Using Polling as Assessment

June 29, 2012

I see interesting potential in doing quick pre- and/or post- polling in information literacy and other library classes.  With a pre-poll, you survey the students before you teach to understand what their preconceived notions are or what their search habits are.  In a post-poll, you can see which concepts you covered well, and which still involve some confusion.

Additionally, students can also see from the group response that they are not alone: often, many students are coming from the same place of assumptions and misinformation. 

Librarians can learn quickly which areas the students are struggling with, and what they are savvy with–after all, research has changed quite a bit in the past few years!

Polling programs seem to be all over the web, and are nothing new.  However, here are some options I would like to explore for classroom use at some point:

  • SurveyMonkey has been around awhile and is a good standby.  Easy to use and well-known, it can be well-suited to a long-term project.
  • PollDaddy
  • PollCode allows you to embed into a webpage
  • PollEverywhere allows for instantaneous feedback by using either the web or by text message

Even more important than doing the poll is constructing the poll correctly so that the questions really tell you what you want to know.  You don’t want questions to lead the respondent or be confusing, and you don’t want to ask too much in one question.  If you have ever seen the political polls where the question is something like: “Do you want to support education and our children?” then you know how questions can be quite leading (of course I want to support education AND children, but how that support is accomplished may be the real the question!)

Twelve Tips for Using an Audience Response System lays out how to avoid some of the pitfalls that can damage your poll.  I particularly like Tip #5, which is to make sure that you build time into the presentation for discussion.  Sometimes this is where you realize that the question you meant to ask was actually interpreted differently by your audience.  You can still learn from the responses, even if it wasn’t what you were thinking!

Engaging Students in the Age of Smartphones is also worth a read, and mentions some additional polling options.

Pre- and Post- surveys can have some of the same questions, or a combination of repeat and additional questions.  For example, I would ask this both pre- and post- poll:

Where is the best place to find a full-text article?
     a. Google
     b. Public library
     c. College library
     d. Magazine webpage

You may get different answers before and after your session (hopefully!) and that can show that the student learned something, or at least acknowledged that there may be better ways to find information than what they were using in the past.

With the post-poll, you will get the students’ personal opinion of what they feel helped the most.  This can help to see which areas cause the most anxiety, and where you can further target your sessions:

Post-Poll: Which part of this library class session was most valuable to you?
     a. Citation tools
     b. Article databases
     c. Web evaluation tips
     d. Library catalog

Short and simple is the best when it comes to both the poll and the questions. 

As librarians, we often have little time or opportunity toassess the effectiveness of our presentations to our students.  Because the point of the session is to introduce several information possibilities to make the students’ research lives fuller and more effective, we tend to try to fit in as much as possible, never really finding out if the students really need what you are teaching.  Maybe some students need more help with citation, or copyright, or how to ethically download images for use. Maybe they need to be introduced to just one type of database, or the website, so that time can be concentrated on other topics.  Without assessing your outcome, you never know if you are really reaching the information need.


2 Responses to “Using Polling as Assessment”

  1. Polling is an awesome tool for those who already have an audience…the challenge is finding an audience 🙂 maybe your next post?

    • infopromom said

      Hi Clayton! I would have a “captive” audience, because in my circumstance, it would be the students I am instructing. That is a good point, though–finding an audience is a challenge!

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