Clickers for the Classroom: Are They the Best Student Engagement Tool?

Cover image for Poll Everywhere's blog about clickers for the classroom.

Considering using clickers in your classroom? Devices like these can improve student engagement and may also impact student success. Just over half (59%) of instructors believe digital technology helped improve student grades, according to the 2021 Digital Learning Materials Trend Report.

But are clickers for classrooms your best option? We explore the benefits and drawbacks of these tech tools, how to use them effectively, and whether alternatives like Poll Everywhere’s student response system are better engagement tools for higher ed classrooms.

What are clickers for the classroom?

Clickers for the classroom, also known as student response systems, are interactive handheld devices that allow students to answer questions or participate in polls. The devices are typically battery-powered and require students to press different buttons, similar to a TV remote. Alternatively, clicker apps also exist that provide the same functionality as the handheld clicker—but are useable on students’ mobile devices.

This educational technology allows instructors to create questions and polls that students respond to in real time. With clickers, educators can increase student engagement and gain valuable insights into learner comprehension.

Additionally, clickers help instructors gather real-time feedback that enables them to adjust their teaching methods on the spot. This ensures learners are actively engaged and understand the material.

Learn more: Discover how (and why) the City University of London switched from clickers to Poll Everywhere, enabling Associate Dean for Education Dr. Rachael-Anne Knight to lead interactive learning experiences without cumbersome technology.

What types of clickers are there?

Classroom clickers come in a few different styles, including infrared, radio, and apps.


Infrared clickers require a line of sight between the clicker and the receiver, another piece of hardware that collects responses for the software. While infrared clickers can work well in small, in-person classrooms, the technology becomes problematic for large classrooms and unusable in online or hybrid learning environments.

If the receiver box isn’t in range or the clicker’s line of sight is obstructed, it may not receive the signal. So a student sitting at the back of a large lecture hall may not have their response recorded.

Infrared clickers for classrooms also typically only support one-way communication. This can hinder student engagement due to a lack of feedback and confirmation that their response was received.


Radio clickers are commonly used in larger classrooms to facilitate two-way communication between the teacher and students. These devices operate using radio frequency, which better supports seamless interaction and engagement during lessons when compared to infrared technology.

However, radio clickers aren’t without their drawbacks. Interference from other electronic devices operating on similar radio frequencies, such as Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices, can disrupt their signals. This results in delayed responses or even complete malfunction of the radio clickers.

Using radio clickers in schools with multiple devices operating on radio frequencies requires careful coordination by teachers and IT staff. You’ll need to minimize interference so learners can easily use their clickers during class.

Additionally, radio clickers aren’t ideal for virtual students. Hybrid and HyFlex classrooms that use radio clickers need to add a way for remote students to participate as well, which may require instructors to juggle multiple student response systems.

Mobile apps

Phone-based clicker apps are a more modern take on this decades-old technology. Once downloaded to students’ mobile devices, clicker apps allow learners to submit their answers through their phones.

These apps often support more activity types as well as customization options and reporting features. This can help instructors create vibrant classroom environments that cater to their students’ needs, and real-time data collection presents opportunities to expand on the curriculum as needed.

While this requires students to have access to Wi-Fi or a cellular network, it does open up the use of clickers in virtual and hybrid classrooms. In fall 2021, 61% of all undergraduate students took at least one virtual class, making accessibility to classroom technology important for instructors of remote and hybrid courses.

5 ways to use clickers for classrooms

Whether you’re a clicker newbie or seeking new strategies for using personal response systems, here’s how to make the most of this technology in your classroom.

1. Take attendance

Taking attendance using clickers in the classroom is an effective and efficient way to track student participation and address absenteeism, especially in large introductory courses. The ability to gather real-time data with clickers makes them helpful for taking attendance and checking on student engagement.

To effectively take attendance with clickers, ask interactive questions at the beginning or end of class (or both) and ask students to respond with their clickers. This also helps you gauge student understanding of the material.

2. Evaluate student comprehension

Clicker questions can be used as formative assessments that test student recall and retention. Assessing students allows instructors to adjust the curriculum or help students with one-on-one assistance if they’ve fallen behind their peers.

Additionally, educators can use clickers to understand how well students believe they understand the course content. This can highlight discrepancies in student versus instructor expectations or help educators spot students who are dissatisfied with the curriculum so far.

3. Gather student feedback

Using clickers allows instructors to also check in on students’ satisfaction with the course. While clickers may not support open-ended questions that can provide valuable insights, multiple-choice questions can prompt deeper discussions with specific students or the classroom as a whole.

Did you know? Poll Everywhere allows instructors to collect feedback asynchronously through integrations with Slack and other learning tools. This makes virtual and hybrid students more likely to participate and share.

4. Create active learning exercises

Active learning strategies paired with clickers encourage class discussion, collaboration, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of the course material.

Here are some active student learning exercises instructors can use with clickers:

  • Think-pair-share: Present a question to your class and ask students to use their clickers to answer individually. Then, assign pairs and ask them to continue discussing the question with their classmates. Finally, ask each pair to share the conclusion they came to and why. You might also ask students to re-select their answers after this activity to see if anything changes.
  • Crowdsource answers: It’s a prime opportunity to encourage discussion when a student asks a question about the course material during class. Set up the question and possible answers, then ask students to select what they believe is the correct response. Afterward, invite students to explain why they chose their answers.
  • Real-time reactions: Ask students to select the answer that best represents their feelings about assigned reading or classwork.
  • Predictions: Have students select their poll response based on the direction they think the topic of discussion will go. For example, an English Lit professor may ask students to predict how they think people in 1729 reacted to Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

5. Build rapport with icebreakers

Get to know your students and create a more comfortable learning environment with icebreakers. Pose “would you rather…?” questions or set up a poll for “two truths and a lie.”

Icebreakers are a fun, low-pressure way to encourage student participation. Additionally, they can foster a sense of community in your classroom, build trust, and improve communication.

Should you use clickers in the classroom?

Audience response systems offer several potential benefits in the classroom, including increased student participation, engagement, and active learning. They can also provide real-time feedback to both students and instructors, promoting a more interactive and dynamic learning environment.

However, challenges to using clickers in the classroom include implementation, cost, and accessibility.

6 disadvantages of classroom clickers in higher education

Classroom clickers, while often seen as a tool to increase student engagement and participation, have their own set of potential disadvantages:

  1. Technical problems: As with any technology, clickers can throw a wrench in your lesson plan. Be sure you allow time to set up and troubleshoot any issues with your clicker-based classroom response system—and have a backup plan ready just in case.
  2. Learning curve: Clickers require both students and instructors to learn and use them effectively. For educators in particular, clickers require you to adapt your lesson plan. Additionally, students may struggle to use their clickers effectively, requiring the instructor to spend part of class getting them up to speed or troubleshooting issues that arise.
  3. Wasted class time: If your students can’t take clickers home, you’ll need to dedicate class time for them to pick up and return their devices.
  4. Cost: Clicker systems cost upwards of $800 to $1,000, depending on your chosen brand. And remember, you’ll likely need to purchase systems for more than just one class. If your institution doesn’t provide clickers free of charge, students need to pay out of pocket for their own devices. Typically, physical clickers cost around $50, while clicker apps like iClicker require subscriptions that may cost anywhere from $15 to $30 a year.
  5. Reduced accessibility: With radio and infrared clickers, students must attend class in person to use them. Thankfully, clicker apps solve this problem for virtual students, but this can restrict instructors’ choices regarding which clicker software they use.
  6. Limited activity types: While they’ve improved over the years, clickers provide only a few activity types compared to other digital classroom response systems. For example, you may be limited to multiple-choice polls and quizzes that feature a single correct answer with a clicker app, while other solutions like Poll Everywhere allow you to create open-ended questions, use images, and present information in unique ways, such as word clouds.

Improve accessibility and classroom engagement with Poll Everywhere

Bring your own device software (BYOD) like Poll Everywhere is an alternative way to promote classroom engagement. Poll Everywhere is accessible through smartphones, tablets, or computers, providing flexibility and convenience for students—especially those attending class virtually.

A study by Penn State’s Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education found students enjoyed using Poll Everywhere and felt more engaged during class. A separate study in the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education stated that BYOD technology like Poll Everywhere opens student-led discussions “without the need of any additional device but the phones in our pockets.”

Poll Everywhere offers the same benefits as clickers for student engagement and can assist educators with assessments and administrative tasks like taking attendance.

Additionally, Poll Everywhere offers a larger variety of activities, such as surveys, Clickable Images, and open-ended questions—all of which integrate with PowerPoint, other presentation software, and learning management systems (LMSs) like Moodle and Blackboard. Discover how you can use tech like Poll Everywhere instead of clickers to engage your students with interactive learning experiences.