Should Students Be Allowed to Vote?

David M. Bressoud March, 2009

[2] Boyle, J. T. and D. J. Nicol. Using classroom communication systems to support interaction and discussion in large class settings.

[3] Bressoud, D.M. 1994. Student Attiudes in First Semester Calculus. MAA Focus. 14:6–7.

This presents the results of an open-ended survey of students attitudes and perceptions in a large (about 350 students) section of mainstream Calculus I at Penn State in the Fall semester of 1993.

[4] Caldwell, J. E. 2007. Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE–Life Sciences Education. 6:9–20.

A discussion of the use of clickers and peer instruction in biology and college trigonometry at West Virginia University. For two sections of trigonometry taught by the same instructor, one with clickers and the other without, grades were signifcantly better in the clicker section. Comparing sections of introductory Biology with and without clickers, clickers noticeably improved attendance (from 60% to 90%) and retention up to the final exam (from 90% to 95%). There is also a useful discussion of the drawbacks of clickers including loss of lecture time, technical problems, and cost.

[5] Crouch, C. H. and E. Mazur. 2001. Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics. 69:970–977.

This is primarily an explanation of how clickers and peer instruction have been implemented in physics classes at Harvard. Primary evidence for their effectiveness is a steady improvement in scores on both conceptual and quantitative questions over the ten years that the program had been in effect. There also was a comparison of a single quantitative question between a traditionally taught class in 1999 and a class taught in 2000 using peer instruction. Students in the peer instruction class did considerably better.

[6] Ding, L., N. W. Reay, A Lee, and L. Bao. 2009 (in press). Are we asking the right questions? Validating clicker question sequences through student interviews. American Journal of Physics.

A discussion of the analysis and validation of clicker questions.

[7] Draper, S. W. and M. I. Brown. 2004. Increasing interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system. Journal of Computer Assited Learning. 20:81–94.

An account of the use of clickers and peer instruction at the University of Glasgow in a variety of classes: psychology, computer science, medicine, dental science, veterinary science, biology, philosophy, and statistics. Summative evaluation was based on student perception of whether they had benefited from the use of clickers. Most students either "definitely benefited" or considered that there was a net benefit. Only in philosophy did the number of students who were neutral or negative come close to 50%.

[8] Elliott, C. 2003. Using a personal response system in Economics teaching. International Review of Economics Education. 1:80–86.

An account of the use of clickers in a microeconomics class at the University of Lancaster, though apparently without peer instruction through class discussion of answers. Evaluation was conducted by a survey of student attitudes. Students were positive about the experience.

[9] Lasry, N. 2008. Clickers or Flashcards: Is There Really a Difference?. The Physics Teacher. 46:242–244.

The author compared two sections of a mechanics class, one of which used clickers and other used colored cards to respond to the "clicker questions." Both groups used the model of peer instruction. There was no significant difference in their improvement on concept questions.

[10] Mazur, E. 2009. Farewell, Lecture? Science. 2 January. 323:50–51.

A general description of why clickers help and how they can be used to greatest effect by the Harvard physics professor who originated the clicker-based pedagogy.

[11] Smith, M. K., W. B. Wood, W. K. Adams, C. Wiemen, J. K. Knight, N. Guild, and T. T. Su. 2009. Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions. Science. 2 January. 323:122–124.

A study of clickers in an introductory genetics class at the University of Colorado, Boulder that shows that group discussion does improve conceptual understanding. Students were asked to respond to a question, given an opportunity to discuss it in small groups, asked a second time to answer it, and then given a parallel question, all before getting any feedback from the instructor.Of those who answered incorrectly the first time, 78% answered the parallel question correctly. The conclusion is that students learn from peer discussion, and it is an important component of the effective use of clickers.

[12] Reay, N. W., P. Li, and L. Bao. 2008. Testing a new voting machine question methodology. American Journal of Physics. 76:171–178.

This is the only large-scale comparative study of the effectiveness of clickers and peer instruction of which I am aware, conducted at Ohio State in classes in Electricity and Magnetism.For each of three consecutive semesters, one section was taught with clickers and one without. Students were given common pre- and post-tests of concept questions. In the first two quarters, less than 20% of the time in the clicker sections was spent on clicker questions. In the third quarter, this rose to 50%. In the first two quarters, students in the clicker sections showed a considerably greater gain in understanding of the concept questions. The gain was much less pronounced in the third quarter. This may be because there was a greater discepancy in their pre-test scores: Students in the clicker section in the third quarter did much better on the pre-test than their counterparts in the non-clicker section. Or, the less significant advantage may be because clickers were used much more extensively than in other quarters, suggesting that there may be an optimal amount of time to be spent on clicker questions. For all three quarters, being in the clicker section had a much more pronounced benefit for female students than for male students.

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David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and President of the MAA. You can reach him at This column does not reflect an official position of the MAA.