Using Vevox as a back-channel for student Q&As

Dr Chris Graham, Director of Digital Learning

School of Maths, Stats & Physics

Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

What did you do?

This case study describes the use of the Audience Response System Vevox in a large class of mathematics students. In particular, the Q&A functionality, which was used to create an alternative channel for student questions. In my early lectures, the Q&A feature was turned on automatically alongside polls that I was including: the latter being my primary reason for using Vevox at that point. However, I was surprised by the uptake of the feature and positive feedback from students, who have pushed for other lecturers to use this as a method of asking questions.

Who is involved?

This case study focuses on the stage 1 module MAS1803, taken by single-honours mathematics students. There are around 170 in the class. The module is primarily a computer programming module, with a 1 hour lecture and 2 hour computer practical each week. My use of Vevox relates to the lectures only.

How did you do it?

Vevox became available to use as the University’s Audience Response System in autumn 2023. I already had a successful experience using the tool as part of our PARTNERS programme, before it was confirmed as the successor to Ombea, so was keen to integrate it into my teaching in semester 1.

I used Vevox polls in my first lectures of the semester, primarily to capture previous experience and expectations of students on tackling a subject (programming) that was unfamiliar to most of them (budding mathematicians). In practice, however, I found that finding space and relevant questions within my established lectures became difficult for this iteration of the course – something I would like to re-visit, following student feedback. However, in using Vevox primarily for polling in those early lectures, I was surprised by the uptake of its Q&A functionality, and as I’ll mention later, students gave very positive feedback about having an alternative way of asking questions. I continued to use the Q&A feature throughout my lectures, even though I mostly had no polls from around week 3.

Students access the Vevox tool through any device, just via a browser. They go to and enter an ID given to them. The app has two tabs: one for polls, the other for Q&A, and their questions are anonymous.

I am not a PowerPoint user, so had to think carefully about how Vevox would integrate with my lectures for this purpose. I usually connect using a laptop to control my slides, and was not keen to flick between windows to find out if there were questions, so decided to utilise the lecture PC to monitor questions on.

My full set up is as follows:

A visual representation of the lecture set up with a laptop linked to main presentation screen, and another running the Vevox dashboard. The image shows what appears on each laptop and the main screen. This is explained in the bullet points below.

Using Vevox in a Lecture – how Chris sets up a presentation

  • The lecture PC is set up on the admin page of the session, specifically the Q&A review page. The admin page is where you set up your poll/Q&A on
  • The laptop runs my slides. My slides are web-based (written using the Chirun tool), so it is straightforward to change tabs to the “present view” of Vevox (link on the Vevox admin page), if I wanted to share the incoming questions with my students. I place the Vevox ID for the session in the corner of the slides, so that students can always see this.
  • The lecture screen mirrors my laptop.

As the lectures have gone on, I refined my approach to responding to questions. With a live feed of questions within easy reach, it is hard to avoid the lure of reading a new question straight away. Questions can vary from being related directly to the material being covered, to queries about the admin of the module, say about assessment or the week’s practical. Sometimes they’re about a topic a few slides ago, sometimes I’m already about to answer the question. Rather than reading questions immediately, I learned to glance at these (seamlessly I think) between slides and to make a snap decision, placing questions into buckets in my head: respond immediately, respond at the next stopping point, or respond at the end of the section/lecture.

Although there are some extra steps to set up before the lecture on the PC, I streamlined the process considerably by using a single Vevox session for the entire semester. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about configuring a new session or updating the ID on my slides. As I answered questions, I archived them, so the session appears blank each time.

Why did you do it?

My experience of getting in-person conversation going with a large class is mixed, but I have found it a struggle sometimes. Based on the feedback from this cohort, that’s not unique to this module. In the context of the module structure, this didn’t concern me too much: whilst the lectures do lend themselves to being mostly didactic, the two hours of practicals offer opportunities for student questions and one-to-one help, as well as chances for students to work in groups.

Nonetheless, I added this additional channel for Q&A primarily because of student feedback, which came indirectly to me: reps has raised the idea of other modules using the same practice.

I have had success in the past in using alternative ways to invite questions: before this year I ran my revision class with a “paper aeroplane” theme: students are invited to write questions on a piece of paper (recycled of course) and throw them to the front of the class. I suspect in that case, this was popular because of both the chance to ask questions anonymously and to just to chuck something at me, but certainly the feedback and experience of using Vevox suggests that the former is definitely attractive to students.

It’s worth adding that, even with the Vevox channel available, I did still try to give opportunities for in-person questions and discussion to the extent that I normally would. Although students do only need a web browser, there are various reasons that students might prefer to speak questions, and it’s my preference anyway. Sometimes the Vevox questions themselves actually started conversations in the room, lending themselves to being thrown open: “…that’s a really good question, does anyone have thoughts about an answer?”.

One downside of course to the questions being anonymous, rather than a hand raised in a room, is that there is no mechanism for checking that your answer is helpful to the student who raised the question, or for obtaining clarity on what’s being asked. That’s something I think I just have to live with, though on more than one question a student approached me at the end of the lecture and thanked me for answering their question.

Does it work?

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a good record of the number of questions in each lecture: from memory I recall from just a couple to upwards of 15 when there were also admin or revision questions.

Feedback from students was very positive.

It is worth saying that I gave the same opportunities to ask questions to students in my stage 2 class (of a similar size), but they were much happier asking questions in person. They did however make good use of the opportunity to ask questions through Vevox during revision classes.

Student Voice

These quotes were gathered by our stage 1 reps:

“Vevox has been really helpful in lectures because I can ask a question anytime and an answer is guaranteed, I can also ask without interrupting the lecturer, so lectures run smoothly.”

“It was good because no one asks questions in the other lectures because it’s too awkward to shout it out with loads of people but with Vevox questions are asked quite a lot and it’s useful questions.”

“Vevox is an excellent resource to ask questions when you don’t particularly have the confidence to speak up in front of a lot of people. With Vevox my questions are answered, and quite often other people will be thinking the same thing, so it’ll benefit everyone.”

The Graduate Framework

This case study demonstrates the following attributes:

  • Digitally capable
  • Engaged

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *