You’ve heard the terms positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement usually takes the form of a reward given for actively behaving a certain way. Negative reinforcement takes the form of a reward given for not engaging in a specific kind of behavior.
Psychologists and educational theorists have spent a lot of time looking at reinforcement theory. You’ve heard the terms positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. These are reinforcement theory ideas that focus on how someone — a teacher, for example — can encourage or discourage certain behavior outcomes among students. Positive reinforcement usually takes the form of a reward given for actively behaving a certain way. Negative reinforcement takes the form of a reward given for not engaging in a specific kind of behavior.
So, what has any of this to do with classroom clickers and other forms of student response technology? Quite a lot, actually. Teachers certainly want to encourage certain kinds of behavior, and it’s not just the sit-still-in-your-seat behavior. Clearly, there are times when teachers want to encourage thoughtful discussion, and classroom clickers can provide the entry into such discussions.
Derek Bruff, of Vanderbilt University, in a piece on best practices for teaching and learning and published on the National Education Association website, describes how one professor would pose a question to the class and then use clickers to capture student responses, which would then be displayed – anonymously – in front of all the students. When students could see the diversity of answers – or could see the number of students who provided an incorrect answer to a provable question – the discussions that followed were often quite rich. Where the posted answers indicated a that numerous students did not know the correct answer, the students were able to work together to facilitate a better understanding of how the correct answer should be reached.
Clearly, clickers can also be used to perform pre-assessments of student knowledge, too. If an instructor asks questions about a “new” topic and discovers that the responses provided by the students indicate a strong familiarity with the topic already, the instructor can quickly move forward (or more deeply) into a discussion that will be more relevant and more interesting to the students.
But there’s one more point to mention. One of the real benefits of clickers has to do with their ability to shield student identities. Clickers can enable students to respond honestly but anonymously, and this can foster the inclusion of voices in a conversation that might not otherwise be heard. If a shy or discouraged student discovers that other students have responded to a question in a similar manner, that student may not feel as shy or discouraged. That discovery can be a positive reinforcement of their ideas, views, or experiences, which can lead to a further level of engagement in the classroom.
Clearly there are more ways that a student response technology can foster both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Depending on the outcome you want, a student response system may be just the tool you need to drive your classroom forward.