Polls can be taken in class to see what students remember and to enhance their knowledge. The questions you pose may be reinforcing something that happened prior to the class, or they might be reinforcing something that was just taught.
The Case for Anonymity
In most cases, it works well to have these polls be anonymous. Students can then feel freer to respond, authentically, and not be as fearful of getting a wrong answer. Being a culturally-responsive teacher means being aware of the existence of stereotype threat and the ways in which it widens the achievement gap. Having anonymity as students take risks in their learning can help to negate some of the impacts of stereotype threat.
There are many educational technologies that exist to conduct polling using students’ cell phones, or other types of devices. However, it also can be a rich experience for learners to engage them using analog tools (such as sticky notes or whiteboard interactions).
Benefits of In-Class Polling
A shift is taking place in higher education to go from less of a sage on the stage kind of teaching. The benefits of conducting polls during class are abundant.
- Breaks the class up
- Allows time for thinking
- Offers opportunities to engage with other learners and collaborate
- The answering of questions develops stronger neural connections
- Discovering where confusion exists helps us improve our teaching
There are many examples of educational technology that may be used to administer polls during class.
PollEverywhere – As you show the questions on the projector, students can use their mobile phones to respond to your queries. The free plan allows for up to 40 students to be in a single section (you can reset the questions between classes) and has ample question types.
Kahoot.it – This game-show type tool lets students work in teams, or independently, and respond to multiple choice questions on their phones.
Socrative – This service is similar to PollEverywhere – and lets you show students questions on the projector and have them respond on their devices (phones, computers, etc.).
Quizlet Live – Using a set of flash cards you either create on your own or copy over an existing set from Quizlet.com, students can play a lively game that gets them interactiving authentically. Here’s more about using Quizlet Live from Teaching in Higher Ed.
Don’t try to use too many different digital options in a given class, as it is important to get comfortable with one at a time. However, once you have gotten comfortable with one of the recommendations above, experiment with one of the other suggestions, so you keep some sense of the unexpected in your classes.
Sometimes it can be great to put all the technology away and go old school. Here are some options for polling that don’t involve technology at all.
Sticky notes – Use large sticky notes as students come into class and ask that they respond to the questions that are posed on them. The questions might ask them to describe something, retell a story or definition in their own words, or to discuss a topic.
Create a series of flyers using Canva.com and hang them around the classroom – Then, as students to respond to the questions that are posed on the flyers using regular sticky notes.
Have students vote on items using colorful round stickers placed on large sticky notes or flyers that are hung around the classroom. Students can also give their input right onto a white board by placing tick mark responses, or writing their answers with a dry erase marker.
Growing students knowledge and getting them engaged this way is a skill that takes some time to learn. Here is some advice for how to develop your polling pedagogy:
Test the software before you are in the class – You can use your own cell phone to see what it will be like for students, or ask your TA or department coordinator to help you test things out.
Consider how you will respond when students get answers wrong in class. Here’s some advice from Teaching in Higher Ed on how to handle when students give incorrect answers.
Consider first having students think on their own about an answer (think), then talk about it with one or two others sitting near them (pair), and finally (share) out with the class what they came up with…
There are other ways in which open-ended polling can take some unexpected turns. Check out this article for advice on how to prevent that from happening, and what to do when it inevitably rears its head.
Polling is incredibly powerful to use in facilitating learning. It is easy to learn, both on the analog and digital fronts. Asking students to respond to questions helps us teach more effectively and strengthen the learning process.