Alternatives to Clickers

Engage your students with polls!

Nicole Marcisz, Instructional Designer, ID&T

Student response systems have a new look! Gone are the need for clickers that needed to be handed to each student and synced with a master controller. Clickers are now cloud-based and, better yet, free to use. This handout provides an overview to several polling tools that are easy to set up and use, and free for instructors and students. Consider their use in both ground-based and online course activities.

Common purposes for polling students

  1. Polling provides instructors with a gauge on whether students are “getting it” or not.
  2. Students get immediate feedback on whether they understand the material. Incorrect responses provide an opportunity to discover and understand the correct answer.
  3. Polling provides a “no pressure” method for non-graded self-assessment.
  4. Instructors can use pre-questions about perspectives and assumptions, then use post-questions to determine changes.
  5. Polling is ideal for spot questions during case studies and scenarios.

How to integrate polling into classroom activities

Create questions at the end of each topic to determine comprehension levels. Engage students with challenging application questions.

Ground-based: Use polling to spot check comprehension during lectures. You can also engage students with a case study. Split the class into teams and use polling to have teams apply key concepts in a problem solving situation.

Asynchronous online: At the end of each topic, create questions for self-assessment. Be sure to set up a closing date/time for the questions. Upon completion, share the responses with students in a discussion forum. Then encourage students to explain their responses. Instructors might also try a pre-poll and an exit poll for each week to measure changes in attitude and understanding.

Polling versus quizzing

Quizzes are usually between instructor and student, and typically a grade is involved. Polling, on the other hand, is open to the entire class. Using polling, everyone will see the class responses and discover how the class, as a whole, is doing.

Using instant polls, students may discover that they are not the only ones struggling with a concept. Instructors can provide extra attention to topics that are not well understood based on poll results. Use instant polls for those quick inquiries that quizzes are unable to capture.

Polling tools

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everyhere is a cloud-based tool, with both free and paid plans available. The basic plan is free and allows an unlimited number of polls with up to 40 votes per poll. The free plan includes live PowerPoint polling, web voting, widgets for embedding polls into websites, integration with Twitter, and downloadable results, among others.

To use Poll Everywhere, the instructor creates the question and opens it to students. Students then respond to the poll using Twitter, smart devices (phones or tablets) or a web browser with a provided link. Responses are then displayed live in PowerPoint.

Students get one vote per method. Responses are anonymous (you can’t see a name, IP address or a phone number of the response). Therefore, you will not be able to track specifically who has taken the poll or not.

Google Forms

Google Forms can also be used to create polling questions. As with the other tools featured, Google Forms is free to use. However, unlike Poll Everywhere, there are no limits on the number of responses or number of surveys and instructor creates. There is no advertising attached. Instructors enjoy responses in real time. Plus Google Forms is easy to use and is mobile friendly.

Here is an example of a Google Form poll.

Poll results can be displayed instantly during ground-based classes. Poll results in online courses can shared with students using colorful graphs and charts.



Socrative is a cloud-based polling solutions for use on laptops, smartphones and tablets. Socrative was originally designed for K-12 but is in common use in higher ed as well. Socrative is best used in ground-based rather than online classrooms. Socrative has both free and paid account options, with the free account limited to 50 responses. It’s available for the most popular operating systems including Apple, Android, Windows and Kindle devices.

Socrative is supported by several online tutorials and user guides.