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Surveys and polls

A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description 

Surveys and polls are ungraded assessment methods (usually using multiple choice or Likert-style questions) that help the instructor gauge student learning, values, skills, or beliefs. They can be used in class or out of class using a variety of technologies, and they can serve a wide range of learning outcomes. They are usually anonymous, but could be linked to individual students to identify students who might need supplemental support.


  1. An in-class survey about a concept many students struggle to understand, using the common misconceptions you have gleaned from student errors in the past as options in the response list, along with a correct response. Instructors might ask just one question in a session and use it for an informal small-group activity in which students debate why each response is or is not correct. Here's a video of Harvard physicist Eric Mazur using this method.

  2. A survey that helps instructors construct small groups by asking students to identify how confident they are that they understand particular concepts or possess particular skills.

  3. An opinion poll that gauges how students view a course topic, what students know about a course topic, or what beliefs and values they bring to a course topic

  4. An early-feedback survey structured like a quiz (but not graded) that helps an instructor identify students who might need some extra support to fill in gaps in their preparation

Tips to Implement Polls and Survey Assessments Effectively

  • Instructors can conduct surveys through D2L; D2L can also facilitate classroom polling with iClickers (the UWL standard for classroom-based student response systems). Go to the D2L Assessment help section here for more information on how to use these tools. Some instructors use one of the widely available student response system apps that students and instructors can download to cell phones or other devises -- they function similarly to iClickers but are not supported by IT Services.

  • Low-tech methods can also work in class. Rather than using a clicker or app, students can raise a colored or numbered card that the instructor has matched to an individual question response. Be sure that the colors or numbers are visible to you even for students at the back of your classroom. A general gauge of whether students understand is all you need for classroom assessment, so keep the number of choices small.

  • For surveys about attitudes (e.g., about learning in general, about an academic field), useful instruments may already exist. Murphy's databases might be useful. Web searches might be as well.


  • Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques (second edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. See especially pp. 258-262 on opinion polls.
  • Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., and Fink, L. D., eds. (2004). Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College TeachingSterling, VA: Stylus.

Hoskins, D. (2015). Surveys and polls. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from