Innovative Practices Spotlight

CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight


Dr. Kathryn Allen, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

The Center for Academic Excellence is recognizing a faculty member every month in the CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight to highlight his or her innovative classroom practices and outstanding contribution to Millersville University.

Dr. Kathryn Allen is being recognized for her exceptional use of Plickers in her Chemistry courses!

Please continue reading to learn more about Dr. Allen's exciting experience and to learn ways to incorporate innovative practices into your classroom…

1. What innovative practice did you incorporate into your classroom?

I incorporated Plickers cards, which are a new, free alternative to Clickers. With Plickers (, you are able to post pictures/questions with multiple choice answers (up to four) on the overhead screen in the classroom. You then use a free app on your phone to scan the responses students give. The students respond by using a free Plickers card that has a geometric shape on it. Depending on the orientation of the shape, my camera phone, and the app on it, reads A, B, C, D. This application does not depend on batteries, does not cost the students extra and it gives them immediate feedback on their answers. I can present the class response as a whole in an anonymous setting so that no student feels singled out of the group. I can also repeatedly quiz students on a topic that they have trouble with until the majority of the class gets the answer correct and they feel more comfortable with the material and the way the questions are phrased. Best of all, students are encouraged to confer with their neighbors and notes and argue their answers. This encourages discussion and engages students in the process.

2. When did you implement the new practice into your classroom? 

I began using the cards last Fall, in CHEM 235, which is a Short Course in Organic Chemistry, and have successfully implemented them in General Chemistry II (CHEM 112).

3. Did the students willingly accept the use of the new practice? What were the reactions of the students?

The students love Plickers! The responses I received were overwhelmingly favorable. Students appreciated that they didn’t have to worry about batteries or about their Clicker not being reused the semester after they spent money on it. They receive instant feedback on their responses to quizzes and were able to confer with myself and with their neighbors and their notes on why they got the answer wrong. They were graded on these questions, but because they could confer openly, they feel that they are being given a chance to boost their grade in a difficult subject. I think they appreciate this opportunity and I certainly appreciate the excitement and enthusiasm for classroom success that the Plickers system bequeaths to my students.  Students treat the questions like a game, and their success like winning the game. It creates competition and friendly banter in my recitation sections.

4. How has the use of the new practice positively affected the classroom learning environment?

My students are noticeably more engaged than in previous years when I did not use the Plickers cards. I think this is because they must actively participate in problems I put on the board and I encourage discussion of ‘what if’ scenarios. What students really enjoy is that they are re-quizzed on material that the class as a whole has problems with. For example, if a certain question gets below a 70%, I ask the same TYPE of question again, and students have the opportunity to fix their errors. Students feel as though they are given the chance to master a technique before progressing to the next technique, which makes them feel less swamped by difficult concepts. The net effect is a general feeling of being helped and tutored in the subject rather than being talked at for hours.

5. How has the use of the new practice affected student engagement in the classroom and the level of participation? 

What I’ve really noticed is that students enjoy recitation more. Rather than talking at them for fifty minutes while I go through problems that only 10% of the students have even looked at before class, I am presenting new problems to them, encouraging discussion and testing them on their answers. Though their answers are anonymous, it is rare that a triumphant cheer or ‘ah-ha’ doesn’t go up at least once a recitation as students eagerly await the answer and find out they were right. 

6. What challenges did you encounter when you were implementing the new practice?

The biggest problem we face is that some students occasionally forget their Plickers card. To remedy this issue, I recommend they staple them to the inside of their notebooks or that they laminate them to ensure the cards last all semester and don’t become lost or damaged. 

7. How did attending Camp IDEA or a CAE Professional Development session contribute to your learning and use of the innovative practice?

We discussed the use of Plickers in Camp IDEA, and I implemented them at the suggestion of Charlton Wolfgang, a faculty member in our Education department. If I hadn’t gone to Camp IDEA, I never would have known about these wonderful cards! They have really made a difference in my classroom teaching style and in the level of student involvement in the learning process.