Mobile devices and classroom interactivity

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The big question

Can mobile devices make in-class lectures more interactive?


The vast majority of students in all classes in higher education own some sort of mobile device, either a phone, a tablet, or both, and carry them religiously. Are there ways these mobile devices can be used in the classroom to make the lecture and any in-class work more interactive? Can mobile technology be used to engage the students in ways that increase critical thinking and ownership of the learning process?

Goals and objectives

Test the use of mobile technology as a means to increased interactivity

  • Identify mobile technologies that have the potential of impacting interactivity in the classroom
  • Test each technology in a classroom setting

Generate a list of mobile tech that effectively increase interactivity

  • Review each of the tools identified through the first goal for their effectiveness
  • Document each of the tools and how well they worked

Piloting the idea

This is a bit of a wide-open topic for a single research question. There are as many ways to utilize mobile devices for promoting interactivity as the creative mind can conjure. Here is one we addressed directly in this project:

Audience polling

There are several benefits to using audience polling in the classroom.

  • All students have an equal voice, regardless of if they are introverted, need a little more time to formulate their answers, or just wouldn't normally be willing to speak up.
  • Once you ask a student to predict the outcome of a demonstration or experiment, they have ownership in their response and want to know if they are correct.
  • Gauging comprehension of in-class work, readings, homework, ... without a high-stakes quiz.
  • Taking attendance, sometimes through an attendance module in the polling package and other times with low-stakes quizzing.
  • Having the students actively think and answer a question will restart the thinking process and the attention span.

Like most innovations, audience polling was adopted enthusiastically by some faculty and less so by others. The faculty that embraced polling found several ways to include it in their coursework.

  • Gauging understanding and comprehension to guide just-in-time teaching
  • Verifying that readings were done
  • Entry and exit tickets
  • Collecting opinions
  • Taking attendance

Most polling packages are web based and allow for responding from any mobile device and optionally laptops. (There was one exception to this model that was tested. It is described below.) Students respond through an application on their mobile device or through a text message.


The following schools are contributors to this pilot:

  • Winona State University


Audience polling

Most polling packages offer some form of free version, often limited in feature content or in class size (number of respondents to the poll). Notes below indicate whether the free or paid version of the software was used in the pilot.

The following polling packages were tested as part of this effort:

Top Hat - (paid version)

Top Hat is a strong polling package. Prior releases had a lot of features that are very desirable, such as an attendance tool, a wide range of question types, and integration with Brightspace. The most recent release includes several other features that filled in some missing parts, including integration into presentation applications like Powerpoint. We ultimately moved on as Top Hat was too expensive.


  • Easy to use
  • Integrates with Brightspace grade book
  • Pulls class list from Brightspace
  • Includes attendance tool


  • Expensive
  • Requires Internet access
  • Requires invitation to course and account setup by poll takers prior to participation

More information on Top Hat is available at

Plickers - (free version)

The user prints off the Plickers cards, two per page. Cut the sheets in half and you are ready to poll.

Plickers is unique to this project in that is it only application tested that does not require Internet access. Plickers uses printed cards (available on the Plickers web site) and one mobile device. Each card in the set is unique and, depending on which direction the card is turned, the student has the option to vote A, B, C, or D. The lone mobile device is used by the teacher to scan the crowd and capture all responses. Plickers builds a graph of the results which can optionally be projected to the screen.


  • Does not require poll participants to have mobile devices, only poll taker
  • Does not require Internet access
  • Does not require enrollment in course to participate in the polls
  • Very easy to use


  • Does not integrate with Brightspace
  • Must print off cards before class
  • Multiple choice and true/false questions only.

More information on Plickers is available at

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is being investigated during the 2017-2018 school year, so a lot of details are not available.


  • Integrates well with presentation software
  • Easy to use
  • Does not require enrollment in course to participate in the polls


  • Does not integrate with Brightspace
  • Requires Internet access

More information on Poll Everywhere is available at

Assessment vehicle

Experiences and reactions were collected through interviews and conversations. Notes and transcripts were taken and analyzed for thematic content.

Recommendations and observations

Audience polling

Winona State selected TopHat as the go-to polling tool. It was promoted across campus with some departments embracing the technology. Unfortunately, TopHat raised its introductory price to a level that was not viable during budget reductions and the product was dropped.

Then came the pandemic and nearly the entire university moved to Zoom. There is a polling tool within Zoom that proved to be useful, but the was not way to assess responses or easily port the results of the assessment into Brightspace.

WSU is now looking for other less-expensive alternatives.

Tell us your story

  • Do you have experience with using mobile devices to impact interactivity in the classroom?
  • Did something in this article help you make a decision about your curriculum or cause you to try something new?
  • Do you have questions about this project or the results?

Please share any experience, reactions, or questions with us so we can add to the content of this article and make it more relevant for the next person. Email your input to and we will add it to this article. Thanks.

More information

Want more information on the McLAB or have an idea you would like to pursue? Contact Norb Thomes at (507) 457-5043 or

Overview of the McLAB

Read the full overview of the Mobile Computing Laboratory project.

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