Classroom polls are a tool that can be integrated into courses of various sizes and structures. Through the use of polls, both instructors and students can gain real-time feedback on student understanding of course material. Below is a non-exhaustive list of polling question types that can be used by instructors across disciplines to achieve their desired learning goals. We have also created a curated list of disciplinary question banks, journal articles, and blog posts about using polls.
This clicker methodology, first developed by Mazur (1997), engages students in large classrooms with polling questions by having students discuss their answers with peers. This strategy was developed around the idea that often peers can be better at explaining concepts to each other than an expert is. In Peer Instruction, a question is asked and students respond as individuals. Then, students are shown a histogram of their results and tasked with discussing the question and their original solution with a neighbor. This step forces students to explain their own response and the thought process that they used to arrive at that answer. After a few minutes of discussion, students are asked to respond to the same question. Finally, the instructor explains what the correct answer is and why. The question can be a quantitative problem, a conceptual problem about a reading or homework assignment, or anything else that fits the instructor’s course plan.
The key to a good question for peer instruction is that it elicits a wide array of initial answers, facilitating conversation and discussion (i.e. a recall question would likely not be a good fit). The CTL has a page that describes a variety of Kinds of Polling Questions you could ask when using polls in your teaching. Peer Instruction can also include a step where students rate their confidence in their answer choices (Wagner 2009), which can be a useful self-assessment and reflection step.
Polls can be used in a number of ways to help facilitate productive group work. Below are examples of ways to utilize polls as tools for tracking student progress and engaging groups with course material. Using polls to facilitate group work can be especially useful in a course that has been flipped to maximize the amount of in-class time that is used for group work.
Example 1: Instructor asks students, “How many minutes do you need to complete the rest of the group assignment?” (1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes). This allows the instructor to quickly identify how groups are progressing on an in-class project.
Example 2: Groups participate in a version of peer instruction where each individual respond to the question and then the group as a whole must discuss and submit only one response. This facilitation technique forces each student to commit to an answer and then engage in a group discussion until all agree on the single group choice.
Example 3: Instructor asks students, “Please rate the effectiveness of Group 4’s presentation today.” This allows an instructor to quickly and anonymously gather peer feedback on group presentations.
Example 4: Instructor uses polls to have a group provide one response to a given question as a whole. This structure can be used to facilitate group quizzes or have groups provide answers to in-class problem sets.
Polls are useful tools for checking in with a class about the status of student progress toward completion of in-class group work or a long-term project like a lab report, final research paper, or group presentation.
Example 1: Instructor asks students, “How many minutes do you need to complete the rest of the group assignment?” (1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes). Then the instructor uses that information to determine how much longer to allow students to work before bringing them back together for a class wide discussion. This strategy can also be used to ask students how much time they need to complete a peer review process or individual assignment.
Example 2: Instructor asks students, “What stage of the process of writing are you in?” and identifies how much progress students have made toward the final goal. This question could also be framed as a yes/no question, e.g. “I have started writing a draft of the lab report.” Questions like these also remind students about upcoming deadlines and provide a gentle push for students to avoid cramming at the last minute.
Attendance and Participation
Polls are quick and easy tools for tracking student attendance in both medium-and large-sized classes. To track attendance, instructors must have a way to sync the responses from a poll to student identity. Most polling systems have a built-in attendance system that tracks student participation throughout the questions asked during a class period and calculates a participation (or attendance) score. If you are using polls to determine student attendance, it is important to tell the students upfront about this policy and describe how attendance will be determined (i.e. What percentage of questions does a student need to answer in a class period to be counted as having attended?)
Polls can be a useful way to conduct summative assessments in large classes due to the ease of grading and recording responses from a large number of students. Summative assessments are typically used at the end of a unit or course. They are higher stakes and indicate more finalized ‘results’ than formative, in progress, assessments. Polls can be used to conduct end of unit quizzes or the multiple-choice portion of an exam. If you are planning to use polls as a formal grading mechanism for higher stress assessments, make sure that you have already used them in a more informal way in the classroom. This will allow you and the students to become familiar with the system, which will limit the number of technical issues that might occur during the testing period. Also, have a back-up option ready for if you have technical difficulties.
Beatty, I.D., Gerace, W.J., Leonard, W. J. & Dufresne, R.J. (2006). Designing effective questions for classroom response system teaching. American Journal of Physics, 74(1), 31-39.
Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with classroom response systems: Creating active learning environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bruff, Derek. (n.d.) Classroom response systems (‘clickers’). Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from cft.vanderbilt.edu/cft/guides-sub-pages/clickers/.
Crouch, C.H. & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), 970-977.
Goldstein, D.S. & Wallis, P.D. (2015). Clickers in the classroom: Using classroom response systems to increase student learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Kay, R.H. & LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature. Computers & Education, 53, 819-827.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Prentice-Hall.
Wagner, B.D. (2009). A Variation on the use of interactive anonymous quizzes in the chemistry classroom. Journal of Chemical Education, 86(11), 1300-1303.