Polling your audience with PollEverywhere - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Polling your audience with PollEverywhere

Polling your audience with PollEverywhere

I’m organising CILIP West Midlands Members’ Day and AGM 2011 at the moment, and during the day I’d like to take the opportunity to get people’s opinions on what the focus should be for the branch over the next 12 months. As marketing officer on the committee, I’d particularly like to find out what people’s needs and expectations of the branch are. What support would people like from the branch? What sort of events would they like us to run? Where in the region would they like events/networking opportunities? How would they like to communicate with the branch? It would also be good to get views on the discussions about the future of branches and groups (read Emma Illingworth’s blog post for an excellent overview of the recent meeting about this), though that may be a bit ambitious!

How to collect data?

So I have been thinking about how best to do this. I could just devise a brief paper questionnaire/survey for people to complete on the day, but that’s boring and would involve data entry and analysis for me after the event. An online survey would make the process a little easier for me, but many people wouldn’t be able to complete it on the day and some not at all. I could send email it out to delegates after the day and this seems to work well for feedback from events, but for fact finding whilst people are there I’d like something during the event itself.

What would be really great would be to get immediate feedback to shape our discussion and so that the committee could take actions away from the day. I think it also makes it more interesting for participants if they can see the data. But taking a simple hand vote can be difficult to manage, and some people may not want others knowing their response. I thought back to my information literacy sessions as a subject librarian, where I always wanted to use PRS (personal response systems), sometimes referred to as zappers. Regardless of what Phil and Jennie might think, these are nothing evil, they’re these things:

Turning Point PRS "zapper"

Turning Point PRS "zapper"

Using these has two immediate barriers; hardware and software. I wasn’t sure if the venue has either of these, so I emailed the committee asking if anyone could borrow a set from their workplace. I’ve tried my own workplace, but no luck there, and haven’t heard any of the committee having better luck. The software for some of these systems is free to download, but I’m not sure how licensing works so would need to check this out. Only a small sample of the branch members will be attending the event and this method wouldn’t enable others to join in (like remote followers), but it’s not rigorous scientific research so I wasn’t too concerned about that – we could always get an idea on the day and get other members opinions later through our blog or monthly email.

But then…

Whilst I was mulling all this over, I noticed a tweet from Emma (clearly a great source of information!) about her use of PollEverywhere in one of her recent information literacy classes. Now you know I’m a sucker for playing with new tools and technology, so I was intrigued to find out more about this.

Taken from the PollEverywhere website:

Poll Everywhere replaces expensive proprietary audience response hardware with standard web technology. It’s the easiest way to gather live responses in any venue: conferences, presentations, classrooms, radio, tv, print — anywhere. It can help you to raise money by letting people pledge via text messaging. And because it works internationally with texting, web, or Twitter, its simplicity and flexibility are earning rave reviews.

Sounds great doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too. And I’m pleased to say that after a bit of experimentation, I’m even more impressed with it. The basic idea is the same as PRS systems but responses can be collected in a number of different ways. I tested out SMS, mobile web, and Twitter submissions and all worked well and updated really quickly. Because it’s on the web, this also means that by sharing the details anyone can respond to the poll, not just those in the room. You can also keep it open for longer to give people chance to leave their responses after the event.

Questions can be set up in advance and you can download them into PowerPoint slides which show the details of the different voting options and also display live updates, very neat. It’s really easy to create polls and customise the settings – whether or not people can vote more than once, which methods they can use to vote etc. You can also set a message so that voters receive confirmation of their chosen vote (see screenshots below for the mobile web version from my iPhone):

PollEverywhere mobile web vote

PollEverywhere mobile web vote

Obviously, the main downside to the tool is that the audience need to have either a mobile phone or a web-enabled device and there may be some who do not have either, or who perhaps don’t want to spend money on a text message. The other downside is the limit to the number of responses. You can have up to 30 respondents for free, 50 for $15 a month, and other incremental costs for extra features and participants. There are options for educational use ($399 per semester), though it appears to need an account for each lecturer – there doesn’t seem to be an institutional deal.

I’m definitely hoping to use this during conferences and events, but Emma has already used it in her teaching and she has blogged about her experiences. Huge thanks to Emma for sharing this tool, I can’t wait to try it out. I also noticed this blog post about using a survey view to combine questions (e.g. for use on kiosks) – lots of useful applications for this tool.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this or similar tools for gathering feedback at events or in teaching sessions? Please let me know in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: EVENT PROMOTION! As marketing officer for CILIP West Midlands I can’t blog about this tool and not use the opportunity to shamelessly plug the event I’m organising. Since drafting this blog post I have visited the venue for the CILIP West Midlands event (Thompson Library at Staffordshire University, Stoke campus) and discovered that they do have some zappers so we may be able to borrow them. I’d like to test out PollEverywhere too though so I think I’ll probably try both out (always good to have backups in case one doesn’t work out!).

If you’d like to join us and see how my experimentation goes, you can find out more about the event at http://bit.ly/membersday and book a place using the booking form at http://bit.ly/bookmembersday. Hope to see some of you there!

  • Katie Fraser
    Posted at 08:49h, 05 March Reply

    We have zappers at work: learning how to use them properly in on my things-I’d-like-to-do list but I have co-taught a session which used them and seen them in action with a bunch of 6th form students. They’re effective and engaging but, like any tech, it’s crucial to know that they’re going to work ahead of time in the room that you’re using (especially when you’re entering the unpredictable world of the locked down HE lecture theatre).

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 13:29h, 05 March Reply

      Yes, can definitely relate to the locked down world of HE presentation PCs!

      I think I’m going to prepare all my questions on both systems and see which works best on the day. I’m also bearing in mind the point Emma raised that people do get a bit fed up of them so I’m not going to go overboard and try to keep the questions to a minimum necessary to get the information I want.

  • Colin Buchanan
    Posted at 11:53h, 04 July Reply

    Hi I was wondering if there was a way of knowing who had answered what, so say in a competition, once someone texted their answer, it would be logged against them?


    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 15:58h, 04 July Reply

      Hi Colin, thanks for the question – I agree that this could be a really useful application in certain situations. I’m afraid it’s not something I have used so I can’t comment on its effectiveness, but there is the capability to do this in PollEverywhere by registering users – see http://www.polleverywhere.com/faq#identify-voters

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