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Teachers, ranging from trainers in corporate classrooms to professors at Harvard University, are finding value in interacting with students through polling. 

Modern instruction no longer involves one-way communication in the classroom.  No longer do we expect students to sit through hours of lecture, just staring at slides while the speaker drones on and on.  Instead, there are many approaches to transform the classroom into an interactive and engaging forum with two-way communication and more robust learning.   I took a bit of time recently to focus on one tool for interacting during lessons which I find very versatile and valuable, “Polling.”

What is polling?

Polling is simply the following:

During a lecture or training session, the instructor takes a vote or “poll” by  asking students to select one or more fixed responses to a question.  The steps involved in polling are simple:

  1. Plan and prepare your poll before the session begins.
  2. At the appropriate time in the session, introduce the poll to the students.
  3. Ask the students to indicate their response with the options available.
  4. Give the students a reasonable window of time to review the options and respond.
  5. After the students had a chance to respond, reveal how the group polled.
  6. Hold a brief discussion with the students about what the result means, and allow participants to share their thoughts and observations.

This above description is the core of the activity of polling.  The  tool used to conduct this polling exercise may vary quite a bit.

What tools do I need in order to conduct polling?

For virtual sessions, polling may be executed on a wide variety of platforms and tools including an online whiteboard with icons or the Dot Voting functionality that they sometimes have built in, or even via websites and apps built for surveys and polling.  The options are rapidly expanding as the world strives to find additional ways to connect virtually.  You may even choose to conduct polling using  video conferencing tools which now  often have a Polling function built-in, of by having learners type responses via the chat function.

Some of my favorite and most frequently used tools for polling in a virtual setting are Zoom, Interactive Whiteboards like Miro, and Mentimeter.

  • In Zoom, you can enable a polling feature and have users select one or more answers. I especially like the feature in Zoom that allows you to save polls to your library and reuse them in the future!  Or, if you want to keep it simple in Zoom, use the chat box or fist-of-five voting with cameras on.  There are several options.
  • Miro is another option I use frequently. I like the voting option in tools like Miro because the students can stay within a board we are already working on and vote to respond to your poll there.
  • Mentimeter is another interesting alternative, which gives students the ability to respond on a computer or smart phone so access is flexible. It has a variety of templates so you can have a bit more variation in your polling with Mentimeter, which can keep you and students engaged.

For in-person instruction, polling may occur using various audience response technologies including clickers or voting with smart phones.  Additionally, if you want to use a basic option that works with either setting, you can simply create a poll where you ask a question and get attendees  to show a number response on their hands.

All of these methods work, but what is more important than the tool used is that you keep the students engaged, involved and use polling to open the door to two-way communication.

Polling in my experience is a valuable tool.

Polling has become an approach often used in my training sessions. For example, in a recent session, I decided to use polling to check for understanding.  Before the class, I prepared a poll on Mentimeter.com.  After several minutes of lecture on the new material I paused to introduce the poll to the class.  Via their computer (or cell phone) they were able to access Mentí.com, enter the code for my poll, and provide their answer to the poll questions.  I could see when the number of responses matched the number of students in my class, and shared the results with everyone on the screenshare. I saw most of the students had the same expected answer, but there were a few that were different. This provided me with an opportunity to expand on the area where some students could use clarification, give time for the students to explain their thoughts, and then proceed with all students on the same page, and engaged.

Benefits of Polling:

There are so many benefits to “polling,” a few of which I experienced in this example above.  This list is not exhaustive, but some of the benefits may include:

  • Polling can transform a class from one-way information transmission session to two-way communication and open dialogue
  • Creates active engagement and makes learning more interactive
  • Provides an organized way for collection and categorization of feedback
  • Allows assessment of understanding

As an instructor, if you have not used polling before, I would encourage you to do so.  In addition to these benefits above, if you give polling a try you might be surprised and learn a little something yourself, and you certainly will increase learning for all involved. If you have incorporated some form of polling into your classroom, perhaps it is time to be adventurous and explore a new variety of tools available for this technique, as they seem to be expanding regularly!  In either case, it is an excellent tool that helps teachers teach and it helps learners learn.

References:

“Classroom Participation and Polling.” Harvard University, atg.fas.harvard.edu/classroom-participation-and-polling. Accessed 20 June 2022.

Bowman, Sharon. “TBR-VE Glossary Addendum to the Revised Edition of the TBR-VE Participant Workbook.” TBR-VE Participant Workbook, pdf ed., Glenbrook, NV, Bowperson Publishing and Training, Inc., 2022, pp. 18–19.

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