Any clinician educator will recognise this situation.
You’re trying to engage your learners with a well-prepared lecture or tutorial, but their eyes are wandering. Fewer and fewer seem interested and you can’t seem to keep their attention.
This can lead to frustration: I am teaching adults and they just don’t seem motivated enough!
There is conflicting evidence about learner attention and whether it fatigues predictably or waxes and wanes. Historically, educators had been taught that learners might attend for 10-15 minutes before needing re-engagement in some way.12. TIME.com. 2016 [cited 29 November 2016]. Available from: http://ideas.time.com/2012/10/02/why-lectures-are-ineffective/]
More recently, studies have concluded that the evidence supporting the 10-15 minute period might not be correct.3. InformED. 2016 [cited 29 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/30-tricks-for-capturing-students-attention/]45 Either way, active teaching strategies are one suggested way to encourage re-engagement.
Modern thinking about learning outcomes suggests that effectiveness as a teacher isn’t measured by your performance of the lecture (“sage on a stage”), but how the students learn from the session. Irrespective of whether learners concentrate for set periods before their minds wander, or they drift in and out of the experience based on multiple different factors, teachers need a variety of techniques to encourage engagement.
One of my favourites is Audience Response Systems.
You can also have a pdf copy of this guide for later reference.
Audience Response Systems
In days past, the use of Audience Response Systems (ARS) would require an investment in ‘clickers’ and the equipment and software needed to manage them. Most of our modern learners will carry some form of internet enabled device or mobile telephone (or both).
Enter ARS systems like Poll Everywhere, Socrative and others. No longer does your organisation need to invest in hardware, as the learners bring their own. Many online ARS packages offer a free version, so you could get started with using an ARS at zero cost.
In this article, I will demonstrate how to get started with Poll Everywhere, and then use it to keep your learners alert and engaged. I hope this will save you time as you begin experimenting with ARS in your teaching sessions.
Getting Started with Poll Everywhere
Getting started with Poll Everywhere is easy. Just go to their website and sign up for a free account. The free account will allow you to poll between 25 and 40 respondents, depending on whether you sign up for a business account or a K-12 or Higher-ed plan. There are lots of extra features that you might choose to pay for once you’re familiar with the service but, for our purposes, a free account will suffice.
Once you have an account, you will be directed to create your first poll.
Keep things simple and follow the prompts to make a multiple choice poll.
Enter your answers and click ‘Create’.
The website will show you what your poll will look like, as below:
- Visual Settings
- Activate Poll
- Hide Chart
- Lock Poll
- Clear Results
- Full-Screen (& Activate)
Don’t worry about the visual settings for now. You could activate the poll but if you display it to an audience in fullscreen or embedded in a PowerpointTM presentation it will automatically activate, so I don’t bother.
I often click the hide chart button, as I like my learners to commit to their own answer before seeing how their peers have voted. With the chart displaying you will have a live-updating chart that changes with every answer submitted. With the chart hidden, no-one will see the votes until you un-hide the chart.
I don’t usually lock the poll, but you could do so if you want to keep some responses for later analysis. Clear results will start the poll over with no recorded responses. The full-screen button will display the poll in full-screen mode and automatically activate it to receive responses.
You will note on the image above that there are several options to enable responses from your learners.
First, at the top of the screen is a website: PollEv.com/productiveph603. This is the website your learners could go to and leave a response on whichever poll you happen to have open as the presenter at the time. Note that this website address isn’t specific to the poll question itself, but to your account. If you have multiple polls – which almost certainly will – the learners can only respond to whichever poll you have activated at the time. If you don’t have any active polls they won’t be able to respond at all.
The second option is to join the presentation by texting the message listed (PRODUCTIVEPH603) to the phone number supplied (+61 427 541 357). Once a learner does that, they will get an automatic response asking them to submit a letter answer to your poll (in this case: A, B, C or D).
It is possible to link a Twitter account to your Poll Everywhere account, and this enables your learners to tweet a response to your polls. You can find the option to do so under the ‘Configure’ tab at the far right of the screen.
The simplest way to ask learners to participate is by having them download the Poll Everywhere mobile app. The links are:
Your learners will see the following screen upon opening the app:
Click on ‘I’m participating’ as shown. Then, type the username in the space provided. Note that this is the presenter’s username – the part after the slash in the website address. Using the address above, which is http://pollev.com/productiveph603, the username is
Using the address above, which is http://pollev.com/productiveph603, the username is productiveph063.
After completing these steps, the learners will be presented with a new poll to complete every time you change the poll during your presentation.
Installing the Powerpoint add-in
Although you could just use the website for moving between polls, if you are using any kind of presentation software such as Powerpoint, Keynote, Google Slides or Office 365 you will have much more flexibility if you install the PollEv Presenter Add-in.
By installing their software, Poll Everywhere polls can be embedded within your slide set. This means that you can have your usual slides on the theory you are teaching, and then move to the next slide to have an embedded poll that shows the poll and then its results, all in one slide.
I find that embedding my polls in this way makes for a much more cohesive presentation, and highly recommend installing their add-in.
Getting your Poll Everywhere polls into your slide set
Once you have the software add-in installed, there are two ways to use Poll Everywhere polls within your Powerpoint slides. The first way is to create the poll(s) on their website and then download the slide(s).
Go about making your poll as shown above. Once you are happy, go to the right-hand panel and click on ‘3. Present’. Next, click on ‘How to present’. The option to download the slide should appear. Click to download the slide.
Once you have downloaded your poll, open it in Powerpoint. If you are confronted with the warning that your slide is in ‘Protected View’ as it was downloaded from the internet, click the Enable Editing (1,2) button(s) as shown.
Finally, you should then be able to just copy the slide from the downloaded presentation into your slides. Just right-click on the slide in the left-hand panel (3) and select copy.
Now, as long as you have an internet connection when you get to that slide during your presentation, Powerpoint will load the current version of the slide from Poll Everywhere and display the poll and results live within your presentation.
Another way to insert more than one poll is to do it en masse. Go back to the main listing of your polls by clicking on ‘My polls’ at the top left of your screen in your web browser. You will see a similar screen to below:
Select each poll that you wish to include by clicking their select buttons (1) and then click ‘Download’ (2). Choose ‘Slides’ from the drop-down menu and then open the Powerpoint file that downloads and the follow the steps above.
Finally, the third way to insert your slides from Poll Everywhere into your Powerpoint presentation is natively within Powerpoint.
You will notice a new menu option at the top of your Powerpoint screen after installing the Poll Everywhere add-in. Click it (1) and a new ribbon of options should appear, as shown below.
If you click either ‘New’ or ‘Insert’ (2) you will be confronted with a form to insert your Poll Everywhere account login and password. After you do so, you should be able to either create a new slide or select slides from your Poll Everywhere account to download and insert.
If you do create new slides in this way, they will also be uploaded to your Poll Everywhere account and therefore can be used again in the future.
The guys at Poll Everywhere have a video walkthrough that explains how to use polls in Powerpoint which you can watch below:
Exploring the Possibilities
There are many ways to use polls to make your presentations more dynamic. I usually start with an ‘Open Ended’ poll to take attendance for my session. The ‘Word Cloud’ option is fun but any of the choices would work well.
I will then often use simple multiple choice polls to gauge learner experience with the topic. For example, in a session about arterial blood gas (ABG) interpretation, I might ask them to answer how many ABGs they have interpreted during their time in medical school. I will also poll them on their confidence in interpreting ABGs. (I often repeat those questions as the end of the teaching session to measure the improvement in their knowledge or confidence.)
After you have broken the ice, you can then start the didactic component of your teaching. I usually scatter MCQs throughout the session to ensure learners are paying attention, keep them engaged, and to offer them instant feedback on their understanding.
Poll Everywhere allows both anonymous and signed-in polling, but I prefer to use the anonymous mode as I feel it increases learner psychological safety: my students might be more inclined to test their knowledge without the fear of being seen to be wrong in front of their peers.
One of the real benefits of using polls in this way is that as the teacher you can modify your presentation ‘on the fly’ in response to the learning needs of the group of learners in front of you. Gone are the days when you don’t know how much they are understanding, as judiciously placed polls will illicit cohort-level understanding for you.
If this group of learners is not following your teaching you could choose to spend more time than planned to ensure their understanding. Conversely, if your learners are all getting the right answers you might choose to escalate to higher level material much faster and not waste anyone’s time on the basics.
There are a variety of ways you could choose to use Poll Everywhere or other Audience Response Systems to engage your learners and, in this article, I have focused only on getting you up and running with the least fuss possible. I will write a future post detailing more advanced ways to use Poll Everywhere in your presentations.
Please comment below if there are any sections of this guide that need clarification and I will do my best to update it to make it the best and simplest to follow getting started guide for using Poll Everywhere on the internet.
Download your free, step-by-step checklist for getting up and running with Poll Everywhere in the shortest possible time, and a pdf copy of this guide for later reference.
- Johnstone & Percival. Attention Breaks in Lectures. Education in Chemistry. 1976;13(2):49-50. Available from: https://ctl.boisestate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Johnstone-1976-Attention-breaks.pdf ↵
- Khan. Why We Need To Get Rid of Class Lectures [Internet ↵
- Briggs. The Science of Attention: How To Capture And Hold The Attention of Easily Distracted Students [Internet ↵
- Wilson & Korn. Attention during Lectures: Beyond Ten Minutes. Teaching of Psychology. 2007;34(2):85-89. Available from: http://top.sagepub.com/content/34/2/85.abstract ↵
- Bunce, Flens & Neiles. How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers. J Chem Educ. 2010;87(12):1438-1443. Available from: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ed100409p ↵