Poll Everywhere ScreenshotWouldn’t it be cool if you could ask your class a question and get an answer from every student… instantly? Short of raising hands, it’s not exactly feasible. Unless you’re using today’s featured resource: Poll Everywhere.

Here’s the gist. You set up a poll – a question with a set of possible answers. The website displays a phone number and a series of codes that people can text in order to vote. You get instant feedback as the votes roll in.

When I first found this service five or six years ago, it wasn’t intended for K-12 use. They designed it or use in large conferences, and if you look through the potential subscription plans, that’s still where they make their money. However, for the last few years the company has offered a free plan that offers a lot of functionality for K-12 teachers.

So how could this be useful in class…?

Quick Poll and A/B Writing

This is a poll I used in my AP Government class two weeks ago. It’s a modification of an old method I learned at Rutgers called A/B writing.

Give the students a pair of opposite opinion statements. They choose one to agree with, and then they take a few moments to explain why (in writing). After everyone has written down their opinion, have some of the students share their opinions and discuss.

The poll adds another element to the same basic idea. The students choose their statement, vote in the poll, and then proceed to write about their opinion. You can then choose to reveal the outcome of the poll either before students share their responses or afterwards.

It’s a good way to quickly gauge what the class thinks without having students’ responses influence the outcome. Students don’t know how their classmates voted until you reveal the results – unlike saying, “Everyone who agrees with statement A raise your hand.”

Check for Understanding

Another potential technique is to use the poll as a check for understanding and a kind of formative assessment. Let’s think about a math class for example. You’ve just demonstrated a new technique for factoring polynomials. All you non-math teachers know what I’m talking about, right…?

After you’re done with the demo, you give the students a problem and ask them to solve it. The students work out their answer and respond to the poll. Once you’re predetermined time limit is up, you check the results. If most of the students got it right… move on. If no one got it right, well, clearly you need to re-teach that concept.

Plus… It’s Fun.

I’m sure you can think of plenty of other ways that this could be used. It’s a great way to introduce democratic choice into the classroom – let students pick a story to read or a topic for their next project. You could use it as a form of peer assessment after a student makes a presentation.

Of course, none of these things require a student response system (and Poll Everywhere is basically a primitive form of student response system that uses a student’s existing device), but it’s fun.  Students get a kick out of little things like this, so it can be a nice way to a) achieve a legitimate educational goal while b) indulging the students’ desire to spice things up.

Is It Really That Great?

Although there are plenty of good things to say about Poll Everywhere, there are a few potential pitfalls.

  1. This system assumes that students have cell phones. While most do, some don’t. You’ll have to make a judgement call about whether that’s a problem.
  2. While most people have unlimited texting plans, not everyone does. And it’s not right to ask a student’s parent to pay $0.20 to vote in a stupid poll in class. You may want to ask students about their texting plans before you insist that they do this.
  3. Some students have trouble figuring out the voting. Your first poll might be a little disorganized; but it gets better quickly.
  4. There can be technical problems. I don’t know if the problem is with the students’ cell provider or with Poll Everywhere’s server, but votes get lost and some students simply can’t respond.
  5. Most schools have rules about using cell phones. While I have no problem with breaking rules for legitimate educational purposes, you’ll want to consider the potential consequences and perhaps pass this by your supervisor before doing it in class.

Although the fact that you can respond with a cell phone was initially the selling point for Poll Everywhere (who had mobile internet five years ago?), you can also set up your polls so that students can vote via a special link on the Internet. If you have problems with cell phones but your school is embracing some sort of 1:1 initiative, this may be an alternative solution.

Despite a few potential drawbacks, this is a pretty nifty service that gives you a nice tool for formative assessment. You can quickly gauge the understanding or opinion of your class, and then use that to inform your professional practice. Plus, it’s free. So why not try it out?