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A clicker, which has been called many things in research literature (including a Learning Response System or LRS), is a handheld device with numbered and/or lettered buttons; this clicker or LRS allows people to answer multiple-choice polls and have their choice transmitted and presented on a computer screen. This technology has been popularized by game shows, including the “ask the audience” lifeline on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Although this tool has been around for several decades, it has only recently been used in the classroom. Generally these clickers have been used in large lecture settings, in an attempt to encourage participation and interest within such a large setting.
There is a fair amount of research regarding LRS usage within a variety of disciplines, including Algebra, Nursing, and English Literature. Research involving LRSs report many pedagogical advantages to using them in the classroom. Six advantages in particular have been found in several studies:
There are also disadvantages or problems with LRSs reported in some studies:
Clickers have received very little attention in foreign/second language teaching; only a handful of presentations and articles exist about using them in language classrooms. This may be because these classrooms are often smaller and focused on interaction and communication. A recent study by Cardoso (2011) reported similar advantages in the language classroom, and surprisingly found that learners felt that clickers provided yet another avenue for participation and interaction in the language classroom. Students in this study also viewed LRSs as helpful for immediate feedback, for increasing the amount and concreteness of material covered in class, and for showing the teacher’s commitment.
Most of the ideas shared in this post, both general and language-specific, come from the aforementioned article by Cardoso about LRSs. This article also has a very helpful table summarizing many of the findings from past studies about LRSs in many disciplines.
I learned additional information about clickers in email communications with Rivka Cook, who has used them with Spanish and Hebrew. Although clickers do require more preparation time, she loves them because they enable 100% participation, where students are not worried to respond because of the anonymity. In the past, Rivka has used clickers nearly every Friday in her classes.
There are clearly many future directions for future research in this area! Feel free to add anything I missed in the comments.
If you are interested in learning more about how clickers can be used within foreign/second language teaching, here is a video of a presentation on the topic by Rivka Cook: