classroom,research indicates that many students simply do not participate. Crombie, Pyke, Silverthorn,Jones and Paccinin (2003) reported that 64% of the 541 undergraduate student


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