Visually Compelling, Instant Student Feedback: SRS on the Cheap



I spend a lot of time with computers and gadgets. I like them. But what gets me really enthused is when I find an ICT pencil that will do the job of a space pen (refer to earlier post on space pens and pencils). That makes it something that can be used by teachers anywhere, anytime at no, or very little cost.

This post is about one of the best pencils I’ve seen in a long time.


In 2004 i started looking at Student Response Systems (SRS), starting with the Promethean ActiVote. Like everything I do, this was not about the technology, it was about the teaching and learning.

I’d argue that good teachers have always sought feedback from their students in order to inform their teaching.  This feedback is sought  in a number of ways – from having students raise their hands, through informal quizzing right up to a full SRS.  The direction and pace of the lesson is then informed by that data – with everyone in the class feeling part-ownership in the path the class takes. That approach to teaching, has to be more effective than simply teaching what, to the teacher “seems like a good idea”. With a limited amount of class time, spending more time on things that are poorly understood, and less time on things that are well understood must lead to better outcomes (not to mention engagement).

The appeal of an SRS is that the teacher and students can get immediate, anonymous, visually compelling feedback that shows how well the class understands a concept, while the concept is being taught.  If students raise their hands, the feedback is immediate, but neither anonymous nor individual (whether or not a student raises his hand is likely to be influenced by the indications of his friends).  If students complete a quiz – even an anonymous one – the feedback is not instantaneous.  So an SRS allows us to achieve a quality of feedback that is not possible otherwise.


What stopped me investing in an SRS back in 2004 was the cost. The price tag is substantial.  A class set of  Promethean ActiVote carries a price tag of thousands of dollars. Others such as iRespond, or Qwizdom are also very expensive. I could have procured funding to purchase a set of these… but then what? I can hardly share that teaching strategy with colleagues, “Look what I can do! – You too could be teaching this way …. if you can find a spare $3000”.

So over the years I have tried a number of ways to achieve a similar result – getting instant feedback at low cost. Some of the systems I tried were OK – but none of them were Ideal.  probably the most successful was the survey tool built into SharePoint – but even that always seemed clumsy, required a lot of page-refreshing, and wasn’t very visually appealing.


Last year I became aware of a web 2.0 site called “polleverywhere” ( I would highly recommend its use as a free SRS. Last year I used it to have students vote on a response from their mobile phone (that is how most people use it, I think). Students say its like voting for a contestant on Australian Idol. Its quite engaging and the results appear on the website instantaneously as the votes come in. The downside, of course is that each vote costs each student the cost of an SMS. In my experience, that’s not a deal breaker for most students for one or two questions, but if you had ten questions, it will cost each student over $2. Its still a LOT cheaper than an SRS like Activote… but at $2 per student that is costing the class about $50 for a ten-question quiz!


BUT Polleverywhere also has the option to vote using a computer – ‘web voting’. That is what I have been doing this last two weeks. It has been a process of trial and failure – finally resulting in something that I’d label a success, that I will use again and again, and that I want to share with my colleagues.

I set up 10 questions in Polleverywhere (that is, ten ‘polls’) about enzymes.

I then created a new SharePoint site with nothing but ten XML webparts. If you don’t have SharePoint, you could use a wiki, or any other site that lets you embed XML code in the page.  I also tried it with Wikispaces and it worked fine.

Beside each poll on Polleveryhwere, there is a link “Embed in Blog or Web Page”. Clicking this gives you the XML code for that question. Copy that and paste it into the XML code Web Part in the SharePoint site.

To visualise the results fo the votes, you could simply display your Polleverywhere site on the data projector, But you can alternatively download a PowerPoint slide of each graph – or (as I did) download an OS X dashboard widget.  Either of these options adds a real fluidity to the flow of the lesson – negating the need to click back and forth, loading one page after another.

By displaying the PowerPoint slide or Dashboard widget on the data projector, the class can see the results graph as they are voting. Using the dashboard widget is quite neat, as it will show over the top of a PowerPoint or Keynote slide, so you can call up the poll at any time during your presentation. Alternatively, you can just bring up the widget, without needing to have PowerPoint in slideshow mode. That lets you use it with other applications on the screen – perhaps some simulation software, or a website.

Students log into the SharePoint site on their computer in class and as we get to each question, they click the option that they think is correct. The graph on the data projector responds by changing dynamically as the votes are entered. It is worth mentioning that there is NO need to refresh either screen at all during the lesson (which pleasantly surprised me).

Instant, Individual, anonymous, visually compelling class feedback!! – much as you can achieve with a $3000 SRS, but free.  OK, its not a space pen.  A dedicated SRS would be do the job better.  But this can be used by teachers right across the school.  To me that makes it a better option.

The screenshots below show a question, on which 75% of my class chose the wrong option.  As a result, we spent considerable time exploring that concept.  But skipped others on which 100% of the class chose the right option.


8 thoughts on “Visually Compelling, Instant Student Feedback: SRS on the Cheap

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  2. Great post! I’ve used Poll Everywhere lately and I think it is a viable replacement for the very expensive SRS systems that are currently on the market. I’d love to see cell phones used for this purpose, but that has not gone over particularly well when I share that idea with most educators I work with. Also – I’ve ran across a site called “Text the Mob” ( which is in beta at this point. It’s worth checking out – I like how it works although it is not as polished as Poll Everywhere.

  3. Im a big fan of Polleverywhere and have used for the occasional question here and there. Looking forward to trying it out with my VCE students in the coming weeks much the same way you have described here, however with the kids 1c text messages im sure they would be happy to use their phones. Im dieing to find an alternative that uses bluetooth to send in the responses, dont think it exists as yet

  4. That would be cool…. i haven’t seen that option either yet. I don’t think that 1c texts works with polleverywhere. (i stand to be corrected here) but i am pretty sure that only works when students on a Telstra pre-paid phone, text another Telstra pre-paid phone. (?) I think if you text to Polleverywhere you will pay the full SMS cost charged by your carrier to a non-telstra phone.

  5. Thanks Andrew! Your input has guided my teaching in many ways over the past 12 to 18 months. I just about have the SRS working. I have embedded the questions onto my Wikispace and am ready to trial with students. I can also see value in this technology for moving staff discussions on various issues. This would also enable staff to experience the technology. One frustration for me is that I would like to embed You Tube videos intop my Wikispaces as motivational reference for the quizzes I construct. However You Tube is blocked in our system. Any suggestions?

  6. I hope your students know how lucky they are. I’m taking this idea to my ICT class next week. I think my tutor will be VERY impressed. When I’m finished my degree I’d love to come and observe some of your classes, Douchy!!

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