UT faculty: Standardize use of Instapoll, save students money

Tanya Chen

College is meant to be a personal investment in your future. Theoretically, however much energy and effort you put into your education will be paid back tenfold post-graduation. If that really is the case, then why does college feel so much like a capital loss? 

Upon first glance, polling platforms such as iClicker and Squarecap don’t seem to make up a large percentage of course material spending, but the myriad of accumulated subscriptions can definitely do a number on students’ wallets.

Advertising sophomore Joy Zhou shared her experience with having to juggle the cost of multiple polling platforms within the same semester. 

“In chemistry, my professor told us he found a new platform that was ‘going to save us so much money’ at only $15 per subscription,” Zhou said. “The problem is, I needed other apps for my other classes, so I ended up having to pay for three different services.”

Instapoll, produced by UT’s own Liberal Arts Development Studio, is a free alternative to third-party polling platforms. Chris Pittman, creator and lead developer of Instapoll, cited reducing student spending as his main motivation behind creating the platform. 

“Ultimately, a subscription to a student response tool is not a huge percentage of your total cost of attendance, but it is something we can directly address relatively easily,” Pittman said.

In an ideal world, UT faculty would unanimously agree to use Instapoll, eliminating the need for students to pay additional fees for other polling services. Students in the Senate of College Councils wanted to make this a reality, so they drafted and passed legislation last semester calling for faculty to standardize with Instapoll. Unfortunately, the legislation was rebuffed by the Faculty Council, thus maintaining the status quo of variable and costly platforms. 

Biochemistry freshman Tyler Durham in UT Senate’s Undergraduate Research Committee, shared his thoughts on the matter.

“When I was reviewing the legislation and what happened with it, it seemed like the Faculty Council blocked it because they didn’t want to change their methods,” Durham said. “Given, professors have different teaching styles and maybe Instapoll can’t serve their unique needs at the moment, but the platform is always expanding and improving.” 

One of the major concerns brought up by the Faculty Council in response to the Instapoll legislation was the inability of professors to track students’ location through the service, making them unable to confirm students’ physical attendance. The Instapoll team responded to these concerns by adding geolocation features to the platform, which aligns with their goal of continuously improving the platform based on faculty feedback. 

“We send out a survey at the end of every semester asking faculty what they want to see in future updates,” Pittman said. “We try to make an effort to reach out to faculty so that we can make Instapoll a more useful tool for them.”

This type of responsiveness to faculty needs is what sets Instapoll apart from all the other polling platforms, which are slower at processing similar requests because they are not affiliated directly with the University. However, not all professors have completely bought into Instapoll’s services yet. 

The potential benefit of decreased out-of-pocket costs for all UT students takes precedence over the one-time inconvenience of professors having to switch to a new platform. Going forward, I hope I will no longer have to pay for multiple polling platforms during my time at UT.

Chen is a Plan II and business freshman from Austin.