Improving Educational Outreach

Enhancing community educational presentations with peer discussion, clicker technology

Clicker technology and peer discussion — two educational tools typically used in school and college classrooms — have positive results when used in educational outreach for adults in the community, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Maine.

The study was conducted with Maine blueberry growers who attend annual University of Maine Cooperative Extension presentations on subjects ranging from plant disease prevention to pest monitoring and management. This year, to make the informal science education sessions of the Blueberry School more interactive and to promote learning, clicker questions and peer discussion were introduced.

The results of this study show that older adults in informal science settings respond to clicker technology and peer discussion in a manner similar to that exhibited by undergraduates in more formal settings. In particular, more blueberry growers gave correct answers to multiple-choice questions after peer discussion than when answering independently, similar to what has been shown at the college undergraduate level. An important finding was that 42 percent of growers who answered the individual clicker question incorrectly went on to answer correctly following peer discussion.

The research team of Seanna Annis and Frank Drummond from UMaine and Jennifer Kaplan at the University of Georgia, led by Michelle Smith, a UMaine assistant professor of biological sciences, also looked at the demographics of the growers, including their diverse educational backgrounds. Notably, there were no significant effects of any of the demographic classifications, including education level, age, sex, etc., on how the growers responded to the use of clickers and peer discussion. Taken together, the results suggest that clicker questions and peer discussion can be used with adults with diverse demographic backgrounds without disadvantaging a subset of the population.

In addition, the study found that the growers scored lower on questions pertaining to information presented in graphs, which will inform future Blueberry School presentations by the UMaine faculty.

“Given that many adults have a distrust of science, it is imperative that university faculty not only transform formal university education, but also work to improve informal science education,” according to the researchers, writing in the journal PLOS ONE.

Contact: Michelle Smith, 207-581-2604