Polling: Real Time Assessments

Written by Angie Portacio & Austin Palaad
August 13, 2019 • 4 minute read


Every teacher has been there. You pause mid-lecture; and instead of hoping that the information hasn’t gone in one ear and out the other, you decide to ask the class some comprehension questions. Cue the cricket sounds — or at best, the same engaged and extroverted few volunteer their responses. However, you can’t depend on the vocal minority to be representative of the comprehension of the class as a whole. Sometimes, you won’t even be able to identify gaps in student understanding until after major assignments, papers, or exams. 

If only there was a way for you to assess student understanding in real time, and also engage students that are typically less outspoken … 

No longer will you have to assume student comprehension by vague expressions and half-hearted nods. Polling is your instructional solution to simultaneously improve student engagement and refine your assessment of their understanding of the curriculum — in real time! Polls are interactive and can be conducted through mobile-optimized tools or clickers in face-to-face settings. This assessment broadens the opportunity for student participation by acknowledging the fact that more students will answer questions digitally, rather than verbally.

The time constraints of teaching in face-to-face settings can often limit your ability to accurately determine whether or not each individual student is understanding the course material. This makes polls an invaluable tool in assessing student comprehension, especially when it is often not feasible to ask every single student to verbally respond to every question posed in the classroom. Polling in class helps increase student engagement and you, as the instructor, gain a better understanding of how well your students understand certain topics in class. 

Many instructors expressed how Polling practices improved common learning practices in the classroom. Research has shown that quick polling interactions and activities throughout the curriculum improves test scores by 6% and the overall engagement is unanimous. 

Some Benefits

  1. Large number of student responses: Provide an opportunity for all your students to participate anonymously and be able to go over content where students lack understanding.
  2. Active learning in the classroom: Keep your students engaged with your lecture by doing an occasional polling activity when you feel students attention is declining.
  3. Increased motivation to understand the material: Your students will be motivated to learn the material and be able to answer the questions correctly.
  4. Help students focus their studying: Give your students an opportunity to learn from their answers by providing formative feedback which they can apply when they continue to study for your class.

Before applying this technique, consider the following in your planning:

  1. Decide when and how often you want to poll your students during a class session;
  2. Decide what questions will help you know whether or not your students understand the content;
  3. Choose questions that will benefit you and your students; and
  4. Let your students know that you plan to do this activity in class.

This technique can be applied with or without technology.

No technology

If you are concerned about access to technology in your classroom, then here are some ways you can do:

  • Raise your hand: Have your students raise their hands to vote for a certain answer. Indicate to your students they can only vote once.
  • Choral response: Have your students shout out the answer in unison choosing one of the answers you provided.
  • Gallery walk: Have your students walk up to the board and vote for the correct answer using post it notes.

With Technology

The use of technology can give you a bit more flexibility such as having the questions ready before class, provide a report on student participation, and develop more than multiple choice questions. One thing to consider is whether or not your students have access to the technology they need to use in your class.

Here are a few technologies available for you to use in your classroom:

  • Poll Everywhere: Your students can use their mobile phones, tablets or laptops. Students do not need to download any software, they need the web address that you provide and they can participate by answering your question. Your questions can range from multiple choice to using an image as a heatmap.
  • Kahoot!: Your students will be able to participate by using their mobile phones or laptops. This software gamifies the polling experience. You can create sample quiz or true/false questions for students to answer.
  • Clickers: Your students use a physical clicker to choose from a multiple choice question. This requires students to purchase a clicker and you will need the equipment to attach to your laptop.

With or without technology, use this technique when it benefits you and your students. There are instances where faculty received feedback from their students that it is not necessary to do a poll for every class. 

Real-Time Formative Assessment and Student Learning in Biology

Dr. Kai Blaidell, an adjunct professor of biology, started using online polling in her Biology 103 classes to enhance student engagement as well as to gain insight into what students were actually learning. Dr. Blaisdell evaluates the responses for knowledge gaps or to see if students have learned the essential information from their reading or assignments and are ready to build on that knowledge. Students may also benefit from knowing whether their level of understanding is in line with their peers or if they are falling behind. If a student sees where their answers diverge from their classmates’, they might be prompted to seek extra help or study further. While polling gives Dr. Blaisdell insight on student understanding (ie. real-time and ongoing formative assessment), students see it as a fun, low-stakes way to learn–and they get to use their beloved mobile devices for a moment.

Case Study: Real-Time Formative Assessment and Student Learning in Biology


Teaching with Technology using Poll Everywhere

Rick Roberts, an adjunct instructor of rhetoric and USF Voices' conductor, and Leslie King, an adjunct instructor of biology, presented a CTE Peer2Peer workshop on their experiences with using Poll Everywhere to quickly assess students' understanding and provide feedback.

CTE: Just in Time Feedback and Assessment with Poll Everywhere


Are you or someone you know finding success with polling and online student response systems? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email instructionaldesign@usfca.edu to share your story.

The University of San Francisco provides training to faculty for using Poll Everywhere, a free application that integrates with PowerPoint and Google Slides.

Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! To learn how to use educational technologies effectively in your course, contact Instructional Design to request a consultation. 

Contact Instructional Technologies & Training to schedule a training session and access self-guided training materials.