Active Learning Strategy: Classroom Response Systems and Polling

Overview and Introduction: The WHAT and WHO

Photo of faculty giving lecture in classroom with students both in person and online.Active learning has been shown to increase engagement and student outcomes. One method is the use of “Classroom Response Systems”. Classroom response systems were traditionally “clickers” where students were given a device that connected to required software. While these still exist (as of the writing of the sentence), most faculty now use software that interacts with smartphones. Under this method, the instructor will pose poll questions during class. Students will use a personal response system to respond during class to answer. ASU currently supports several platforms that allows students to use either their phone or computer to respond to polls during class, including: iClicker, QuestionPro, Slack, and Zoom.

The use of classroom response systems has been shown to improve grades and class attendance [1-4]. Most provocatively, it has been demonstrated that when response systems are stacked with other strategies (mixed-ability learning, peer-instruction, and mastery-based grading) that they narrow the gap between disadvantaged populations and the student population as a whole [1].  This type of “strategy stacking” will be described in the “How” section.

Questions can be either low Bloom’s (remembering and understanding) or high order Bloom’s (application and evaluation). Low level Bloom’s would be used to determine if students understand what is being taught. For example, how many chambers of the heart are there? Is the blood leaving the heart oxygenated or deoxygenated? While high level Bloom’s would be used to determine if students can apply the knowledge gained to another situation. For example, how does an amphibian’s heart differ from a humans and what implications does that have?

All classrooms benefit from active, student engagement but clickers are most effective in large classrooms where it allows faculty to quickly get a view of how well students understand the material. Classroom Response Systems have been studied most exhaustively in large freshman courses, but have been used in all classroom levels.

Implementation and Timing: The WHEN, WHERE, and HOW

Classroom response systems are used during class time. It is recommended that faculty use polling at least 3-4 times during a lecture. The poll can take as little as 2-3 minutes especially if low level Bloom’s is being tested. Higher-order Bloom application questions often take longer because they encourage discussion.

Classroom response systems and polling are best used in a synchronous classroom environment (online or in-person).

Choose the best technology for your classroom. ASU supports a number of polling options, including: 

  • iClicker. Students can download and use iClicker mobile and web apps to participate in live sessions from anywhere around the world or from within designated geographic locations, which faculty can designate. This is great for large, in-person courses. 
  • QuestionPro. Similar to Qualtrics, QuestionPro is a web-based software for creating and distributing surveys, and also has LivePolls features so faculty can  create quick online polls, quizzes, trivia and gather feedback, and showcase results in real-time. QuestionPro is ideal for use in large, in-person courses. 
  • Slack. If you have a Slack workspace created for your course, Slack can be an easy platform to host polls. Slack polls can be used across course modalities (e.g., in-person, online, hybrid).
  • Zoom. Especially helpful for asynchronous, online learning experiences, Zoom polls are another ASU supported polling option.

Getting Started and planning ahead. Once you are ready to go with your technology choice, you can add questions into your lectures. Initially, you might use the system to determine if students understand the content. This will help you tailor the content of the class e.g., take longer on subjects where most students answer incorrectly or less time if everyone answers correctly. Consider using questions at different Bloom levels. For example, you might start class with 2-3 low-level Bloom’s questions to ensure students are understanding the basics and end class with a big picture discussion with a high-level Bloom’s question applying the knowledge. Instructors might also consider using Response Systems in Flipped Classrooms especially if the classroom is very large. 

Grading of polling. Literature indicates that having questions worth a small percentage of students’ grade (~2%) means that student outcomes are improved versus voluntary where no points are assigned. Instructors might consider trying systems without grades the first year to work out the kinks and then assign points in future years. 

Strategy Stacking. It has been shown that when classroom Response Systems are paired with other techniques that they narrow the gap between disadvantaged students and the students as a whole [2]. Importantly, all students benefit. In particular, we recommend the following additional strategies when using Classroom Response Systems.

  1. Peer Instruction. In many prior studies, Classroom Response Systems are used in groups. Students are asked to think together on the topic even if they answer individually. This is important in large classrooms where the instructor is unable to interact one-on-one with all the students because students can learn from one another. This is particularly effective when paired with the next strategy.
  2. Mixed-ability learning. In prior studies, instructors used a set of incoming criteria (e.g., SAT scores) to determine which students were most likely to succeed in the class. Then they created groups of mixed-abilities. In this way, stronger students are able to teach and assist students who are most likely to struggle [3], [4].
  3. Mastery-based grading. Mastery-based grading is where students are allowed to answer questions multiple times until they “master” a topic. In prior studies of Classroom Response Systems, instructors allowed students to take the poll questions multiple times and students also practiced taking exam questions together as a group prior to the real exam [3]. 

In conclusion, consider strategy stacking. However, simply adding questions into your classroom will have benefits for students and is a nice, low-key way to begin.

Rationale and Research: The WHY

Most of the literature has been cited and discussed above. Briefly, the use of Classroom Response Systems increases engagement, class participation, class attendance, and grades. Moreover, if stacked with other strategies this system has been shown to particularly benefit at-risk student populations [4].

Additional Resources and References

See below for additional resources and references from the above sections. 

[1]  S. Freeman and “et al.”, “Prescribed active learning increases performance in introductory biology,” 2007. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 08-Dec-2022]. 

[2]  D. C. Haak, J. HilleRisLambers, E. Pitre, and S. Freeman, “Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology,” Science, vol. 332, no. 6034, pp. 1213–1216, 2011. 

[3]  S. Freeman, E. O’Connor, J. W. Parks, M. Cunningham, D. Hurley, D. Haak, C. Dirks, and M. P. Wenderoth, “Prescribed active learning increases performance in introductory biology,” CBE—Life Sciences Education, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 132–139, 2007.

[4]  D. C. Haak, J. HilleRisLambers, E. Pitre, and S. Freeman, “Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology,” Science, vol. 332, no. 6034, pp. 1213–1216, 2011.