Asking students (or any audience) questions breaks up the monotony of unidirectional lecturing/ presenting, keeps minds from wandering, turns them into active, reciprocal participants, engages them beyond listening.

At large or online events, which lack the intimacy of small seminars, there are a variety of online tools or classroom technologies that can be used to help enable this.

At LSE we use TurningPoint as our PRS (Personal Response System) or EVS (electronic voting system) – a software/ hardware combination that allows lots of participants (500+) to respond. Questions are created in PowerPoint (the software works as a plugin, and question slides are created as easily as PowerPoint slides), and students vote with little remote controls (officially called “response cards”, but everyone refers to them as clickers.) The LSE100 course uses this system extensively, and students are asked to borrow a clicker for the year from the library to bring to all their LSE100 lectures.

Main advantages: It’s easy to set up, has a great arsenal of question and activity slides, and students don’t need to own devices like laptops, smartphones or mobile phones. In those large lecture halls on campus that don’t have mobile phone reception, this is a very good solution.
Disadvantages: Unfortunately, the hardware we bought doesn’t allow free text entry, so any polling, surveying, feedback entreating must be done via multiple choice. And of course, the clickers themselves need to be remembered by the students, or worse, handed out and collected back before and after sessions, which is a bit of a fiddle. An alternative online tool is

Polleverywhere, the self-proclaimed “easiest way to gather live responses in any venue: conferences, presentations, classrooms, radio, tv, print — anywhere.” Polls are created online, and participants can vote for options/ send in free text answers by sms, twitter or web browser. The ££-free option limits each poll to 30 respondents (which is enough for many occasions) and doesn’t allow you to create any reports (you can download the results as a .csv file). Even the free option lets you download the poll as a PPT presentation slide.

Main advantages: simple set-up, remote participation (= anywhere!), no need for clickers, free- text answers, pleasant interface, £-free for 30, consistent URL for polls ( plus code per poll).
: costly if you need more respondents, no reports on the free option, limited to 3 poll types (multiple choice, free text, “goal poll”)

See below for a sample poll we created a while back (feel free to answer it, simply follow the instructions as per image below)

Build voting polls at Poll Everywhere

TwtPoll: there are countless online polling and survey tools.  TwtPoll is both – it allows you to create polls and surveys online and to distribute these quickly and easily via twitter and facebook, though you don’t need a twitter or facebook account to participate. The free option allows up to 400 respondents per poll and 100 per survey, they say they have 20+ question options, though it’s really only 9 basic types, some of which can be asked about a picture or a map, rather than text. The polls are easy to embed on a blog (see below) and surveys can be linked to, like this test survey (can you spot the mistake?).

Advantages: good choice of question types, combined polling and survey tool, large audience in free option, easily shared through social networks
Disadvantages: each poll has a different URL; participation possible only via twitter/ web browser.

There are lots more out there, but in the meantime, these three types of technologies should cover the basic needs of the feedback hungry.