08 March 2010

Are Clickers Really Effective in Improving Student Performance?

A survey of students in six biology courses showed that students not only have favorable opinions about the use of student response systems (or clickers), but clicker usages also increase student learning (Preszler et al, 2007). Prior to this, Judson and Sawada (2002) have shown that students consistently show positive evaluations of using clickers in class for three decades, but there has been no consistent demonstration of learning improvement until this study.

81% of the students in the study agreed that using clickers increased their interest in their course. 71% of students agreed that clickers made it more likely for them to attend class. 70% agreed that clickers improved their understanding of course material. Most important, there was a significant linear increase in exam scores across all three levels of clicker usage frequency per class (low - 0 to 2, medium - 2 to 3, high - 4 to 6). That is high clicker usage results in mean student grades greater than medium clicker usage, and medium clicker usage results in greater mean student grades than low clicker usage.

Methodology: The study by Preszler et al. first analyzed whether the course grade distribution is similar among the six courses (using stepwise chi-square analysis), and then the students' opinions of clicker usage is analyzed to see if they differ by course grades (again using stepwise chi-square analysis). Courses that are significantly different are not included in the analysis to preserve as much consistency among the courses as possible. Clicker usage frequency in the courses follows a Latin square design to maintain an overall similar equivalent number of clicker questions used over the testing period to avoid biasing variation.


Judson, E., and Sawada, D. (2002). Learning from the past and present: electronic response systems in college lecture halls. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 21(2), pp 167 - 181.

Preszler, R., Dawe, A., Shuster, C., and Shuster, M. (Spring 2007). Assessment of the Effects of Student Response Systems on Student Learning and Attitudes over a Broad Range of Biology Courses. Life Sciences Education. Vol 6, pp 29 - 41.

04 March 2010

Goal-Free Problems

Asking a student to find the solution to a problem creates high cognitive load that she may end up making a lot of mistakes. This is especially true when the problem requires many sub problems to be solved, and students tend to make many more errors in these sub goal stages than at the final goal stage. This effect is called the stage effect.

An alternative to help students learn problem solving is to ask them to find the value of as many unknowns as possible, rather than finding a value for a specific goal. As an example, given a programming assignment, students are asked what are the unknowns rather than asking them to create a final program. This can be open ended and the students may go off on a tangent if not properly guided. Of course, no one would hire these students if all they can do is to come up with unknowns(!), but this strategy can be used as a scaffolding device to help students connect what they already know and what we want them to know. New knowledge can be built up as the unknowns are identified, and how these unknowns are related to what has already been learned.


Ayres, P. (1993). Why Goal-Free Problems Can Facilitate Learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 18, pp 376 - 381.

01 March 2010

Value of Praising Your Students / Kids

We all love praises ... for a job well done, for academic achievements, for beauty, .. but what do they do to us? Well we all know that they inflate our ego's, but unknowingly, they may have more damaging effects than we think!

Research has shown that people tend to give up if they realize that their lack of performance is due to a lack of ability, whereas people tend to continue trying if they realize that it is due to a lack of effort. It should be clarified here that "ability" refers to something that is fixed, whether it is true or not. Some people believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed. Others may believe that playing a musical instrument is an innate ability rather than learned. These are often referred to as fixed or growth mindset. Students with fixed mind set are concerned about looking smart with little regard of learning. Students with a growth mind set are more concerned about learning than getting good grades.

Dweck (2007) found out that praising someone's intelligence encourages a fixed mind set more often than praising them for their effort. The underlying belief system is that we tend to think that intelligence is fixed. Research has also shown that those who were praised for their intelligence tend to shy away from challenging assignments, and this is far more often than those who were applauded for their effort.

Children who are praised for their intelligence also tend to pursue performance goal which means that their primary motivation is to continue to prove that they are intelligent by the rewards or recognition they can get. This can have negative consequences in that they are likely to sacrifice potential learning opportunities if these opportunities have an element of risk of making errors and do not ensure immediate good performance. Children who are praised for their effort prefer a learning goal that emphasizes the mastery of new and challenging material.

Children praised for intelligence were less likely to want to persist on problems than children praised for effort (Mueller and Dweck, 1998). It has also been shown that children praised for intelligence also enjoyed the tasks assigned to them less than children praised for effort. In another experiment, children praised for intelligence perform worse than children praised for effort after encountering failures and setbacks.

In yet another study, Nussbaum and Dweck (2008) show that people who have a fixed mind set of intelligence (also called entity condition) tend to repair their self esteem "defensively" by comparing themselves with competitors of equal or lower abilities after they encounter failures, whereas people who have a growth mind set of intelligence (also called incremental condition) tend to repair their self esteem by trying to engage in remedial learning and comparing themselves with competitors of higher abilities.


Dweck, Carol. (November 28, 2007). The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. Scientific American Mind.

Mueller, C. and Dweck, C. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75(1), pp 33 - 52.

Nussbaum, D. and Dweck, C. (May 2008). Defensiveness Versus Remediation: Self-Theories and Modes of Self-Esteem Maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 34(5), pp 599 - 612.