Personal Response Systems

PRS Teaching Examples

0 views March 1, 2017 0

University professors have used PRSs successfully in a variety of disciplines. Listed below are some examples.


Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, has pioneered the use of PRS systems for Peer Learning.  In each class he has students answer questions applying key concepts from their reading, then has them discuss answers with each other and vote again.  The number of students selecting the correct answer rises significantly with the second attempt.  He describes his use of this approach to in an Introductory Physics course in the seminal article, Peer Instruction: Getting Students to Think in Class.  He also describes this approach in a Keynote Address at BC’s eTeaching Day, 2012.


At the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Elizabeth Cullingford uses an iClicker system in teaching students Masterworks of British Literature.

In her article Using CPS in Masterworks of British Literature, Dr. Cullingford explains how she progressed from using iClicker questions to test factual recall, such as the definition of iambic pentameter, to focusing questions on analysis and interpretation.

Sometimes she begins her class with a question about a quotation, which then leads into the lecture’s theme. Sometimes she asks students their opinions of an incident, character, or symbol.

For analysis and interpretation questions, all the options are possible answers, as compared to being right or wrong. For example, she offers her students several contrasting readings of Hamlet’s statement “To be or not to be,” and asks them which they consider to be the best interpretation. Or she might ask them whether they think the marriage of Charlotte Lucas, in Pride and Prejudice, is “mercenary, prudent, or tantamount to legal prostitution.”


At The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, instructors in Introductory Nutrition use iClicker systems to engage students and assess understanding in large classes.

As explained in the article Learning a click away in VUSN nutrition class, instructors report that the iClickers also give them a way to assess “behavior, opinions and attitudes” about the topics they cover.

The article explains how, during a recent lecture about food safety, the co-instructor, Bettina Lippert, R.N., wanted to gauge how much to emphasize a particular point about raw food preparation and consumption.

The responses to an iClicker question revealed that only 17 percent of the students had tried raw oysters. After briefly discussing the issue of oysters, she used them as a starting-off point for safe food storage issues, which are important to college students living in dormitories.

Co-instructor Jamie Pope, a registered dietitian and instructor, finds that iClickers enable her to ask personal questions related to course topics. For example, when she asked an iClicker question about washing hands, 5 percent of the students admitted they had washed their hands only once that day. “That’s the type of instant information we need to identify an issue and better educate,” says Pope. “If we had to rely on students raising their hands, no one would have answered truthfully, especially in front of their peers.”


Professor William B. Wood, in the Department of MCD Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, uses an iClicker system to assess students’ progressive understanding of difficult topics and to encourage learning through peer interaction.

In his article Clickers: A Teaching Gimmick that Works, Professor Wood explains how iClickers increased students’ understanding of difficult topics in his course on the molecular genetics of maternal-effect mutants.

He uses iClickers at various points in his course presentations to check students’ progressive understanding. For example, after presenting information relating to embryo viability for about 20 minutes, he posed this question: Would the viability of an embryo resulting from a cross that involved . . . [the mutation he had just discussed] depend on a) the genotype of the mother or b) the genotype of the embryo? When he saw that over 90% of his students clicked the correct answer, he continued his lecture.

After presenting additional information, he paused for another iClicker question about embryo viability. The iClicker response to this question showed that 48% thought the described embryos would live and 52% thought they would die. Professor Wood recalls, “For me this was a moment of revelation. I was not so much disappointed by the result as elated by the realization that for the first time in over 20 years of lecturing, I knew on the spot, (rather than after the next mid-term exam), that over half the class didn’t ‘get it’.”

Rather than tell the students which answer was correct, he had them debate the answers with their adjacent classmates. He reported that the class “erupted into animated conversation,” after which he asked for a revote. This time, 90% of the students answered the question correctly.

Tax And Labor Law

In “Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning,” Professors Paul L. Caron and Rafael Gely of The University of Cincinnati College of Law discuss how iClickers can enhance the Socratic method.

Professors Caron and Gely use iClickers for two types of questions:

  1. Questions they prepare and write onto slides in advance. These questions typically ask students to illustrate an applicable rule after discussion of a particular case, statute, ruling or regulation. After students respond, the percentage distribution of answers and the correct answer are shown.
  2. Questions they ask verbally on the fly. These questions typically result from classroom discussion and can be used to gauge student reactions.

Professors Caron and Gely say that the use of iClickers can be viewed as the “Socratic method writ large” because they encourage a Socratic-type dialog with all the students, as compared to engaging just one student at a time. They conclude that iClickers have “infused our classrooms with active learning vigor.”

Other Disciplines

Read additional case studies provided by iClicker

Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view. Click here to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.