Using Online Polls to Promote Active Learning and Student Engagement

Developed by Fernanda Blanco Vidal


          “Technology doesn’t inherently improve learning; it merely makes possible effective pedagogy, and only when it is consonant with an instructor’s educational philosophy and beliefs and reinforced by other components of the total course” (Beatty, 2004, p. 08) 


Have you ever introduced a new concept in your classroom and asked the students what they think about it, but they have remained quiet? Or have you assigned an excellent reading that you’re sure will promote interesting discussions, but your students don’t connect with the content? As educators, many of us enjoy loud, participative classrooms, but nurturing student engagement can be a significant challenge. More often than not, even on the good days, the students speaking are those already most prone to participate. Active learning and participation are two core components of any student-centered pedagogical project. There are many reasons why a student may be reluctant to participate, and also many tools an educator can use to create engaging, inclusive activities. 

In this workshop, attendees will be introduced to the notions of active learning and classroom engagement through the possible incorporation of online polls into classroom activities. We will discuss those concepts, view examples, talk about uses and possibilities both for in-person and online classes. There are different online tools, including Survey Monkey (, Poll Everywhere (, Mentimeter (, Participoll (, Sli-do(, and most can be used via integration into PowerPoint slides or through student cell phone access to mobile applications. These platforms provide multiple forms of interaction and, more important, instant feedback, which allows faculty to engage with student perspectives immediately. 

This versatile and easy-to-implement pedagogical approach can facilitate the participation of every single student in our class, including those who feel uncomfortable speaking publicly, or who have other reasons for not speaking up. This approach can be used in small and large classes, in-person and online courses, and across the disciplines.

Learning Goals

    • Explore how to use online polls/web-based instant responses as a pedagogical instrument to enhance classroom engagement promoting a non-threatening space for participation
    • Reflect on the implications of using cellphones during class activities to promote participation and active learning
    • Identify the limits and possibilities of using online polls/instant feedback responses in remote and in-person classes
    • Demonstrate the different forms of application for online polls/instant feedback such as syllabus input, collective quiz, close readings, check students’ understandings, summarize concepts, etc.
    • Understand how to develop poll questions aligned with course learning goals 

Time Commitment (in hrs per week and length of the workshop):
3 hours.  Attendees will need around two hours to read materials, watch videos, check the online tools, and familiarize themselves with the platforms; and another hour to develop their own online poll using a Google Form. Feedback from the instructor will be provided.

Asynchronous components: This workshop is adapted to different participants’ pace, time, internet accessibility. It is possible to cover everything at once –  probably with a little 10 minutes break for a coffee in the middle – or read and watch videos in different moments. There will be links to connect to articles, videos, google docs to share reflections and exercises.  

What do I need to do to complete this workshop? For complete this workshop, you will be asked to read three articles (Twilight of the Lecture, Banking Education and Clickers in Large Classrooms), watch two videos (one focus on Manzur`s experience with instant response system and peer discussion in large classes and one that you can pick), and create three to five questions for your online poll as exercise. 

Additional References – there is a list of articles focusing on Active Learning and the use of instant responses in different contexts (Lab classes, small and large, health fields etc). They are optional. 

Takeaways  – By the end of this workshop, attendees will design one of the following, using online polls of their own choice: activity, lesson plan, assignment, quiz or icebreaker. 

Start here!


Module 01 – Real-Time or Instant Response Systems (Clickers and Online Polls) 

Real-Time or Instant Response Systems are handheld and wireless devices from which students can answer questions posed by the instructor which will be tallied and displayed immediately on a classroom projection. Currently, there are two options for instant instructional feedback now – Clickers and Online Polls.

Clickers are handheld pads that send the student’s response via radio or some sort of remote signal to a computer station, where all the information will be stored, tabulated and displayed. The use of Clickers started around the 80’s and most of the literature on Instant Responses Systems is focused on them. More recently, Online Polls were developed using web-based systems. They allow the instructor to generate questions and students to participate and see responses instantaneously. 

In both cases, Clickers and Online Polls are based on three components – the questions (pre-loaded by the instructor); the student’s responses; and the immediate presentation of the data into visual projections.

instant feedback system


The literature on instant feedback/audience responses provide different examples of how to incorporate these devices into the classroom, and it is especially rich in articles that focus on Clickers. Two problems are constantly mentioned:  Clickers are considered expensive and sometimes inconvenient since students have to remember to bring them to the class; also clickers are limited to numbers, which constrains the type of questions instructors can employ. The idea in this workshop is to use Online Polls, so we can overcome both criticisms. Online polls are costless and practical since they use student’s smartphones, computers, or tablets. Also, for the instructors, there are many online polling websites with free options that provide a wider range of questions, including open-ended, word-cloud and graphics 



1. Watch Professor Eric Mazur on interactive teaching 

2. Pay attention to the Clickers, how the professor connect the content to the questions, and how he uses clickers to promote peer-instruction

3. Share your observations here



Module 02 – Exploring the Concept of Active Learning and Banking Education 


Having the following quotes in mind: 

“Active Participation is the result of a deliberate and conscious attempt on the part of a teacher to cause students to participate overtly in a lesson” – (Pratton and Hales, 1986, 211)

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information. It is a learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act) intermediates the cognitive actors – teacher on the one hand and students on the other” (Freire, 1970, p.79)





1. Twilight of the Lecture. 


2. Paulo Freire`s concept of Banking Education

Pay Attention to 

– The importance of Active Engagement and Student`s Participation in their learning process 

-The theme of intentionality 

– The notion of Cognitive Actors

Click bellow to comment 

“Technology doesn’t inherently improve learning; it merely makes possible more effective pedagogy, and only when it is consonant with an instructor`s educational philosophy and beliefs and reinforced by other components of the total course” (Beatty, 2004, p. 08)



Module 03 – Uses and Benefits of Instant Response System


Quotes from students – DeBourgh`s study on clickers in nursing schools 

I was not embarrassed if I had the wrong answer. I could see immediately if I was going down the wrong path for understanding the main points

I could choose the answer freely from what I thought without being penalized by choosing a wrong answer with a grade and using the clicker to select the answers helped me to participate more in class and understand the class topic(s) better

Anonymously answering the questions. . . .seeing what classmates were thinking. Seeing instant results from the question being asked.

The discussion before and after questions was extremely helpful in pointing out key elements as well as explaining the thinking process

Gave my answers anonymously which later helped me understand why my answer was correct or incorrect without being humiliated.

I had to focus in on the question and with four possible answers, I had to logically see the big picture when selecting an answer.

Helped me focus on clinical reasoning skills and test-taking. Case studies helped me in clinical practice and to see the big picture. (DeBourgh, 2007, p. 85) 



Read –  Instant Response Systems – Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 6, 9–20.   



Module 04 – Creating an Online Poll


Now that you have read and watched the videos about Online Polls and Active Learning, let’s consider different situations where you can use them in your own classroom. During this final exercise, keep in mind that this is a tool, and as such, you have to ask yourself: what do I want to do with it? What are my intentions? How is this exercise or activity is aligned with learning goals or pedagogical principles? 

Empower X Enforce 

When planning your online poll, there is an important discussion you should consider regarding the use of instant response systems to enhance attendance and as part of your grade policy.  There are instructors who use the online/clickers to promote quizzes, and grade students based on it. Others prefer to keep student responses anonymous and, consequently, disconnected to the grading system. Mula and Kavanhg (2009) call these two approaches Summative and Formative. The Summative takes student answers using their names or Id numbers and gathers them to use an assessment item. The Formative approach uses the online polls or clickers to provide instant feedback, allowing students to perceive and judge their understanding and mistakes, with no impact on their grades.

It is up to us, as instructors, to reflect how we approach those uses. You always have to keep in mind your pedagogical intentions and learning objectives. Personally, I have never used the online polls for grade or attendance. Rather, I prefer to use online polls specifically to promote participation, with no form of punishment or judgment whatsoever. 

Creativity and Intentionality 

There is no right or wrong way to use this tool. Free yourself to try and learn from the experiences. The first time I used this I was a little afraid of not working because of technological issues (the Internet on City College has its own mood, so it could work or not) and pedagogically – my students could find it boring or exaggerated since the first time I used was to quiz them about my syllabus. But it worked. I had a few initial technical problems, but I pretended I knew what I was doing. And most importantly, they loved it. All of them were using their cellphones, talking to each other in the multiple-choice parts, and even reluctant students were able to express themselves in the open-ended questions parts. 

Now that we have talked about the online polls, the active learning and the importance of creating a genuine space of participation, let’s exercise our creativity planning how to implement the polls in your own classroom. Here is a link for a Google Form created for you to develop your own poll and receive feedback from the instructor. 

Before you jump into this exercise, consider the following aspects 

1. Which online poll are you planning to use? Please, check one or two videos or websites to see how you feel. All of them have free versions and different features that might better fit your ideas. 

GoSoap – Richard Byrne –  Create Online Polls and Discussions for Your Classroom

Zoom – Polling In Meeting 

PollEverywhere – Online and Instant Polls 

Slido – Richard Byrne – How to Create and Run Polls in Google Slides

2. Are you going to use it in an online class or in-person? If online, keep in mind that their attention span tends to be shorter. You can add more polls, but every time you do, you have to share the screen with them, so they can see each other’s answers. 

3. Keep it small, no more than 5 to 8 questions. Think about the situations you are going to use it. If you are planning to integrate in your lecture, consider breaking down and embed a poll every 15 minutes. This will reconnect them with the content, give you a sense of how much they are grasping, and burst their energy for the next 15 minutes.        


    Final Assignment Elaborate your online poll 





Basic Readings and Videos 


    1. Banking Education and passive learning –  Freire, P. (2005). Chapter 02. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Edito, pp. 43–55). continuum.
    2. Peer-instruction and real-time response systems – Lambert, C. (1990). Twilight of the Lecture. Harvard Magazine, 23–27.
    3. Instant Response Systems – Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 6, 9–20.


Professor Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching

Examples of Real-time and Online Polls 

      1. GoSoap – Richard Byrne –  Create Online Polls and Discussions for Your Classroom
      2. Zoom – Polling In Meeting 
      3. PollEverywhere – Online and Instant Polls 
      4. Slido – Richard Byrne – How to Create and Run Polls in Google Slides



Additional References 


  1. Auras, R., & Bix, L. (2007). Wake Up! THe effectiveness of a student response system in large packaging classes. Packaging Technology and Science, 20(3), 183–195.
  2. Beatty, I. D. (2005). Transforming student learning with classroom communication systems, 2004(3). Retrieved from
  3. Beekes, W. (2006). The ‘Millionaire’ method for encouraging participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 7(1), 25–36.
  4. Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 6, 9–20.
  5. DeBourgh, G. A. (2008). Use of classroom “clickers” to promote acquisition of advanced reasoning skills. Nurse Education in Practice, 8(2), 76–87.
  6. Felder, B. R. M., & Brent, R. (2009). Active Learning: An Introduction. ASQ Higher Education Brief, (August).
  7. Graham, C. R., Tripp, T. R., Seawright, L., & Joeckel, G. L. (2007). Empowering or compelling reluctant participators using audience response systems. Active Learning in Higher Education, 8(3), 233–258.
  8. Greer, L., & Heaney, P. J. (2004). Real-time analysis of student comprehension: An assessment of electronic student response technology in an introductory earth science course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(4), 345–357.
  9. Johnson, K., & Lilis, C. (2010). Clickers in the Laboratory: Students Thoughts and Views. Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge Amd Management, 5.
  10. Jones, S., Henderson, D., & Sealover, P. (2009). “Clickers” in the classroom. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 4(1), 2–5.
  11. Lambert, C. (1990). Twilight of the Lecture. Harvard Magazine, 23–27.
  12. Lynch, R. P., & Pappas, E. (2017). A Model for Teaching Large Classes: Facilitating a “Small Class Feel.” International Journal of Higher Education, 6(2), 199.
  13. McLoone, S. C., Villing, R., & O’Keeffe, S. (2015). Using mobile touch devices to provide flexible classroom assessment techniques. International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction, 7(4), 1–15.
  14. Mula, J. M., & Kavanagh, M. (2009). Click Go the Students, Click-Click-Click: The efficacy of a student response system for engaging students to improve feedback and performance. E-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship of Teaching, 3(1), 1–17.
  15. Remler, N. L. (2002). The More Active the Better : Engaging College English Students with Active Learning Strategies. Souls, (September), 76–81.
  16. Sabag, N., & Kosolapov, S. (2012). Using Instant Feedback System And Micro Exams To Enhance Active Learning. American Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE), 3(2), 115.
  17. Strategies, A. L., Tips, F., & Resources, A. (n.d.). Active Learning for Your Online Classroom : Five.
  18. Velasco, M., & Çavdar, G. (2013). Teaching large classes with clickers: Results from a teaching experiment in comparative politics. PS – Political Science and Politics, 46(4), 823–829.
  19. Weerts, S. E., Miller, D., & Altice, A. (2009). “Clicker” Technology Promotes Interactivity in an Undergraduate Nutrition Course. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(3), 227–228.