Discussing Responses

If a [CRS]-using class is to be more than an endless series of quizzes, we should focus on the reasoning behind answers and not on their correctness and students must be convinced that the questions are for learning and not for evaluation.  How we respond when right or wrong answers are offered is crucial.  A full spectrum of answers should be drawn out and discussed before we give any indication which (if any) is correct.  Even the notion of “incorrect” should be downplayed; it is more enlightening to students, and more conducive to discussion, to say something like “that would be correct if…,” identifying the circumstances or assumptions under which the answer would be right.  Instead of offering the wrong answer, students often offer the right answer to the wrong question.
(From http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB0403.pdf, p. 8)

As in previous sections, discussion about the appropriateness of particular responses is an integral component to using iClickers to enhance student engagement and learning.  This won’t be necessary or even useful for most questions – if, for example, the wide majority of students respond correctly to a factual or application question, you can be comfortable with their grasp of the material. However, for more challenging questions, or questions to which there really isn’t one correct response, discussion of the possible responses can be a valuable learning exercise and can model scholarly thinking.

Consider adding student-student interaction. For especially challenging or conceptual questions, or ones in which you note significant variation in student responses, the introduction of student-student discussion of the question and the possible answers can be a valuable addition to clicker use.  Ask the question and display the responses as you normally would.  Without revealing the correct answer, ask students in groups of 2-5 to discuss the possible responses and, as a group, to come to a consensus on which response is correct.  Ask the class to vote again, with each student from each group inputting the answer they now believe to be correct.  Display the new histogram of responses alongside the first (see Step-by-Step Instructions for Basic iClicker Use for instructions on comparing results) and discuss the answers as a large group.  This not only provides students with additional engagement with the question, but provides them with immediate evidence of the value of student-student interaction and peer learning.

A study by Smith et al. explored the value of student-student interaction in identifying the correct answers to multiple choice questions.  They write:

It is generally assumed that active engagement of students during discussion with peers, some of whom know the correct answer, leads to increased conceptual understanding, resulting in improved performance…. However, there is an alternative explanation: that students do not in fact learn from the discussion, but simply choose the answer most strongly supported by neighbors they perceive to be knowledgeable. We sought to distinguish between these alternatives, using an additional, similar clicker question that students answered individually to test for gains in understanding. Our results indicate that peer discussion enhances understanding, even when none of the students in a discussion group originally knows the correct answer.
(From http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/323/5910/122)