This week, I'm focusing on the use of polls to increase student engagement in different learning environments. The tool I examined this week was Poll Everywhere. Poll Everywhere is essentially an online voting tool that can help an instructor or trainer elicit responses in real time. As technology grows, so does the need for learners to develop and acquire 21st century skills. Poll Everywhere allows learners to respond to questions in real time – letting the instructor or trainer know if content needs to be covered in more depth or if the learners are ready to move on to the next topic.
From my own experience as an instructional designer, Poll Everywhere is multifaceted. There are numerous different types of polls that can be incorporated in different learning environments. Such polls include: Open-Ended, Multiple Choice, Clickable Image, Word Cloud, etc. I’ll be discussing how different polls can be integrated and used to impact learning (specifically in online environments).
Poll Everywhere Sample Uses
First, Poll Everywhere can be integrated in both online and face-to-face learning environments as means to break the ice on each topic by using the “Word Cloud” or “Q&A” poll features. The instructor can ask a question and students must write their responses that appears as a word cloud for their peers to view. The instructor can also ask a question on the next topic and students can answer – sort of like a prior knowledge test. By breaking the ice using Poll Everywhere, students may feel more open in the learning process. It can also help impact learning by allowing students to meet each other, build bonds, and become connect with each other as well as the information from the course. This is also a great way to introduce new topics each week to the class.
Secondly, Poll Everywhere can also be used as a course thermometer. By using the “Clickable Image” option, you can have learners choose how they feel about a certain topic by selecting a frowny face, normal face, or smiley face. Students are able to relate to each other and know they may not be the only one who is struggling with a topic. It can also help students know where they may be behind on understanding topics (if they marked frowny face and the rest of their peers marked smiley faces). In my own teaching experiences, students enjoy being able to respond to these polls and know that they are either anonymous or being tracked. Often times when the setting is anonymous, students are able to respond more honestly as they know they will not be singled out or "picked" on by their feedback.
Other ways that Poll Everywhere can be use include but are not limited to:
Checking prior knowledge
Grabbing learner's attention (especially if never used in the classroom before)
Establishing presumptions about topic that you may not know about (different students have different understandings of topics)
Helping students obtain information if a different format (especially important for visual learners)
Post-evaluations or obtaining feedback after a lesson or new activity has been used
Poll Everywhere and Social Presence
While these are only two examples of different areas that Poll Everywhere can be used to elicit learner feedback, it is important to note the most encouraging aspect of using this tool is the idea of social presence in online classrooms. In online settings, it sometimes can be difficult for students to feel connected or involved with others in their classroom. Poll Everywhere allows for collaborative learning in real time. As an online instructor, I’ve had numerous students express feeling connected to both other students and the content when using this tool as means for soliciting feedback and learning via online course announcements or weekly overviews.
When the settings are not anonymous, I've actually had students connect with each other outside of the "classroom" to build relationships and create mini-tutoring relationships. For example, this week I polled students on how familiar they feel with using and applying APA. One of the students who expressed they were struggling with the topic reached out via email to a student who responded that they felt very comfortable. By reaching out - these two connected and now are working with each other on APA and how to correctly implement it in their work.
Downfalls of Poll Everywhere
While some features of other tools allow an embedding option, Poll Everywhere seems to fall behind in this option. Now, let me be clear - it does appear there is an embedding option but that is only available in the paid version of the tool. Therefore, if you are looking to have your poll embedded directly into a website or course LMS, then Poll Everywhere may not be for you. Some of my learners have expressed "annoyance" with having to access the poll from an external website and then having to come back to view results rather than have live updates straight from our course LMS. However, outside of an online environment, Poll Everywhere works great in a face-to-face environment where the poll can be embedded straight into a PowerPoint presentation and updated in real time.
Another concern for those looking to use Poll Everywhere is that it is not always user friendly. It does take a bit of time prepping if you plan to use it in a PowerPoint. I would plan for 15-20+ minutes the first time you plan to set up a poll (not including the student on-boarding). Once you are used to the application, you may be able to reduce your setup time to 5 minutes or less depending how elaborate you want your polls to be. It can also take a bit of time the first time you use it in the classroom. You'll need to on-board your students (get computer or cell phone out, type in the code, type in answers, wait for answers to appear in the poll). Therefore, there is a bit of "lag" especially the first time you plan to use it.
For those working in K-12 environments, please keep in mind that moderation of answers is not available in the free version. Therefore if you have a few trouble makers, you may find inappropriate or funny responses popping up for the whole class to see. This is just something to keep in mind as you try out this tool in your classroom. Let's be real, while we hope all students are little angels, they do sometimes like to cause drama here and there.
Final Thoughts on Using Polls
As with any poll or evaluation tool, it is key to remember how to correctly implement these into a classroom. Keep polls short - they should not be so long that students start to dread these when in the classroom. Also, if polls are too long, students will just start writing any answer so they can finish the poll - the amount of reflection or thought put into answers may decrease if poll is too long. If possible, try to provide feedback as soon as possible to your learners - or explain when these questions will be addressed. There are many articles out there on how to create and implement effective polls (a few listed below). Make sure to familiarize yourself with these prior to launching a new poll in your classroom.
How do you feel about Poll Everywhere? Are you a fan? Do you struggle with any of its features (or lack of features)? I'd love to here your feedback on this topic!