Polling is associated with web 2.0 because of the way it introduces interaction into presentations and classes. While it is possible to respond to polls on desktop and laptop computers, it is more common to use mobile devices for this purpose, with customised clicker hardware (also known as an audience response system) now having given way to the use of students’ own personal devices such as smartphones or tablets. In this way, polling nowadays is closely associated with mobile learning.
Polling is essentially a way of making presentations and teaching more interactive by allowing audience responses and comments to be quickly and easily gathered, aggregated, and displayed. A presenter or teacher typically asks a question, which may be shown to the audience in an app or at a web address to which attendees are asked to navigate. Audience members respond through their devices, and the results are displayed in real time on a screen at the front of the room. They may be displayed in different formats, for example as bar charts (for multiple choice questions) or as lists of items (for open questions). Because responses are aggregated before being presented on the screen, they are ‘anonymous’ from the point of view of the audience (though they are not necessarily anonymous from the point of view of the teacher). This can encourage more reserved or reticent students to contribute answers in class, and all students are then able to see how their responses compare to those of their classmates. Naturally, if polls are set up so that student responses to open questions are completely anonymous, it may be necessary to begin by discussing netiquette rules about what is, and is not, appropriate to post.
A key advantage is that polling creates a feedback loop for educators, allowing them to obtain quick feedback on students’ levels of understanding by asking content-related questions, which may be multiple-choice or open questions, and to address any areas of misunderstanding or concern. Where class debates or discussions have taken place, educators may ask opinion-based questions to capture a snapshot of students’ views, potentially asking similar questions before and after such debates or discussions in order to capture shifting viewpoints.
Students can also use a polling system to ask questions or make comments. It can facilitate not only teacher-student interaction but, depending how it is set up, student-student interaction as well, which may be particularly valuable in large classes. It is of course possible not only for teachers to create polling questions, but for students to create revision questions for peers.
Polling services are now commonly used at all levels of education, from early childhood and primary through to secondary and tertiary, though different polling services may be appropriate at different levels. Most polling services allow users to ask a single question or several questions, or to build a whole survey. Even if respondents mainly use mobile devices to answer, it may be more convenient to create questions or surveys on a desktop or laptop computer.
Commonly used polling services, which can generally be used on both computers and mobile devices, include KwikSurveys, Mentimeter, Micropoll, Poll Everywhere, Socrative and Wooclap. Other more general survey services which can be used for polling include QuizEgg, SurveyMonkey and SurveyNuts. Microblogging services like Twitter may also be appropriate for gathering student or audience comments and questions, especially when used in conjunction with display services like Visible Tweets.
Kahoot! has become popular with its gamified approach to polling, and Zeetings has become popular as a way to introduce poll responses and other feedback into PowerPoint presentations. AnswerGarden is another popular polling service which limits replies to 20 characters (or, optionally, 40 characters) and displays a wordcloud of the most common responses, with respondents able to endorse each other’s responses and thereby increase their font sizes; Mentimeter also offers a wordcloud display format. Plickers is a service which may be useful in a context where the teacher, but not the students, can make use of a mobile phone or tablet: it allows teachers to print out multiple-choice answer cards and give one to each student; students then hold up these cards in response to a question from the teacher, who can use the mobile app to scan the codes held up by the class in order to aggregate class responses.
More information about polling is available on the Publications on Mobile Learning page.