UCLA’s Office of Information Technology has released the Online Polling Tool, a web-based polling tool that’s accessible through computers and mobile devices, to receive and display responses from students in real time as they sit in their classrooms. The tool is free to the UCLA community of faculty, students and staff, and is also available for free pilots UC-wide.
Two UCLA faculty members in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, Veronica Santos and Gershon Weltman, were early adopters of OPT and shared their experiences in a Q&A.
Santos, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, used clickers and polling tools during her teaching career, but struggled to find a polling system that was both functional and affordable for her course “Dynamics of Particles and Rigid Bodies.” She worked closely with OIT staff to help develop the tool's functions.
Gershon Weltman, a lecturer in the engineering school, was introduced to clickers when he visited a lecture at UC Berkeley, sparking his interest in the use of polling systems for his large “Engineering and Society” course, which covers a range of ethical, societal and technological issues.
How were you introduced to OPT?
Santos: "Going back a few years, I was teaching at Arizona State University. I used clickers from 2010-2014 for two courses. I had a good experience there, and it was fortunate that the department had invested in clickers.
At UCLA, the Engineering IT folks at SEASnet were nice enough to poll faculty and ask, ‘Are you interested in using clickers if we provide them for you?’ At the end of Spring 2015, I learned of the Online Polling Tool and I thought, ‘This has got to be the solution.’ It’s homegrown, and the staff have been working closely with me to set up the system, so it’s functional and useful for faculty."
Weltman: “I never have [used other polling tools], but when I was visiting my granddaughter at UC Berkeley and I saw Robert Reich, the former U.S. secretary of labor, give a lecture to 700 students and use an online polling device with clickers, I was very impressed by the way he was able to elicit feedback from that many students at once. I started looking for some way of doing that in my classes. When I learned of this online tool, it turned out to be very useful and successful.”
How do you incorporate the tool into your course?
Santos: “Over the course of one quarter, I have 50 clicker questions, so two or three per lecture. When I was trying to summarize all the data at the end of the course, such as how many extra credit points to assign, I did a lot of work on the backend. I manually tied student names to Bruin IDs and assigned points to correct questions. None of that really existed when I started working with OPT, but these were features that commercially available systems have. Now OPT has their database linked up with the registrar, so I don’t have to match names with IDs. They’ve developed ways for me to specify correct answers, and it’s easy for me to synthesize the multiple-choice answers. Other professors are using the system for open-ended questions.”
Weltman: “I set up polls beforehand in parts of my lecture where I usually ask students to raise their hand to give their opinion. I provide them with questions on the poll and give them feedback immediately. I usually ask one person to present their answer to the poll. I find this is much more effective. When I ask students to raise their hands, I usually don’t get near 100% response. With OPT, I get close to 100% response. It works both ways — it helps me get a sense of how they feel about particular issues and gives students [that support] a particular position the knowledge that other students feel the same way.”
What do you think are the benefits of using OPT?
Santos: “The majority of my students really like OPT. It keeps them awake and focused, and some students have said it’s fun and provides a reason for in-class interactions between professors and students, and also between students. With clicker questions, I’m able to pose questions and walk among students and help them out. I get to meet the students and talk to them outside of office hours.
If students aren’t responding during class, I have no idea if I should move on or go back and reiterate concepts. By quizzing them in a non-intimidating way, it sometimes surprises them that others are as confused about a concept. It really is important for instructors to have a way of gauging understanding in real time.”
Weltman: “The amount of participation. Students are much more willing to vote on mobile devices than raise their hand. Also, it gives precise and sometimes surprising information. A point of view that you might not think has much support actually has a reasonable amount of support. For example, I asked: ‘If you could choose your children’s characteristics before they were born, would you do it?’ And one-third of my last class said yes, they would use that technology. It was more than I thought would respond that way, particularly in a class of 150 students.”
OPT is available to all UCLA faculty, staff and students. For a demo or more information, contact Rose Rocchio at firstname.lastname@example.org. All UCLA faculty and staff are automatically granted poll-creating permissions. Log-in today and make your courses, meetings and speaking engagements more interactive. OPT works on all devices that have a browser.
The system features: full-course roster integration for all UCLA faculty, six different types of questions, tablet- and mobile device-friendly, easy-to-use poll creation interface, and poll cloning for easy-to-use poll replication.
The OPT Team is conducting pilots with UC faculty who want to try OPT in their courses. Work is also being done to configure OPT as a Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) tool for use within the pilot campus’s Learning Management System. Non-UCLA faculty members interested in piloting OPT in their classroom should email email@example.com.