Polling on Channel 9 - Should Warne be prime minister?
Channel 9 asks the big questions

We know the old ‘stand and deliver’ model of lectures is passé, increasingly replaced by various incarnations of active learning. But with a large number of students, it can be more challenging to design these types of experiences. Polling tools (some are also referred to as ‘clickers’) may be able to help. They can make for an easy injection of interactivity into your class, and the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices means these types of tools have become more and more useful and usable in the large lecture situation. The tools themselves are also constantly evolving, opening up more and more potential ways to use them, such as quizzes, surveys, collaborative brainstorming or even games.

Here are some ways polling tools could benefit your class, and some suggested question types.

Spark a discussion

Socrative with HRM Class by Irish Typepad
Socrative with HRM Class by Irish Typepad CC License

You know how the TV cricket polls quickly get you arguing passionately over batting averages or the player of the match? (Cricket-haters, please ignore and just keep reading). In the class situation, polling tools can be a springboard for student to student discussion, helping to foster social learning. Naturally, the tools work most effectively in this regard when the questions posed don’t seek a simple right or wrong answer. For example, UTS’ Dr Blair Nield uses the polling tool Socrative to create group discussion activities; read a short case study about her approach.

Suggested question type: Common misconception. Try a think Pair Share where you can get students to provide their responses, and then discuss in pairs and small groups.  Cornell University’s Polling Help site describes how to do this and offers lots of other great tips.

Create a community

Just like the TV polls give the couch-based audience the feeling of being involved in the game, polling tools can also help your students feel involved in a learning community. They also enable students who might be reluctant to speak in a large class the chance to have their say.

Suggested poll question: Make a class decision: e.g. which week’s content should we go over?

Send out a Wake-up Call

Are your students paying attention?  Find out quickly.

Suggested poll question: “What was the key point of the material we covered in the first 15 minutes?”

Provide a Motivational Boost

Polling tools can help motivate students and increase participation (see also: the edu-buzzword gamification).  Some tools like Kahoot create an actual game, but even a simpler polling question can be used for the same motivational effect.

Suggested poll question: a prediction: “what do you think will happen next?”. (The cricket broadcast uses this when it asks people to predict the innings total, for example).

Bar graph showing Mentimeter in action
Polling tool Mentimeter in action


A poll could help you identify misunderstandings with tricky content, or find out what students already know.  

Suggested question type: Multiple choice question where each of the potential answers suggests different levels of understanding. Read about how UTS academic Dr James Wakefield uses this approach with Accounting students.

Get formative feedback

You could use polling as an informal evaluation technique to get feedback on your teaching, learning design or resources.

Suggested question type: FAQ. Use a polling tool to collect student questions anonymously (and provide your response later).

Tips for effective use of polling tools

One of my favourite Learning Technologists, Wenes Gunawan, has the following tips for using polling tools:

  • Use sparingly. The novelty wears off if you use them too often.
  • Space out their usage during a class (and don’t get too predictable).
  • Use freely available tools with unlimited number of responses such as Mentimeter and mQlicker
  • Use polling tools mainly as a springboard for discussion. They take a little time to set up and you’ll want to make the most of them.
  • As with all technology, have a back-up plan (a show of hands or another low-tech solution might work in a pinch).

Check out the UTS case studies on large collaborative classes for more ideas for active learning with larger classes.  And just in case you were wondering, I don’t like cricket, oh no, I love it!


Featured image by John Spooner, CC License

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