Immediate feedback is a successful engagement strategy that promotes active learning and fosters a supportive, inclusive classroom, especially when used with low stakes assignments or to gauge transfer of knowledge (Epstein & Brosvic, 2002, Goldstein & Wallis, 2015). The traditional approach is for students to purchase a physical device or license through an educational technology provider. The cost of these traditional services has been increasing, adding to the financial burden for our students in the midst of an ongoing global economic recession. If you have worked tirelessly and jumped through many hoops to adopt an OER textbook in order to bring down the cost of education for your students, you may feel guilty about adding back the expense of these educational tools. An alternative approach is to use a free or low-cost mobile app for student participation. In this article, we will present an array of free apps that we have used in various courses, and discuss the benefits and limitations of each.
We are giving examples of things we have tried and why they worked in our classes. We encourage you to explore different ways to do polling and find what works for you, and hope you will consider options that do not impose a cost burden on students.
Many of you are probably familiar with Kahoot., and anyone can create a free Kahoot account. Kahoot allows you to create a set of multiple-choice questions. Students can download the free app or navigate to the Kahoot website and enter a session ID to participate in your Kahoot. In the free version of the app, you can have up to 50 participants in a session.
Kahoot is user-friendly, it is very simple to set up a question set, and many students already know how to use it. Anyone with an internet-capable device can participate, and it is easy to use in remote learning by providing students with a session ID. After a class session, you can download a spreadsheet containing the polling results, and you can use this information for attendance, assessment, or grades.
Kahoot has a few major drawbacks. First, in the free version of the app, the number of answer options and format of the questions are very limited, limiting the kinds of questions you can ask. Second, it is up to students to register for a session. They must have internet access and an internet-capable device, and they can self-identify when they join a class session. If you choose to use Kahoot, we recommend that you instruct students to use their full name or university student ID as their Kahoot name so you can tell who is who. Finally, student names are shown on a leaderboard during a session, and this may make some students uncomfortable.
There are many other free polling apps similar to Kahoot. Some examples include Quizizz, Quizlet Live, and Poll Everywhere. If you are teaching a synchronous online course, you can also poll students from within Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams.
Similar to Kahoot, Vevox is a web-enabled polling app that students can access from anywhere. You create a set of questions, and students can respond using either an app on a smart device or a web browser. In addition, Vevox offers a Q&A function that allows students to pose questions to the instructor during a session. You can set up Vevox to allow anonymous questions, which can encourage hesitant students to participate in the Q&A. In our experience, students are more willing to ask questions in class through the Vevox Q&A than by raising a hand or calling out a question.
With Vevos, you can download a spreadsheet containing both polling results and questions that students have submitted. The free version is limited to only a few question types, and you are limited to 100 participants per session. Students do need an internet-capable device to participate, and they must self-identify for a session, although you do have the option to prompt them for a first and last name when they sign on to the session.
The Plickers app uses a unique QR card format for collecting student responses. Sixty-three 3×3 inch cards can be downloaded from their website and printed on plain paper, or you can purchase an inexpensive, sturdier plastic version from Amazon. The instructor assigns a different card to each student, and students hold up the cards to answer questions. Each card can be used to answer questions with up to four possible answers by rotating the orientation; each edge of the card corresponds with an answer choice (A-D). The instructor simply scans the room with a cell phone camera, and the app records student responses. A major benefit of Plickers is that students are not responsible for purchasing anything, and they do not need a device. Polling is spontaneous and fun!
When you set up a class with Plickers, you have the option to input your roster and assign a card to each student. This is helpful because you do not have to rely on students to enter their information correctly at the beginning of each session; you can simply pass out the cards during class. If you want to only use Plickers for participation and do not want to track individual student responses for credit, you can save time by assigning each card a code in the Plicker roster. For example, card 1 can be AB, card 2 can be BC, etc. In the free version of this app, you are limited to five questions per question set, and question formats are limited. Like the other apps we have discussed, Plickers also allows you to download a spreadsheet of polling results.
You can use Plickers for polling in a synchronous online course by sending each student a unique code that will enable them to link a personal device to a Plicker card. For this method, students will need an internet-capable device.
There are many available options for free or low-cost polling to help you engage your students during class. While the free versions of these apps usually have limited features, the instructor also has a choice to purchase a license to add more features. Individual licenses for many of these apps are very reasonably priced. When we are trying to limit costs for our students, purchasing one instructor license is much better than asking many individual students to purchase licenses. Instructor licenses also make it possible to share question sets between instructors teaching sections of the same course.
Polling has a plethora of evidence for being a useful technique that enhances learning and supports students. We have introduced only a few free programs that make polling accessible for all students. There are many options to meet the needs of different classrooms and instructors. These are just a few examples – find the one that works for you!
Dr. Ann M. Davis is a lecturer and the faculty lead for undergraduate studies in biology at Texas Woman’s University. She is an ACUE-certified Effective College Instructor and the recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher Award from the Society for College Science Teachers. Her interests include evidence-based instruction, student engagement, and expanding educational access for historically under-represented groups in STEM.
Dr. Shazia A. Ahmed is a clinical professor of biology at Texas Woman’s University. She is an ACUE-certified effective college instructor and a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).
Epstein, Michael L., and Brosvic, Gary M. 2002. “Students Prefer the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique.” Psychological Reports, 90, no. 3_suppl: 1136–1138. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.2002.90.3c.1136
Goldstein, David S., and Wallis, Peter D., eds. 2015. Clickers in the Classroom: Using Classroom Response Systems to Increase Student Learning. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.