A comparative study: do "clickers" increase student engagement in multidisciplinary clinical microbiology teaching?
BACKGROUND: Audience response devices, or "clickers", have been used in the education of future healthcare professionals for several years with varying success. They have been reported to improve the learning experience by promoting engagement and knowledge retention. In 2014, our department evaluated the use of "clickers" in a newly introduced multidisciplinary approach to teaching large groups of third year medical students clinical cases developed around a microbiology theme.
METHODS: Six multidisciplinary teaching sessions covering community-acquired pneumonia, tuberculosis, infective endocarditis, peritonitis, bloodstream infection with pyelonephritis and bacterial meningitis were included in the study. Three involved the use of the "clickers" and three did not. Consenting undergraduate students attended the designated classes and afterwards answered a short online quiz relating to the session. Students also answered a short questionnaire about the "clickers" to gauge their attitudes on the use of these devices.
RESULTS: Of 310 students, 294 (94.8%) agreed to participate in the study. Interestingly, the grades of online quizzes after a session where a "clicker" was used were slightly lower. Looking only at the grades of students who engaged completely with the process (n = 19), there was no statistical difference to suggest that the devices had a positive or negative impact on knowledge retention. However, student attitudes to using the devices were positive overall. Fifty-five percent strongly agreed and 27% agreed that teaching sessions where the "clickers" were used were more engaging. Thirty-four percent strongly agreed and 36% agreed that the "clickers" made important concepts more memorable and 54% felt the device enhanced their understanding of the topic being covered.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, it appears that "clickers" help in improving student engagement in large classroom environments, enhance the learning experience, and are received positively by medical students but their impact on knowledge retention is variable.