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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Clickers, clickers, everywhere

By Matt Jenner, on 2 October 2012

This summer E-Learning Environments have installed clickers into three teaching spaces at UCL, the Harrie Massey in the Physics Building, the Cruciform LT1 and Christopher Ingold Auditorium. Each room has every seat kitted out with a voting handset and the front teaching PC has a USB receiver and the software installed. Read on for some images and educational musings to chew on…

Clicker enclosure

Clicker installed into it’s metal enclosure

Cruciform LT1

Fitting them onto the rounded space

 Showing how laptops fit between the clickers


Looking down on all the clickers

Harrie Massey

Shots from this space didn’t seem to make the cut – but I assure you, they’re wonderful.

Why bother?

The main issue with the clickers at UCL evolves around the logistics of getting them into the hands of the students. Staff are keen to use them, adapting their teaching and encouraging engaging and interactive learning environments. Student feedback, from what we’ve had so far, is positive about the clickers. If this is our biggest concern, we’re lucky – it’s easy to fix this by improving logistics.

Reducing the ‘necessary didactics’ of traditional lectures

In measuring the achievements of lectures there is value in a lecture for information transfer (Bligh, 2000), however studies in a range of teaching methods have shown that the information transfer in the lecture is no better than any other teaching methods (Dubin and Taveggia, 1968). Lectures are all too often a one-to-many model of information transfer, where a domain expert fulfils a seemingly obligatory exposition of as much information as possible into the supposed hollows of their audiences’ minds. A repercussion is students “perform little mental processing and hence little learning” (Draper and Brown, 2004) and that passivity in a lecture is not effective for constructing conceptual understanding (Abrahamson, 1998; Bonwell & Eison, 1991). A prominent study on classroom interactivity (Hake, 1998) observed over 6000 undergraduate physics students and noted that an interactive classroom can be significantly more effective than a non-interactive one.

What do clickers add?

Clickers are a classroom technology which facilitate the collection and analysis of responses to questions. Typically the question is multiple choice and students submit one answer each. A central computer receives the answers and produces a chart showing the distribution of submitted answers which the teacher and students can analyse. The immediacy of responses highlights student
understanding or opinion and how the class may proceed, this may involve “having students engage in small-group or class wide discussions on the question at hand, moving on to the next topic if the results indicate students are ready, or something else entirely” (Bruff, 2009).

Increasing student learning with clickers?

Not necessarily, direct improvement to student learning isn’t always apparent with clickers, nor measured in studies. However, learning isn’t just a higher score in a test, it’s enhanced cognition of a learning domain, or as Benjamin Bloom would note, to move upwards from understanding and recalling the information to explaining concepts or applying it in new ways/contexts. Roschelle, Penuel and Abrahamson, (2004) identified commonalities and trends in multiple disciplinary studies with a view to observing evidence for correlation for the benefits of clickers, the outcomes below were themes which were most apparent from their studies:

  • increased interaction for students (with the material, ideas, concepts etc.);
  • enhanced lecture experience (i.e. they just enjoyed the lecture more, felt involved);
  • increased understanding;
  • students (and staff) being able to gauge their own (and that of the cohort) understanding;
  • increased engagement;
  • increased amounts of in-class communication as an outcome, such as unplanned or unstructured informal discussions.


There’s a lot of multi discipline support for the use of clickers, and they are increasing in popularity across UCL into all three schools and many departments. Weather you’re in these spaces or not, the clickers we’re putting everywhere are coming due to demand. We also have departmental kit going out and there’s always a supply in Audio Visual (email av-support@ucl.ac.uk to make enquiries).

If you plan to use them, let us know as we’re always keen to  see how they’re being used and get you started, contact us at ele@uc.ac.uk and we’ll go from there or look at our webpage for clickers.



Abrahamson, A. L., (1998). An overview of teaching and learning research with classroom communication systems, proceedings of the International Conference of the Teaching of Mathematics, Samos, Greece, June 3-6.

Bligh, D.A., (2000). What’s the use of Lectures? London/San Francisco; Jossey-Bass.

Bruff D., (2009). Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. Jossey Bass.

Bonwell, C.C., & Eison, J.A., (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, The George Washington University.

Dubin, R. and Taveggia, T.C., (1968). The Teaching-Learning Paradox. Eugene, OR: Center for Advanced Study of Educational Administration, University of Oregon.

Draper S. W. and Brown M. I., (2004). Increased interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Vol. 20, p81–94.

Hake R. H., (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: a six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses, American Journal of Physics. Vol. 66, p64–74.

Roschelle, J., Abrahamson, L. A., and Penuel, W. R. (2004). DRAFT Integrating Classroom Network Technology and Learning Theory to Improve Classroom Science Learning: A Literature Synthesis. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

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