Interactive learning

During my undergraduate in Germany, every student in my year got a "clicker" which is a small gadget that sends off your answer to a question from the professor to a receiver (usually the professor's laptop) and they get statistics about the students' answer to multiple choice questions, numeric questions etc. We used it sometimes and it was fun, because the clickers were new and exciting. Suddenly everybody had to answer questions, be awake and think for themselves. However, we were all a bit skeptical if that was the best method to learn something instead of the old approved, but sometimes rather monotonous blackboard-interaction.

The university I attend here has clickers as well! Recently, I attended a talk by a physics professor who's absolutely into this system and who has also recorded many video lectures, made useful clicker questions etc. During the talk he referred to several studies I found interesting:

1. In general, the "learning effect" seems to be higher for students who learned interactively (R. R. Hake, "American Journal of Physics", 1998). Hake made a pre- and a post-exams to test "both conceptual understanding and problem solving" in 62 introductory physics courses. He found out that with "interactive engagement" during classroom sessions the results with interactions were "well beyond that achieved by traditional methods". You can look up the statistics and it seems like that even the worst test average with the interactive learning was better than the best result for the traditional teaching!
(There have been more studies on this, showing that the average grades are apparently raised by a third of a grade, i.e. people went from a B to a B+ or 2.0 to a 1.7 - the Gaussian curve was shifted! [S. Freeman et al., PNAS, 2014].)

2. When we got the clickers, some students started forgetting them because we didn't need them all the time and so on. Or others were too lazy to answer etc. How to ensure that people bring their clicker and spend time discussing a problem?
The clicker gadgets can be registered individually and the professor can check which student is answering. On top of that, it can be recorded if the answer was correct or not, which could be part of the overall grade. But it turns out that students who were only assessed by their participation are more open to discussions, questions and less "efficiency oriented" as those who were examined by their vote. The students under pressure discussed less and just asked the one student who "usually knows the answer" and everybody copied it to earn a high score. That's part of the article "Technology talks: Clickers and grading incentive in the large lecture hall" by S. Willoughby and E. Gustafson in the American Journal of Physics, 2009.

There were more interesting points during the presentation (like the influence of interactive learning to students who switch fields or drop out of college!), but those were the ones which hit me the most. I think this all underlines that science lives from discussion and asking questions.