Benefits of an Audience Response System based on Polls with Mobile

Phones in Engineering Education

L. Mediero

1a

, A. Lastra

1,2 b

and J. H. García Palacios

1c

1

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Department of Civil Engineering, Hydraulics, Energy and Environment,

ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos, Profesor Aranguren, 3, 28040, Madrid, Spain

2

Canal de Isabel II. Research, Development and Innovation Department, Calle Santa Engracia 125, 28003, Madrid, Spain

Keywords: Audience Response System, Electronic Voting, Poll Everywhere, Civil Engineering, Smartphones.

Abstract: Traditional teaching techniques based on either chalk and board or PowerPoint are usual in civil engineering

schools, fostering a passive behaviour in students. Active learning techniques based on audience response

systems can overcome such passivity. Currently, most undergraduates and postgraduates own a smartphone.

Therefore, lectures based on polls with smartphones can help to improve student learning. This study presents

the benefits of a lecture based on an audience response system compared with a traditional teaching technique.

A poll related to smartphone-use was applied to a lecture in hydraulics delivered in a civil engineering school

to solve a complex open-channel flow problem. The results showed that student learning and understanding

about the procedure to perform the exercise correctly improved highly by means of active learning activity.

The number of students that failed a similar exercise after the class halved because of the mobile-based poll.

In addition, the student satisfaction survey highlighted that the activity led to a more active class. The survey

also found that most of the students felt that the activity is interesting and useful to understand how to address

such exercises.

1 INTRODUCTION

In engineering schools, traditional teaching methods

based on one-way techniques to communicate with

students are usual, through either standard lectures or

PowerPoint presentations (Lim, 2017). By using such

techniques, students obtain information from the

instructor inactively, as the instructor talks and the

students listen to her or him passively. Traditional

teaching does not allow the instructor to know if the

students have understood the lecture content, mainly

in large groups in which students are not motivated to

participate in class.

In contrast, active learning methods that engage

students in the learning process have been proven to

be more effective (Prince, 2004; Barros et al., 2016;

Lima et al., 2017; Christie and Graaf, 2017). Active

learning techniques include activities developed in

the classroom that engage students in the learning

process actively. Furthermore, active learning

a

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9346-6592

b

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2220-7913

c

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4336-5520

promotes the capacity for lifelong learning in

students, required to succeed in contemporary

society, as lifelong learners are curious, motivated,

reflective, analytical, persistent, flexible, and

independent (Lord et al., 2012).

An active learning technique entails classroom

response systems (CRS) that are a set of combinations

of hardware and software to support an active

communication in classes (Beatty, 2004; Fang, 2009).

CRSs can be classified into audience response

systems (ARSs), voting machines, wireless keypad

response systems, classroom communication systems

and electronic response systems (Fies and Marshall,

2006). In the past, ARSs were based on clickers or

small wireless hand held devices. Several studies

found that clickers improve student attendance and

increase their active participation in classroom

(Kenwright, 2009; Yourstone et al., 2008). Such

clickers allow instructors to engage students in class

and class surveys have shown that students enjoy

Mediero, L., Lastra, A. and Palacios, J.

Beneﬁts of an Audience Response System based on Polls with Mobile Phones in Engineering Education.

DOI: 10.5220/0010433403070314

In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2021) - Volume 1, pages 307-314

ISBN: 978-989-758-502-9

Copyright

c

2021 by SCITEPRESS – Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved

307

clickers (Martyn, 2007). In addition, ARSs are

suitable in implementing active learning activities in

large groups, in which students are not motivated to

answer questions in class and lecturers cannot obtain

any feedback (Caldwell, 2007; Ayu et al., 2009).

ARSs have been implemented previously in several

engineering courses (Silliman and McWilliams,

2004; Petr, 2005). ARSs are generally well-perceived

by teachers and students in all the disciplines

(Herrada et al., 2020).

Recently, clicker costs have been reduced by

following the bring-your-own-device (BYOD)

system that promotes the use of devices that students

own (Sundgren, 2017; Hung, 2016). Nowadays, most

higher education students own a smartphone that can

be used for educational purposes (Florenthal, 2019).

In addition, most classrooms at higher education

schools have a personal computer and a projector.

Consequently, the application of ARSs to higher

education has become a cost-free activity, as no

devices or clickers have to be acquired to implement

such methods, the responses can be sent through a

web browser in a smartphone and the results can be

displayed in classrooms.

Universities have shown great expectation about

rethinking educational strategies with mobile phones

(Kadry and Roufayel, 2017; Barreiro-Gen, 2020). An

effective ARS can be developed by combining

student smartphones and a polling website (Wong,

2016). Mobile-based polling (MBP) techniques

increase student engagement in class in three levels:

behaviourally, emotionally, and cognitively (Noel et

al., 2015). MBP helps students to identify their

weaknesses and strengths, as well as increase class

attendance (Voelkel and Bennet, 2014). In addition,

brainwave data have shown that attention increases in

polling activities compared with traditional teaching

techniques (Sun, 2014). The main strengths of MBP

systems involve anonymity, knowledge acquisition,

interactivity, immediate feedback, usefulness, ease of

use and motivation to participate (Florenthal, 2018).

Furthermore, results can be displayed in real time in

the classroom, if a computer and a projector are

available, thus promoting discussion with students.

The instructor can detect questions that have not been

understood by students, improving the feedback

obtained by traditional teaching techniques.

Polling techniques have been applied previously

in higher education engineering schools (Sánchez-

Carracedo et al., 2018; Villanueva et al., 2017).

Several applications are available to implement MBP

systems in class, such as Poll Everywhere, Kahoot,

Socrative and Mentimeter, among others. In this

study, Poll Everywhere is used. This paper presents

an ARS with a MBP technique by using Poll

Everywhere, in order to implement an active learning

activity on the Hydraulic and Hydrology module

taught at the Civil Engineering School of the

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. A complex open-

channel flow problem was summarised through a set

of questions in Poll Everywhere to avoid the long

numerical calculations required to perform the

exercise, focusing on the theoretical aspects that

students have to understand to solve correctly such

kinds of problems. A gamification-based approach

was used to solve the exercise step by step.

This paper is organised as follows. Section 2

presents the methodology, including a summary of

the subject, students and groups selected to assess the

proposed activity, the description of the Poll

Everywhere software and the specific activities

proposed to assess the benefits of the MBP. In Section

3, the results of the activities are shown and

discussed. Section 4 discusses the results. Lastly,

Section 5 summarises the main conclusions.

2 METHODOLOGY

In this section, first, the subject, groups and problem

selected to assess the active learning activity are

presented. Second, the Poll Everywhere software is

described. Third, a short exercise similar to the

problem explained to students in class used to assess

student learning is presented. Lastly, the satisfaction

survey is shown in detail.

2.1 Subject, Groups and Problem

The MBP system was implemented in an

undergraduate module taught in the third year of the

civil engineering degree at the Universidad

Politécnica de Madrid, in hydraulic and hydrology.

More specifically, it is taught in the first semester of

the third year. The syllabus of the subject in

hydraulics includes hydrostatics, flow in close

conduits, hydraulic pumps and open-channel flow. In

hydrology, it includes statistical hydrology, the

rational method, the curve number method, unit

hydrographs and stream channel routing.

The subject had 136 students enrolled in the

academic year 2019-2020. The students are split into

two groups with around 60 students in each one at the

beginning of the academic year. Consequently, they

can be considered large groups collected randomly.

In order to assess the benefits of the proposed

MBP system, different teaching techniques were

applied to each group. In Group A, the MBP method

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based on Poll Everywhere was applied (Figure 1). In

addition, the chalk-and-board methodology was used

for clarifying learning flaws detected in questions

answered incorrectly. In Group B, a traditional

teaching method based on board and chalk was used.

Figure 1: Lecture with an MBP method by using Poll

Everywhere.

A problem similar to those included in the

problem-solving exam that is set at the end of the

course to evaluate student learning in the subject was

selected. The selected exercise belonged to the open-

channel flow part of the subject syllabus. It consisted

of a 10-m width channel with a descending step of

50 cm in subcritical flow. Students usually encounter

difficulties in understanding how to solve this type of

problem, as they have to combine the theoretical

hydraulic concepts taught previously regarding

steady and gradually varied flow, specific-energy

curves and hydraulic jumps. In addition, long

calculations based on iterative methods are required.

An MBP system is proposed to improve student

learning about the theoretical reasoning required to

solve the problem. The MBP system avoids the long

calculations required, focusing on understanding the

theoretical concepts needed to solve it.

The same exercise was taught in both groups,

Group A with the MBP system and Group B with a

traditional chalk-and-board class. At the end of both

MBP and traditional chalk-and-board classes, a short

exercise analogous to that explained in class was set

to evaluate if students understood the lecture.

2.2 Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is online MBP software that can

collect student answers either named or anonymous

by using an electronic device such as a smartphone.

Poll Everywhere is suitable software to apply the

BYOD system to a higher education class. The

instructor previously shapes the poll by using a

sequence of questions. The questions can be

true/false, multiple choice, open-ended and numeric

(Shon and Smith, 2011). In class, the students can

access the poll questions through the website

pollev.com by using the poll name given by the

instructors. Students do not need to install any

application on their smartphones. The responses can

be collected anonymously.

Students have a given time to answer each

question. If a computer and projector are available,

the results can be displayed through the Poll

Everywhere website in real time, showing the answer

histogram. After the given time, the question is

closed. Then, a discussion about the results can be

opened. Instructors can detect student weaknesses in

the response histogram, mainly if an incorrect

response shows a high probability of answers. The

discussion can be focused on the parts of the problem

in which students have had more difficulties.

In this case, the MBP problem was presented as a

collaborative game with a series of levels. Each level

corresponded to a multiple choice question with only

one correct answer. Each question included all the

information required to select the correct answer,

avoiding any long calculation. For instance, given the

critical and uniform flow depth values, the student

had to identify the type of slope, either mild or steep.

Students were allowed to discuss answers only with

his or her neighbour.

The problem solution advances depending on the

most voted answer. Consequently, if a wrong answer

is the most voted in a given level, it opens a way that

leads to the wrong solution. The problem moves until

the students realise that it is the incorrect way.

2.3 Short Exercise to Evaluate Student

Learning

At the end of both the MBP class in Group A and the

traditional board-and-chalk class in Group B, a short

exercise similar to the problem explained previously

was passed in order to evaluate student learning and

the effectiveness of each methodology regarding

student understanding about how to solve the

problem. In addition, the short exercise aimed to

assess if students were able to solve the problem

individually by using what they had learned in class.

In this case, the short exercise consisted of a 6-m

width channel (instead of 10 m) with a descending

step of 40 cm (instead of 50 cm) in subcritical flow.

The students had to obtain the profile of the water

level, identifying the location of the hydraulic jump.

They had around 10 minutes to do the short exercise.

All the required values of uniform and critical water

Beneﬁts of an Audience Response System based on Polls with Mobile Phones in Engineering Education

309

depths, specific energy in uniform and critical flows

and conjugate water depth of the uniform water depth

were supplied. In addition, the specific-energy curve

for the given channel width was supplied to obtain

additional required water depths qualitatively without

calculations. Students had to draw the water profile in

the open channel, instead of answering questions

similar to the proposed in either the MBP-based or

chalk-and-board classes.

2.4 Student Satisfaction Survey

Lastly, at the end of the MBP problem in Group A, a

student satisfaction survey was conducted, in order to

obtain the feedback of students engaged in the active

learning activity. The satisfaction survey included the

following questions:

‒ Q1: Has the voting-based activity been

interesting for you?

‒ Q2: Has the voting-based activity been

useful for you?

‒ Q3: Has the voting-based activity improved

your motivation in this part of the subject?

‒ Q4: Has the voting-based activity improved

your active participation in class?

‒ Q5: Do you consider that the voting-based

activity allows a more active class?

‒ Q6: Has the voting-based activity improved

my attention and concentration in class?

Each question had five answers: (i) much; (ii)

rather; (iii) indifferent; (iv) little; and (v) nothing.

3 RESULTS

The MBP activity with Poll Everywhere was applied

to Group A and 32 students attended the class and

participated in the poll. In Group B, 43 students

attended the chalk-and-board lecture. Students in

Group A did not know that the lecture would involve

an active-learning activity based on a polling with

smartphones, to avoid some students from Group B

moving to Group A to attend such a lecture.

In this section, first the results of the short exercise

passed at the end of the class to evaluate student

learning are presented and, second, the results of the

satisfaction survey are discussed.

3.1 A Short Exercise to Evaluate

Student Learning

A short exercise was set at the end of the class in both

groups, to assess the improvement of the MBP lecture

compared with the traditional chalk-and-board

lecture, in terms of student learning after the lecture

and skill to solve the problem. Figure 2 shows the

histogram of marks in the short exercise for each

group. Marks can range from zero to 10. In Group A,

65.6 % of students obtained a mark of 10. However,

in Group B, a smaller proportion of students did so

perfectly (48.8 %). In Group A, two out of three

students obtained the highest mark.

Figure 2: Marks in the short exercise passed at the end of

the class: a) Group A; b) Group B.

In Group A, 15.6 % of students had a mark below

five and failed the short exercise. In Group B, a larger

number of students failed the exercise, doubling the

figure obtained in Group A to 30.2 %.

Consequently, the active learning activity with an

MBP improved student learning in the lecture, as well

as understanding of the problem. A lecture based on

polls with smartphones led to a higher probability of

students with the highest mark, solving the problem

perfectly, as well as a lower probability of students

that had a mark below five. Students in Group A

understood better how to solve the problem, applying

the theoretical reasoning correctly.

Table 1 shows the main statistics of the marks in

the short exercise passed at the end of the class. It can

be seen that Group A has both mean and median

values greater than in Group B. The median value in

Group A is 10. This means that more than half of the

students obtained a mark of 10. The median value in

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Group B is eight, two points smaller than in Group A.

In addition, Group A had a mean value 1.20 points

larger than Group B. The mean and median values

pointed to an improvement in the problem

understanding and student learning thanks to MBP

methodology proposed.

Table 1: Main statistics of the marks in the short exercise

passed at the end of the class.

Statistics Group A Group B

Mean 8.41 7.21

Median 10 8

Standard deviation 2.61 3.27

Coefficient of variation 0.31 0.45

Regarding the variability in marks, Group A

showed smaller values of both the standard deviation

and coefficient of variation statistics than Group B,

indicating that the MBP technique homogenises

student skills to solve the exercise, compared with a

traditional lecture based on chalk and board.

Summarising, the lecture with an active learning

activity following an MBP improved student learning

and problem understanding, leading to a higher

proportion of students with the highest mark and a

larger mean value in marks. In addition, the MBP

lecture homogenises the student skills to solve the

exercise, smoothing the differences among students

observed after a traditional chalk-and-board class.

The differences between groups in terms of

student learning and problem understanding could be

attributed to both students and the instructor. The

polls with smartphones fostered student attention in

class. Consequently, the students realised their

weaknesses through the answer histogram displayed

in real time in class. In addition, they realised their

mistakes compared with their classmates, motivating

them to improve their learning. In a traditional chalk-

and-board class, students cannot be aware of their

weaknesses. In addition, students cannot compare

their learning level with their classmates, as

traditional teaching methods promote a passive

behaviour in students. In a chalk-and-board class,

most of students devote their time to copy what is

written in the board.

In addition, in an MBP lecture, the instructor

could become aware of the usual student mistakes, as

well as the aspects that have not been understood

correctly by them. The answer histogram shows such

weaknesses in the wrong answers answered with a

considerable probability. Consequently, the instructor

can use the class time between sequent questions to

clarify the theoretical concepts not understood

correctly by the students, avoiding wasting time to

explain concepts that students know perfectly. In a

traditional chalk-and-board class, the instructor

hardly obtains feedback from their students and

cannot detect their weaknesses. In this case, the

lecture is prepared in advance to cover the time of the

class with a low flexibility to adapt and spend more

time in the parts of the problem in which a given

group has more problems, as the instructor cannot

know such information. In addition, most of students

do not realise their weaknesses until they study their

notes at home some time after the end of the class.

3.2 Student Satisfaction Survey

At the end of the Group A class, delivered with the

MBP system, a survey was conducted by using Poll

Everywhere. The survey consisted of six questions

about interest, usefulness, motivation, active

participation, active class, and attention and

concentration. The full questions are included in

Section 2.4. The responses were collected

anonymously. Figure 3 shows the answer histogram

for each question. 28 students responded the student

satisfaction survey out of the 32 students that attended

the lecture and participated in the poll.

Most of the students that responded to the survey

agreed that the lecture based on polls with

smartphones was either very or rather interesting,

85.71 %, for them, 42.86 % answered that it was very

interesting and 42.86 % rather interesting. Only

14.29 % of students answered that the lecture was

indifferent for them. Therefore, students showed a

high interest in the class. Maybe such interest was

intensified because civil engineering students are

used to classes based on traditional techniques.

The responses about the usefulness of the lecture

were similar to the previous question: 85.71 %

responded that the lecture was either very or rather

useful for them; 10.71 % of students felt indifferent

and 3.57 % thought that the usefulness of the active

learning activity was low. Apart from the interest of

students in the activity, maybe intensified by its

novelty, the students felt that the lecture was useful

for improving their learning, clarifying the problem

understanding. This result is crucial for the activity

assessment, as the teaching methodology was

changed and aimed to improve the lecture usefulness

for students.

Beneﬁts of an Audience Response System based on Polls with Mobile Phones in Engineering Education

311

Figure 3: Results of the student satisfaction survey

conducted after the MBP lecture in Group A regarding

interest, usefulness and motivation. In x axis, the numbers

indicate the satisfaction grade: 1 – Nothing; 2 – Little;

3 – Indifferent; 4 – Rather; 5 – Much.

In terms of motivation, the answers were more

spread. Of the students, 60.71% felt that the lecture

based on an MBP system improved their motivation

in the part of the subject devoted to open-channel

flow. However, 39.29 % of students thought the

contrary. Consequently, the active learning activity

did not foster the motivation in the subject in one out

of three students. It should be highlighted that 7.14 %

of students felt that the activity did not improve their

motivation at all.

The MBP activity improved the active

participation in 64.29 % of students, though 32.14 %

of students felt indifferent about such improvement.

However, 96.43 % of students agreed that the active

learning activity allows a more active class either

much or rather. Only 3.57 % of students felt

indifferent compared with a class based on a

traditional technique. Consequently, almost all the

students agreed that an MBP activity led to a more

active class compared to traditional teaching.

However, only two out of three felt that the activity

has improved their active participation in class. The

proposed activity improves the passivity of traditional

techniques, though some improvements are required

to foster the active participation of students in class.

Figure 4: Results of the student satisfaction survey

conducted after the MBP lecture in Group A regarding

active participation, active class, and attention and

concentration. In x axis, the numbers indicate the

satisfaction grade: 1 – Nothing; 2 – Little; 3 – Indifferent; 4

– Rather; 5 – Much.

Lastly, 67.86 % of students felt that the MBP

lecture improved their attention and concentration.

However, 32.14 % of students felt indifferent in this

aspect.

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312

Table 2 shows the main statistics that summarise

the answers in each question. The highest mean value

is obtained in Q5 regarding the lecture improvement

in terms of an active class. Consequently, students

highlight that the proposed activity leads to a more

active class. Q1 and Q2 also obtain mean values

greater than four, pointing to the interest and

usefulness of the activity. Q3 shows the lowest mean

value, indicating that the MBP lecture can be

improved to stimulate the student motivation in this

part of the subject.

Table 2: Main statistics summarising the student impression

about the MBP polling passed at the end of the class in

Group A.

Number of

responses

Mean

Standard

deviation

Q1

28 4.29 0.713

Q2

28 4.25 0.799

Q3

28 3.61 1.066

Q4

28 3.89 0.875

Q5

28 4.5 0.577

Q6

28 3.89 0.737

4 DISCUSSION

The student satisfaction survey conducted at the end

of the class showed that students highlighted that the

activity led to a more active class, compared with

either chalk-and-board or PowerPoint-based classes

that are usual in civil engineering schools. The survey

also found that most of the students felt that the

activity was interesting and useful to understand how

to solve open-channel flow problems. The novelty of

the active learning activity in civil engineering

schools could intensify student interest in it.

However, the usefulness of the lecture based on

polling with smartphones was emphasised by

students regardless of its novelty.

The results of the short exercise at the end of the

class showed that while two out three students

obtained a mark of 10 after the active learning

activity, less than a half obtained such mark after the

chalk-and-board class. In addition, the number of

students that failed the short exercise after the

traditional teaching class doubled the number that

failed such exercise after the lecture based on polling

with smartphones. Consequently, the active learning

activity with smartphones improved the student

learning in the lecture, as well as the understanding of

the theoretical reasoning required to solve the

problem.

5 CONCLUSIONS

The results of an active learning activity entailing an

audience response system with a smartphone-based

poll have been presented. The activity used the

software Poll Everywhere. The teaching

methodology was applied to a lecture on the

Hydraulic and Hydrology module taught at the Civil

Engineering School of the Universidad Politécnica de

Madrid. An open-channel flow problem similar to

those included in the problem-solving exam that is set

up to evaluate student learning at the end of the

subject was selected to assess the technique.

The passivity of traditional teaching was

overcome through a lecture based on electronic

voting. Students highlighted that the new activity led

to a more active class and was interesting and useful.

Student learning and the skill required to solve the

problem were assessed by using a short exercise at the

end of the class in which students had to apply the

aspects learnt in the lecture in both groups. The

results showed that the activity with smartphones

improved the student learning. However, the poll was

passed in only one class. Therefore, the new

technique should be applied in the future to more

classes to validate such results.

The differences between the two teaching

methodologies were attributed to both students and

the instructor. Students can become aware of their

weaknesses and compare themselves with their

classmates through the answer histograms displayed

in real time in class, overcoming the passive

behaviour of students in traditional chalk-and-board

classes. The instructor can become aware of student

mistakes by inspecting incorrect answers, using the

class time between polls to clarify the theoretical

concepts that have not been understood correctly by

students. In a traditional class, the instructor hardly

obtains some feedback from their students.

In addition, some improvements in the proposed

teaching methodology could be carried out to increase

the active participation of students in class, as well as

their motivation in this part of the subject.

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