Going to the Polls 2016 Conference


Polling technology has been on campus for a number of years in the form of clickers, and more recently the mobile version of polling has been piloted to allow students to use their own devices to vote. A conference was held in April 2016 to give colleagues from Birmingham and other institutions the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. A wide range of examples were on the agenda, from the flipped classroom to exams and academic engagement.

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On Wednesday 20 April 2016, over 50 staff from across the university met in the new Aston Webb lecture theatre and Student Hub to share their experiences of polling. The conference was a collaborative effort between Debbie Carter from EDEO and Paul Foxall from Library Services, with support from a number of other Academic Services staff. Colleagues from the University of Birmingham and a number of other institutions across the country gathered to hear the broad agenda, focussing on the different uses of polling and the associated pedagogy, rather than specific software tools. Ben Bailey, Acting Head of Academic Services, gave the opening address and emphasised the support within his division for enhancing the student experience and the role of technology in achieving this.

The keynote speaker, Dr Fabio Arico from The University of East Anglia, gave a stimulating insight into his work with polling. He is an advocate of experiential learning and engaging students to increase their confidence, and gave examples of how he uses polling within workshops and for peer instruction. Students are asked to rate their level of confidence with the answer they have selected. Fabio uses the data obtained from his sessions to reflect on the questions asked and to improve his teaching. He has had positive feedback from students and this has encouraged more staff to get on board with polling technology and benefit from the positive impact on teaching. 

Our first speaker from the University of Birmingham, Professor Prem Kumar, gave a fascinating account of his experiences with polling and some of the questions raised by colleagues who can be sceptical about trying new technology. Medicine has very large cohorts of students and Prem has used the flipped classroom approach to maximise the impact of his contact time with them. He emphasised that the academic needs to invest time in preparing material and should learn from student feedback on issues such as the difficulty of questions. The process is seen as exciting and interesting for students as they are thinking about and discussing the issues, and being active learners. Both Prem and Fabio discussed the impact of the TEF on teaching approaches and how learning gain will be a key part of this.

Bob Ridge-Stearn from Newman University explored their experience of using Quizdom clickers for exams. He highlighted the need to test the technology fully in advance of the exam, and to have an alternative arrangement in case of technical failure. The system marked the questions as they were answered and students were generally happy with this approach.  

Debbie Carter from EDEO used the opportunity to obtain feedback from staff on their use of polling. TurningPoint was used to collect this information, so voting took place via clickers and ResponseWare. Some interesting results came out of this session and it was good to hear a range of responses from different universities.

Dr Julian Lonbay from the School of Law described his approach to lecture flipping with a large cohort of students. He uses polling to test understanding and carry out peer learning. Feedback showed that students like polling, the interactivity it brings and it helped to engage with the teaching materials. Julian also liked the fact that polling allows everyone to respond, rather than verbally asking a question with only one or two responses.

Dr Tendai Dube from the University of Derby outlined a number of case studies and how they have utilised polling, such as video case studies in occupational therapy and exam preparation in the sciences. The Business department asked controversial questions, recapping at the end of a lecture and they also used polling with a partner university in Malaysia.

David Mathew from the University of Bedfordshire demonstrated Textwall, a tool for students to answer questions via text message, so taking advantage of their access to smart devices. This tool allowed students who may usually be shy or disengaged to participate and ask questions.

Finally, Annette Margolis from the Birmingham International Academy talked about her experiences with the polling tool Socrative. Her key interest was in academic engagement and how peer learning makes students more independent, particularly when she works with a lot of international students with different backgrounds. She shared the belief that it is an important part of the learning experience for students to discuss wrong answers and work out why they are wrong.

This event was a great opportunity to hear about a wide range of polling experiences and for colleagues to network and discuss their own examples. The event received a lot of positive feedback from delegates and it is hoped that the formation of the Polling User Group (PUG) will provide a forum for staff to make contact and share ideas both at Birmingham and beyond.

Find out more: twitter.com/PollingUsersPUG