Classroom Response Systems in Economics

Integrating a Classroom Response System into an Economics Course

Students begin to submit their responses.

A host of economists have been writing for years trying to convince the discipline of the need to move away from traditional lecture format and incorporate other teaching strategies into the economics classroom. William Becker and Michael Watts wrote their first book, Teaching Economics to Undergraduates: Alternatives to Chalk and Talk, in 1998 while at the same time William Walstad and Phillip Saunders released their book Teaching Undergraduate Economics: A Handbook for Instructors. To push the issues even farther, Becker, Watts, and Becker released a follow-up book in 2006 titled Teaching Economics: More Alternatives to Chalk and Talk. The International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics is be the largest single-source reference for all kinds of teaching pedagogy and ideas.

A Classroom Response System (CRS) is a technology tool that can be coupled with a number of the alternatives to chalk and talk. A Classroom Response System can be combined with other teaching pedagogies including ConcepTests, Just-In-Time Teaching, Interactive Lectures, Cooperative Learning, Classroom Experiments, and Interactive Lecture Demonstrations.

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Although Physics and other disciplines are ahead of Economics in terms of formally researching and documenting the effects a Classroom Response System has in class, Salemi (2009)reports data from using a system in his classes. Based on a survey from several of his classes he found "Nearly 90 percent of students recommend their [clickers] continued use and 69 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the course was designed to keep them engaged." Economists are now beginning to realize their potential to dramatically alter and improve their classes.

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Choosing the Appropriate Pedagogical Approach and Classroom Implementation

Simply inserting some CRS questions into an economics lecture is likely not going to produce the desired results. The tool must be carefully combined with an overall pedagogical strategy such as cooperative learning. The best way to think of a CRS is that it is a way of teaching, not just a new technology to add to a class.

Salemi (2009) proposes the following clicker strategies for the principles course: (1) Sampling student opinion, (2) Asking "Are you with me?" questions, (3) Acquiring economic data from students, (4) Peer instruction activities, (5) Games and simulations.

These are basically just variations of the benefits of using clickers identified in this teaching module.

While a Classroom Response System has quickly become associated with large classes, it can be equally (but differently) effective in small classes. It is particularly effective in principles classes but can be adapted to work well in an upper-division class. Assessment and collecting data (for homework or games) are likely to be more important benefits in classes beyond the principles level.

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Challenges and Issues

Adopting clickers will create secondary effects and some unintended consequences for both the instructor and student. These issues should be carefully considered and responses prepared before actual implementation. The challenges that arise in Economics are really no different than the challenges that arise in other disciplines.

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Economic Examples

Economic examples are aligned with the strategies or benefits of using clickers as outlined above. The best question to use depends on the desired benefit. For example, a certain multiple-choice question could be very effective to capture the benefit of student preparation but may not be very effective for assessment purposes. The provided examples are meant to be broadly based to provide specific questions to achieve the benefits described above.

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References and Resources

This portion of the bibliography includes references to articles regarding pedagogical practices in Economics as well as articles describing Classroom Response Systems in Economics. view the economics-related references

There are a variety of web-based resources that are available to determine which system to choose and the best practices for implementing those systems.

Four major manufacturers lead the industry today. They include eInstruction with both the Personal Response System and the Classroom Performance System, Turning Point, iClicker, and Qwizdom.

See It Used

This video is from a Principles of Microeconomics class discussing the relationship between elasticity and total revenue. It is the second of back-to-back questions asked after the instructor's presentation of the material. It shows the following components of using clickers:

  • The total time it takes to ask a question and receive answers (2 minutes)
  • The fun that can be incorporated (the instructor uses popular political slogans to encourage students to answer)
  • What the results histogram looks like (a bar chart)
  • The increase in student confidence, and presumably understanding (the first question had an 83% correct response rate)
  • The interaction among peers while answering (although this question was not specifically designated as a cooperative learning or think-pair-share question, students can be seen talking with each other before they answer)

A QuickTime version (MP4 Video 9.5MB Mar1 10) of this video is also available