Engaging Students in the Age of Smartphones

By Peter Connor

Use It, or Lose It! Retaining New Knowledge with E-Polling

How much can you eat at one sitting before you have to tell Aunt Martha: One more bite and I’ll bust? The fact is: there is only so much your stomach can handle before it won’t take anymore. You are done, full, that’s it, no more until your body has time to digest; time to extract and retain some nutrients. Simply put, there are limits.

Much like the stomach, your memory has limits, too. It can only take in so much before it has to digest. The time limitation for absorbing new information is broadly agreed upon to be about 20 minutes (Orlando, 2010). After that, short-term memory has a hard time taking in any more. It also starts losing its grip on what it's already taken in. Little is digested. Much is lost.

Orlando suggests that inserting reflective activities into your lectures at 20-minute intervals facilitates processing new information from short to long-term memory (2010). Having your students actively engage with the information you have just given them is the key. One such activity is real-time electronic polling.

There are some great Web sites out there offering free, easy-to-use, polling software for use in creating polls with which you can take the pulse of your class as you are delivering your lecture. Your students just need to punch-up the Web site on their smartphones and answer the question(s) you have loaded into the poll. Your students will be engaging with the material at hand, in a real-time activity, using the technology available in most of their backpacks.

Here are the polling Web sites Orlando suggests:

What can you do with an in-class poll? Plenty: assess knowledge of subject-matter before covering it in class, gather issue-oriented opinions with which to generate in-class discussions, demonstrate wide-spread misconceptions, orchestrate position-taking, and generate reflection on content just covered to name a few. For your students, it helps them process information from short to long-term memory (Orlando, 2010).

To read John Orlando’s Faculty Focus article, please see: Using Polling and Smartphones to Keep Students Engaged.


Orlando, J. (2010). Using Polling and Smartphones to Keep Students Engaged. In Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/using-polling-and-smartphones-to-keep-students-engaged/


Thanks to Dr. Doug Hoffman, Everitt Teaching Scholar and Professor in the Dept. of Marketing, and Master Teacher Initiative (MTI) Coordinator for the College of Business at Colorado State University for this Teaching Tip suggestion.

Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor