Audience Polling

Posted by @ICTO-AMC on June 10, 2014, 12:38 p.m.

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What is it?

Audience Response Systems (ARS) offer instructors the opportunity to ask questions by using clickers (voting devices) or mobile devices (tablets, laptops, smartphones) and collect direct results and feedback from their audience. This is known as Audience Polling (AP). Answers given by the audience are instantly collected, processed and displayed in a clear visual overview, often in the form of a diagram. This direct feedback gives the instructor the opportunity to react instantaneously on the students' answers, adjust the presentation according to their reactions or start a discussion. ARS can be used in a variety of educational settings, such as large scale lectures and conferences, or smaller scale settings. 

Audience response system.jpg

This enhanced interaction between student and teacher and between students themselves will let students participate more actively and may have a positive effect on knowledge transfer (Kay&LeSage, 2009). ARS can have a wide range of beneficial effects on students' behavior.

The principles underlying these effects, divided into classroom- and learning benefits, are further explained in the next section   

Why use it?

Audience response systems can be used in an educational setting in a number of ways. The benefits of audience response systems were described in earlier Dutch projects and reports (21e dingen, MarchET,VU project and SURF - 'Draadloos stemmen tijdens college'. The next section will give an overview of the main benefits proposed in these projects, complemented with examples from the literature. The proposed benefits can roughly be divided into: Classroom environment benefits and Learning benefits. 

Classroom environment benefits

Attention & Engagement

Studies show that the attention span of an average student during a lecture, is likely to drop after +-20 minutes (Caldwell, 2007). The use of audience polling with a time lapse of 20 minutes could lower the drop in attention that is normally seen. Offering questions to students shifts their attention for a short time. After answering questions, students are able to focus again, which may stimulate the knowledge transfer during other parts of the lecture.
Several case studies show that audience polling can increase the interest of students in certain subjects. These studies also show that student engagement is increased because they are learning in a more active way (Kay&LeSage, 2009).

Anonymity & Participation

Some students are intimidated to voice their opinion in large classroom settings. They might be afraid to ask a stupid question or they might just be too shy. Audience polling can be done anonymously. This offers students a safe environment to actively participate without being judged (Kay & LeSage 2009). Some researchers emphasize that students find this to be a very pleasant feature of audience polling.

The number of students attending a lecture is often unpredictable (Kay&LeSage, 2009). Audience polling could change that. According to several case studies, attendance is improved if audience polling is coupled to the final score of a course (Kay&LeSage, 2009). Students don't always seem to appreciate this approach due to the fact that they feel obligated to attend the lecture. Luckily there are also studies that show improvement in attendance without partly connecting polling to a final score (Kay&LeSage, 2009). In those cases students are not only driven by grading but by the feeling that audience polling improves their learning process.

Learning benefits

Interaction & discussion
A meta-analysis by Kay and LeSage (Kay and LeSage, 2009) shows that the use of audience polling increases the interaction between student and teacher. These positive effects are apparent in the area of active learning, increased effectivity of peer-to-peer discussions and a better focus on student needs. The interactions can be further increased when a teacher shares the results on a question without showing the correct answer, thereby allowing students to discuss the question and finally repeats the polling (Peer instruction). Students are more actively involved with the study content, which in turn leads to better understanding.

Learning performance and quality of learning
Multiple studies show that audience polling has a positive effect on the learning performance of students (Caldwell, 2007). This effect is caused by a more active processing of the information and an increased discussion amongst students. Research shows that students report a decrease in likeliness to work on a problem during class when they have to answer by the show of hands, compared to answering by clickers. (Caldwell, 2007).

Contingent teaching & (Prior) Knowledge level
The use of audience polling in a lecture decreases the amount of time available for the transfer of information. However, this loss of time is somewhat compensated because audience polling increases students understanding of the content and raises the teachers awareness of the students current knowledge level. This understanding empowers the teacher to take immediate steps to dissipate any lacking knowledge (Caldwell, 2007). This reduces the 'House of cards' effect, which implies that new content is remembered poorly because it is build on prior less well constructed knowledge (Caldwell,2007). By asking questions at the start of the lecture a teacher is able to gauge the knowledge level of his student. It is possible to create an adaptive pathway in Powerpoint based on the answers given by students. This means that the answers given by students, define which slide in the Powerpoint Presentation is presented next. This way Just-in-Time learning is achieved (Caldwell, 2007). This also offers a possibility to instantly address misconceptions and link new information at the right time to the the right prior knowledge. This ensures a better retention of newly gained information (Caldwell, 2007).

How does it work?

A number of different technological solutions are available for audience polling, such as the use of clickers, sms-texting or the internet. The main differences between the different ARS, besides the used technology, are mainly found in the available question- and answer possibilities (open and closed questions). When an ARS with clickers is used, users predominantly choose closed question types. Most sms- and online voting systems offer options for open questions. Systems from the latter category often support features for participants to give textual feedback to the presenter. 

Most ARS use a PowerPoint-plugin which allows users to incorporate question slides into their standard presentation. TurningPoint and Shakespeak are examples of such polling systems. Another set of ARS are the stand-alone systems, which often support a webbased user interface (SocrativeShakespeak). The Dutch site 21eDingen - eDing3: stemmen offers a full list of available audience response systems.

Ask your faculty about the possibility's of audience polling and audience response systems.

Tips and Tricks

Below you will find some tips and tricks for putting audience polling to use in education. These tips and tricks are deriverd from an article by Margaret Maryn (Martyn, 2007). The tips and tricks are based on best practices as written in articles by Robertson (2000) and Duncan (2005) and from the website of TurningPoint Technologies. 

"Best practices for implementing Clickers in the Classroom*

  • Keep slides short to optimize legibility.
  • Keep the number of answer options to five.
  • Do not make the questions overly complex.
  • Keep voting straightforward—systems allow complex branching, but keep it simple.
  • Allow sufficient time for students to answer questions.
  • Allow time for discussion between questions.
  • Encourage active discussion with the audience.
  • Do not ask too many questions; use them for the key points.
  • Position the questions at periodic intervals throughout the presentation.
  • Include an "answer now" prompt to differentiate between lecture slides and interactive polling slides.
  • Use a "correct answer" indicator to visually identify the appropriate answer.
  • Include a "response grid" so that students know their responses have registered.
  • Increase responsiveness by using a "countdown timer" that will close polling after a set amount of time.
  • Test the system in the proposed location to identify technical issues (lighting, signal interference, etc.)
  • On the actual day of the session, allow time to set out clickers and start system.
  • Rehearse actual presentation to make sure it will run smoothly.
  • Provide clear instructions on how to use the clickers to the audience.
  • Do not overuse the system or it will lose its "engagement" potential.

Some of these above tips are also mentioned in 'eDing 3: Stemmen' by M. Jansen. Jansen also emphasizes that it's important to keep the anonymity intact during the voting process, so don't ask students who voted for what answer afterwards.


  1. Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the large classroom: Current research and best-practice tips. Life Sciences Education, 6(1), 9-20. doi: 10.1187/cbe.06-12-0205
  2. Kay, R. H., & LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature. Computers & Education, 53(3), 819–827. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2009.05.001
  3. Martyn, M. (2007). Clickers in the Classroom: An Active Learning Approach, Educause Quarterly (2), 71–74. Retrieved from 
  4. Duncan, D. (2005). Clickers in the Classroom. Upper Saddle, N.J.: Addison-Wesley.
  5. Robertson, L. J. (2000). Twelve tips for using a computerized interactive audience response system. Medical Teacher22(3), 237–239. doi:10.1080/01421590050006179

Resources & Extra information

Look for extra information and the literature on which above description is based on the following sites:

  1. Website - TurningPoint
  2. Website - Shakespeak
  3. Website - 21eDingen eDing 3: Stemmen
  4. PDF - Stemmen tijdens colleges Hoe & Waarom
    Eindpublicatie van het SURF project "Implementatie van draadloos elektronisch stemmen in de medische curricula van LUMC en AMC"
  5. PDF - Stemmen in de les – Het hoe en waarom
  6. PDF - Handreiking Stemkastjes in de Universiteit Utrecht
  7. Clicker Resource Guide: An Instructors Guide to the Effective Use of Personal Response Systems (Clickers) in Teaching

Extra Literature

The following articles can be used as extra, in-depth literature

  1. Banks, D. A. (2006). Reflections on the use of ARS with small groups. In D. A. Banks (Ed.), Audience response systems in higher education (pp. 373-386). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.
  2. Beatty, I. (2004). Transforming student learning with classroom communication systems. EDUCAUSE Research Bulletin, 2004(3), 1-13.
  3. Bergtrom, G. (2006). Clicker sets as learning objects. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 2. 
  4. Brewer, C. A. (2004). Near real-time assessment of student learning and understanding in biology courses. BioScience, 54(11), 1034-1039.
  5. Burnstein, R. A., & Lederman, L. M. (2001). Using wireless keypads in lecture classes. The Physics Teacher, 39(1), 8-11.
  6. Cutts, Q., Kennedy, G., Mitchell, C., and Draper, S. (2004). Maximizing Dialogue in Lectures Using Group Response Systems. Presented at 7th IASTED International Conference on Computer and Advanced Technology in Education, August 16–18, 2004, Hawaii.
  7. Elliot, C. (2003). Using a personal response system in economics teaching. International Review of Economics Education, 1(1).
  8. El-Rady, J. (2006). To click or not to click: That's the question. Innovate Journal of Online Education, 2(4).
  9. Greer, L., & Heaney, P. J. (2004). Real-time analyses of student comprehension: An assessment of electronic student response technology in an introductory earth science course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(4), 345-351.
  10. Jackson, M., Ganger, A. AC., Bridge, P. D., & Ginsburg, K. (2005). Wireless handheld computers in the undergraduate medical curriculum. Medical Education Online, 10(5).
  11. Preszler, R. W., Dawe, A., Shuster, C. B., & Shuster, M. (2007). Assessment of the effects of student response systems on student learning and attitudes over a broad range of biology courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 6(10), 29-41.
  12. van Dijk, L. A., van den Ber, G. C., and van Keulen, H. (2001). Interactive lectures in engineering education. European Journal of Engeneering Education, 26(1), 15–18.
  13. Duncan, D. (2009). Tips for Successful "Clicker" Use. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from

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