Poll Everywhere: Audience Response System

Poll Everywhere: Audience Response Systems

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Scroll down to learn more about teaching with ARS and how you can get support from the CTL for using Poll Everywhere.

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Seeking additional support with using Poll Everywhere in your course? Email ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu or join our virtual office hours.

Interested in inviting the CTL to facilitate a session on this topic for your school, department, or program? Visit our Workshops To Go page for more information.

What is an Audience Response System (ARS)?

An Audience Response System 1 is a web-based technology 2 that provides instructors an efficient way to pose a question or a series of questions and collect digital responses from every student in the classroom. Students will need a device (such as a smartphone or laptop) to provide a response. Regardless of your course modality—in-person, hybrid/HyFlex, or fully online—an ARS can help you engage students in course material and assess their understanding of course concepts. This resource reviews getting started with Poll Everywhere, the Columbia-supported ARS, and recommendations for integrating ARS into your courses.

Why Use an Audience Response System?

With ARS, you can invite students to respond to prompts in a lecture, in-class activity, or discussion. These prompts can be used to engage students and as a form of assessment.


Student Engagement and Learning

Instructors can use an ARS to increase the number of students who participate in class (Bruff, 2009; Stowell and Nelson, 2007) regardless of class size. Studies have shown that students perceive activities supported by these technologies as impactful on their engagement and learning (Han and Finkelstein, 2013), and ARS can lead to greater engagement and learning (Petto, 2019). 

With an ARS, Instructors can also promote inclusive teaching practices, helping to ensure that not just the students with more prior experience on the subject and more extroverted students participate but that all students have a voice and the opportunity to think individually and respond to instructor-posed questions. Unlike traditional hand-polling or cold calling, which may induce anxiety, ARS responses may motivate contributions from students less likely to respond out loud those with minority perspectives and those that fear giving incorrect answers in front of their peers (Bruff, 2009).


Assessment of Student Learning

ARS can also be useful for formative (or low-stakes) assessment of student learning (Kay and LeSage, 2009). ARS provides data on what students know and do not know. Instructors can use this information to modify instruction in real time (or what is referred to as “agile teaching” – Bruff, 2009) to meet student learning needs, and provide timely feedback which is important to student learning (Anderson et al., 2010: 150 – 151). In responding to ARS questions, students and instructors can get prompt feedback which can:

  • Provide a better sense of students’ current knowledge.
  • Provide opportunities for students to ask questions to clarify the material being taught. 
  • Provide a space for discussing responses in the classroom.


Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is the Audience Response System licensed by Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) and offered for free to all Columbia instructors for classroom use.

To get started using Poll Everywhere in your classroom, please log in here using your UNI authentication to obtain your presenter account. Note: these accounts are to be used for teaching and learning purposes. For support with teaching and learning with Poll Everywhere, please contact the CTL at ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu.  

How Does Poll Everywhere work?

Instructors can post open-ended questions (short answer, fill-in-the blank, etc.) or close-ended questions (multiple choice, true/false, etc) to an online application. They then project one question at a time on a screen, and invite students to respond to the question via a browser, an app, or text messaging on their own web-enabled mobile devices. 

Responses are automatically collected and can be shared back visually on screen for all students to see. While responses are anonymous to students, instructors have the option to see how many students have responded to a question or to see individual student responses by saving and downloading responses or sending them to CourseWorks (Canvas), Columbia University’s Learning Management System. 

Watch this short video to get a quick overview of creating a poll and presenting it to your class.

How do I create student groups for my courses in Poll Everywhere?

Click the image above to read an article outlining the steps to create Poll Everywhere course groups from CourseWorks.

Ways Instructors Can Use ARS

An ARS can be used on its own or coupled with in-class activities, such as peer instruction (see Mazur, 1997) and case study teaching (see Herreid, 2006). 

Instructors can ask content or process questions using an ARS. Below are a few ways that an ARS can be used to promote learning and inform instruction.

  • Check for understanding / students’ prior knowledge, which can affect student learning, (Anderson et al., 2010: 31), by asking conceptual questions and providing feedback / correcting misconceptions before moving on. 
  • Encourage students to apply what they learned from assigned readings, online modules (in the case of a hybrid or blended course), or other homework assignments they completed before coming to class. This also holds students accountable for their learning. 
  • Engage students in peer learning by asking students to pair up and explain their ARS response to a peer (see Mazur, 1997; Schell and Butler, 2008). This can be particularly effective when students initially disagree on the answer to a question and have to work to come to a consensus.
  • Capture multiple perspectives from all students present in the classroom to enrich the discussion. 
  • Promote student reflection on the learning process (e.g. asking students to share learning strategies that helped them in an exam). 
  • Collect real-time feedback from students to determine the next instructional decision (e.g., deciding which of four hypotheses to delve into further).

Effective ARS Practices

Effective ARS Design:

  • Articulate the goals of using ARS to your students and consider adding a section to your syllabus detailing how it will be used in class. Align ARS use with the learning objectives of a given class session. 
  • Draft questions that elicit the desired learning. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the technology and test it out.
  • Determine when and how often in class you will use ARS—at the beginning of class, when presenting a case or problem, or to close class (see Lang, 2016). 
  • Consider the types of assessment best-suited for Poll Everywhere questions. Poll Everywhere is optimized for informal queries into student’s attention, understanding of course content, and individual reflection. Thus, Poll Everywhere is best for non-graded and low stakes assessments.  Please consider using other tools for higher-stakes assessments.

Effective ARS Implementation:

  • Talk to your students about ARS. Communicate the purpose of using ARS in your classroom and how you will use it (e.g., informally or will it graded). 
  • Pose a question, invite students to think individually and respond, and share back results all at once or as they come in. 
  • Unpack the responses as a whole class or have students discuss in pairs or groups their responses, and share out.  
  • Make time to debrief and provide feedback—instructors should ensure that students do not leave with misconceptions and that the desired takeaways are achieved.


Online and Hybrid Considerations for Poll Everywhere

ARS can be used similarly in face-to-face, online, or hybrid contexts. The following are some options for using Poll Everywhere in an online context.

Canvas Poll Everywhere Embed – Asynchronous Option
You can share polls via CourseWorks.  This can be useful if you want students to interact with your polls asynchronously, outside of the classroom session. For example, you may want responses from students who could not attend class. The poll does not need to be active in order for students to respond asynchronously.

For more information on embedding a poll , please visit Poll Everywhere’s Embed an activity support documentation.

Using Poll Everywhere with Zoom
You may also want to use PollEverywhere while running a Zoom class session. You can either run the Poll Everywhere activity in your browser or embed the Poll Everywhere activity in a presentation or file. Then you will need to use the “share screen” feature in Zoom. Using Poll Everywhere with Zoom will take additional preparation time to ensure it goes smoothly in your class. For more info on embedding a poll in you in a Powerpoint or Google slides presentation please visit Poll Everywhere’s App page 

Using the Zoom ARS
Zoom also has a built-in ARS polling feature, and while it doesn’t have the robust features of Poll Everywhere, it offers an easy way to get started polling in your online course. To learn more, please visit Zoom’s support page on Polling with meetings.

Additional Advice
Using Poll Everywhere in a synchronous online session, coupled with Zoom and a presentation platform, requires the management of many moving parts. Test and practice using Poll Everywhere and sharing polls through Zoom prior to your class. 

During class, you can offload many instructional support tasks to TAs (e.g. TAs can deploy polls or take account of questions in the chat.) Poll Everywhere has developed the guide “Presenting Poll Everywhere Activities in Zoom” which provides technical tips and strategies to benefit teaching and learning in synchronous online settings.

Watch a short video of Caroline Marvin using Poll Everywhere in her introductory neuroscience course to encourage discussion and engage students.



Office of the Provost

The Innovative Course Design grant program from the Office of the Provost provides support for faculty who are developing innovative and technology-enhanced pedagogy and learning strategies in the classroom, including ARS. In addition to funding, faculty awardees receive support from CTL staff as they redesign, deliver, and evaluate their hybrid courses.

The Innovative Course Module Design provides support to faculty who are interested in experimenting with one new pedagogical strategy or tool such as ARS. Faculty awardees receive funds and CTL support for a one-semester period. 


Online Resources


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., & DiPietro, M. (2010). How learning works : Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.tc.idm.oclc.org

Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. John Wiley & Sons. 

Burnstein, R. A. and Lederman, L. M. (2006). The Use and Evolution of an Audience Response System. In Banks, D. A. (2006). Audience Response Systems in Higher Education: Applications and Cases. Information Science Publishing. 

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

Han, J. H. and Finkelstein, A. (2013). Understanding the effects of professor’s pedagogical development with Clicker Assessment and Feedback technologies and the impact on students’ engagement and learning in higher education. Computers & Education. 65, 64 – 76. 

Herreid, C. F. (2006). “Clicker” Cases: Introducing Case Study Teaching Into Large Classrooms. Journal of College Teaching. 36(2), October 2006. 

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching : Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.tc.idm.oclc.org

Kay, R.H. and LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature. Computers & Education. 53 (2009), 819-827. 

Mazur, Eric. (1997). Peer instruction : a user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall. 

Petto, A. J. (2019). Technology Meets Pedagogy: Comparing Classroom Response Systems. Journal of College Science Teaching. 48(4), (Mar/April 2019): 55-63.

Schell, J. A., and Butler, A. C. (2018). Insights From the Science of Learning Can Inform Evidence-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction. Frontiers in Education. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2018.00033

Stowell, J. R. and Nelson, J. M. (2007). Benefits of Electronic Audience Response Systems on Student Participation, Learning, and Emotion. Teaching of Psychology. 34(4): 253 – 258.

Sullivan, R. (2009). Principles for Constructing Good Clicker Questions: Going Beyond Rote Learning and Stimulating Active Engagement with Course Content. Journal of Educational Technology Systems. 37(3), 335-347. 

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.

  1. Note: “Audience Response Systems,” as a term, may be referred to as Classroom Response Systems (CRS) (Bruff, 2009) in the teaching and learning literature, as well as “clickers” and “Student Response Systems” among others (see Kay and LeSage, 2009, who noted 26 labels used to refer to this technology).
  2. Note: ARS technologies have evolved since the1960s from hardwired devices to handheld “clickers” to the present day web-based “bring your own device” systems. Initially used in science classrooms, its use has expanded to various disciples. (see Burnstein and Lederman in Banks, 2009 for a history).