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Virginia Journal of Education


Using Interactive Data

by Willy Kjellstrom and Glen Bull

Electronic systems have made it fast and convenient to quickly acquire data. For example, a tool such as SurveyMonkey ( allows anyone to create a Web survey. Web survey tools can allow teachers to conveniently acquire feedback from a class about a lesson using both multiple choice and open-ended questions. Because the information is in electronic format, it can be quickly aggregated, summarized and charted.

Classroom response systems are a specialized version of survey tools. Small handheld units (i.e., remote controls) allow students to instantly respond to questions in class. The teacher can create questions for lessons in advance. Commercial systems provide banks of pre-designed questions that can be used for interactive games and quizzes.

The benefits of these systems are evident. They allow teachers to receive immediate feedback on taught objectives in graphical formats that enable them to differentiate lessons based on students’ responses. Incorporating student responses can increase engagement and ensure that all students participate.

Some of the more widely used commercial systems include Qwizdon, iClicker, eInstruction and Renaissance Learning. SMART Technologies and Promethean also market response systems that are designed to support their interactive whiteboards. Depending on the number of features, the cost of a classroom set of student response systems can range from $500 to $5,000.

A new class of survey instruments is now emerging that combines features of Web surveys and dedicated student response systems. Sites such as Poll Everywhere ( allow educators to quickly create both multiple choice and open-ended questions. In place of dedicated student response systems, teachers can allow students to use a variety of methods to respond – via the Web, Twitter or through SMS text messages. A classroom set of laptop computers, netbooks, handheld devices such as iPod Touches, or even cell phones (or any combination) can be used as a response system.

Poll Everywhere results instantly appear on a graphical display as students respond. The results can also be embedded in a PowerPoint presentation or downloaded to a spreadsheet. Because Poll Everywhere is Internet-based, the option of acquiring data from respondents who are not physically present is a possibility.

A free Poll Anywhere K-12 account allows users to create an unlimited number of questions with a class of up to 32 students. Additional features and larger class sizes can be added for a cost of about $2 to $3 per student per year.

These types of response tools are rapidly being incorporated into business settings. Almost all Fortune 500 firms now use some variant of these survey and response systems. In education, teachers and administrators are exploring a variety of ways to employ them. Immediate formative feedback is one of the primary ways in which they are being integrated into professional practice.

Many teachers create question-and-answer scenarios as pre-activity exercises to assess whether or not students are familiar with a particular topic. Others use these tools at the end of a lesson to analyze students’ grasp of taught content in order to inform future instruction. Administrators are sending questions pertaining to policy decisions as a way of gathering data before or after a change.

While many of these uses are based on surveys and questions generated by the teacher, these systems also potentially allow students to participate in and contribute to the design of questions. Student participation in data collection has potential curricular relevance to almost every subject area. In science classes, students can use these tools to gather onsite observational data in projects that focus on ecological studies. In social studies, students can send questions about cultural characteristics to various parts of the world, receive live feedback, and then analyze the results in class discussions. Students in math classes can use survey tools in probability exercises.

Enhancements to the electronic infrastructure of schools – including the prevalence of wireless access in classrooms, increasing availability of classroom projectors, and emergence of inexpensive portable wireless devices such as netbooks – will increasingly make this type of experimentation more feasible in the future. The traditional educational model has emphasized a one-way flow of information, from the instructor to the student.

Continuing advances will make a two-way flow of information more practical in the future. In contrast to a traditional quiz that is recorded in a gradebook, interactive questions that are embedded throughout a lesson not only can provide students with immediate feedback, but also can guide and affect the course of the discussion.

Bull is co-director of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Kjellstrom is a graduate fellow in the Center for Technology and Teacher Education.



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