Saddiya Rose


Brock University


Universities and other post-secondary institutions are striving to keep abreast of technological advancements through the provision of wireless connections, learning management systems, and by using SMS technology to enhance communication with students (Calma et al., 2014). Issues concerning declining student interests in classes along with expectations of interactive learning environments are currently   prompting a paradigm shift in higher education (Preis  , Kellar, & Crosby, 2011). The purpose of this research is to explore the impact of online polling tools on student engagement in order to address some of these issues. A literature review has been presented along with limitations of the research and the practical application of an educational online polling tool which may be incorporated to enhance the curriculum. The findings presented demonstrate a positive effect of online polling tools on student engagement and retention and present a viable option for educators to enhance their practice. These findings also have implications for a wide range of courses which attract large student enrollments including engineering, business, science and information technology (Calma et al., 2014). A case study within a major business faculty is presented to highlight the influence of these mobile technologies on curriculum decisions.

Keywords: audience response systems, mobile learning, mobile technologies, online polling tools, student engagement


Students in higher education are becoming increasingly mobile. In 2012, approximately 4.5 million people were enrolled in post-secondary institutions outside their own countries (OECD, 2014). This has led to a demographic diversification of students as a result of rapid and continuing advancements in technology and the development of a globalized ‘knowledge economy’ (Thompson et al, 2017 ). The contemporary school environment is described as an interdisciplinary community of diverse learners, teachers and educational leaders who bring with them rich and multifaceted identities that encompass a variety of assumptions about the nature of learning and an overall view of the world (Dimitrov & Haque 2016). Mobile learning is one of the current trends being adapted by administrators to accommodate these diverse learning needs, promote engagement and ultimately student retention (Wu et.al, 2012)

Mobile learning occurs when students are able to take advantage of learning opportunities offered through the use of mobile technologies. The general idea is that they are able to engage in educational activities without being tied to a physical location (Wu et al., 2012). Developments in wireless technology have resulted in mobile devices with added features (Wi-Fi, email, mobile applications among others) which have encouraged educators and researchers to take a pedagogical view toward developing educational applications for mobile devices to promote teaching and learning (Wu et al., 2012)

This paper will examine the impact of using mobile polling apps in the classroom. More specifically, the goal is to discover how in-class polls influence curriculum decisions, affect student engagement and learning.

Background Information

Audience Response Systems using Mobile Devices

These systems, also referred to as ARS’s are used for collecting data and engaging learners by posing questions. The system allows users to register their votes or responses using mobile phones, tablets, or other portable computing devices with either data service or wireless internet connectivity. (Salzer, 2018).  SMS Poll (SMS Poll, 2017), Socrative (Socrative, 2019) Poll Everywhere (Poll Everywhere, n.d) and Kahoot  (Kahoot, 2019) are examples of text and mobile based ARS’s with varying capabilities and cost structures (Dynan, 2014).

Instructional designers at CourseArc (2017) recommend that facilitators should incorporate online polling:

  1. Before students learn a new lesson: to spark curiosity, test their pre-existing knowledge, presumptions or biases
  2. Mid lesson: as a reminder of the concepts that were just taught and to test their ablity to apply to previous or future topics
  3. At the end of the lesson: to test their short term memory, reinforce knowledge and prepare them for upcoming lessons.

Literature Review

Advantages of Online Polling for Student Learning

ARS’s support the creation of cooperative learning environments where students are able to work in groups to solve poll questions in the context of a peer-instructed model which promotes intellectually stimulating discussions, problem solving and team decision-making skills (Noel et. Al, 2015). Poll results are also displayed immediately on most systems which leads to instantaneous feedback and reinforces focus on the content. This formative assessment allows students to self-regulate their performance which is a feature of student centered learning (Salzer, 2018). Interactivity and general learning outcomes are influenced by the instructor’s pedagogy and strategic use of the ARS (Salzer,2018).

Students are able to participate in polls by answering questions anonymously and there are opportunities to discuss the responses at length during the class session (Sun et. al, 2014). According to a study conducted by Sun et al. (2014), the anonymous response feature is reported to have allowed learners to answer questions honestly and engage in the discussion at a deeper level. Resulting in authentic learning and meaning-making. Studies also reported that attendance and attention improves when an ARS is used and the activity gives students a break from the usual lecture format since the learning environment is enhanced with visuals and activity (Dynan, 2014). Research conducted by Sun (2014), presented positive data representing student’s views that if in-class polling is not graded, they will perceive it as a challenge rather than a threat, leading to effective preparation, review of course content and anxiety reduction.

Challenges of Online Polling

Stowell (2015) reports that a challenge to incorporating these online polling tools into the curriculum surrounds timing concerns. The time required to formulate effective questions aligned with intended learning outcomes, time needed to learn and set up the ARS technology and providing adequate coverage of course material (Kay & Lesage, 2009).

Device and connectivity challenges are cited as a barrier affecting online polling. Gikas and Grant (2013) highlighted results from a study conducted which shared student’s frustrations with applications that did not work as well as had been anticipated to collect information for class; small mobile device keyboards made typing long responses difficult, and poor internet connection (pg.23)

Another challenge recorded was the need for teachers to immediately adjust teaching styles or find more effective ways of delivering misunderstood topics (Stowell, 2015). A recommendation to avoid this challenge is through the use of asynchronous polling or incorporating the concept of plenty-of-time teaching.

Plenty-Of-Time Teaching and Asynchronous Polling

As previously discussed, the lack of time available for an instructor to make quality adjustments to the content is a limitation when incorporating online polling. One approach that Sun et. al (2014) recommends  to mitigate this problem is the use of “Plenty-of-Time Teaching,”. They describe this concept as the purposeful use of pre-class activities, such as open-ended and multiple-choice questions, delivered online, that engage students with the content before class (Sun et.al, 2014 pg.253). Students have the opportunity to submit their responses a few hours before class, and the teacher is then able to modify the content and learning activities based on the levels of students’ misunderstandings or misconceptions with the material (Sun et al,2014 ).

Influence on Curriculum Decisions

Calma et al. (2014) investigated the impact of online polling through incorporating Zwoor (Zwoor, n.d), a free app for Android and Apple devices in corporate finance courses. The study included 720 students from four finance classes in both undergraduate and graduate programs with a sample of 41% males, 59% females, 76% undergraduates and 24% graduate students (Calma et al., 2014).

Topics covered in the first five weeks included raising equity and debt capital, capital structure and the weighted average cost of capital, payout policy, and advanced topics in capital budgeting (Calma et al., 2014, p. 119). At the end of each class, the lecturer provided students with one survey including five multiple choice questions and answers, with only one correct response. Students without access to mobile devices had the option of completing the assessment on paper (Calma et al., 2014).

An 18 item questionnaire was issued at the end of the semester to evaluate students’ perceptions on the usefulness of quick polling on engagement and class preparation (Calma et al., 2014). The results suggest that students’ use of quick polling in class generally had a positive experience with 76% of respondents indicating that receiving instant feedback helped them better understand the concepts being covered in the class (Calma et al., 2014).

Females perceived they were more prepared for and engaged in class than males while graduate students indicated stronger engagement and understanding of concepts than undergraduate students. (Calma et al., 2014). Lecturers reported that the tool improved engagement and instructional delivery within their large classes and they were able to adjust the curriculum based on the formative feedback received (Calma et al., 2014).

Active Learning & Student Engagement

A number of sources point to online polling or audience response systems as a mode of active learning. Active learning encourages engagement with the course content and is recognized as a best practice within higher education (Salzer, 2018). Studies show that students who interactively participate in classes learn the material better, retain concepts longer, and can apply them more effectively than students who do not. The use of online polling is also reported to promote enjoyable learning which enhances intrinsic motivation (Preis et.al, 2011).

Sun et al (2014) presented research that suggests that innovatively-designed polls and surveys with its use of pre- and post-class questions, incorporating the plenty of time strategy during class were associated with higher levels of specific types of student engagement, including emotional and cognitive engagement. It was felt that these mobile tools created an environment which facilitated students’ positive emotions and helped students to focus on the classroom instruction, reduced anxiety, was enjoyable and improved student outcomes (Sun et al, 2014).



One significant implication for educators is that incorporating these feedback tools may require a willingness to modify and change instructions to meet students’ needs. It will require a level of flexibility surrounding curriculum design and delivery. Educators will need to understand that polling in advance of a class or even during may highlight a wide range of student understandings which while attempting to modify lectures may result in instructor’s cognitive overload ( Sun, 2014).

Another implication is the fact that incorporating these mobile technologies within the curriculum is subjective and not all instructors will be open to providing that level of engagement. Instructors who may be unfamiliar with the technologies and unwilling to learn or incorporate these tools may be viewed negatively by students and comparisons with other courses and teaching styles might be made. It might be perceived as instructors not being open to assisting their students in interacting with and participating in the course content (Gikas & Grant, 2013). Equity issues may be an implication as some students may not have smartphones or tablets or may simply prefer to use pen and paper

Educational Technology-Mentimeter

This free online polling tool can be used to create interactive presentations which students can participate in real time using any device. The tool allows educators to add polls, quizzes, questions or slides as a form of formative assessment. Responses are visualized as a word cloud, through scales, ranking, a matrix, images or through points. Once the educator presents, students use their smartphones to connect to the presentation where they are able to provide the necessary feedback (Mentimeter, n.d)

Example of Lesson Plan  Incorporating Mentimeter

A seminar on Culturally Responsive Leadership for graduate students in an Educational Leadership course might start with a quick poll to gain an understanding of what learner’s prior knowledge of the concept is. This could be in the form of a Word Cloud asking them to identify the characteristics of a culturally responsive leader. Multiple Choice Questions may be posed during the seminar to assess if learners are following the discussion and a subsequent open ended question might be posed for small groups to discuss potential answers and synthesise the top three responses. This could then be brought to the large group where more in-depth discussions might take place. The session might end with a Q&A through the app where any gray areas might be resolved.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

The research demonstrated a positive effect of mobile polling tools on student engagement primarily within large classes where student centered learning may prove challenging (Preis et. al). These technologies act as a catalyst to improving engagement in other areas including student-faculty interaction, active and collaborative learning which has the possibility of leading to improved retention levels (Sun, 2014). The advantages of incorporating these tools far outweigh the challenges as indicated during the literature review section.

The research conducted on mobile learning is fairly in-depth however further research showcasing the impact of mobile polling tools as educational technologies continue to change at a rapid pace, might be useful for educators aiming to improve their practice.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 Copyright © 2019 by Saddiya Rose is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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