Teaching Tech: Recyclable Zoom polls for sustainable lessons

It’s really easy to make online lectures that suck. If my lesson is just me talking for 50 or 75 minutes, it’s a of a waste of the format. We’ve all committed to building our schedules around having these precious hours together at the same time, so I’d hate to waste it by doing little more than a poorly rehearsed YouTube video.

Polls in Zoom are an easy way to give some level of interaction with even really big classes. The downside of Zoom polls is that they suck to create: you have to log into the web and do them in advance of the meeting. They can’t easily be spontaneous, and I can’t-slash-won’t (lazy? maybe) plan far enough in advance to assemble meaningful one-time-use polls.

My solution is to create a couple of very simple, generic polls that I can place in a relevant context for each meeting. If that sounds like nonsense, I expect an example will help.

The one I use the most frequently I call “Temp Check”, and it simply asks “How comfortable are you with this concept? (5: ‘Great, got it!’ to 1: ‘I’m totally lost.’)”. I say aloud what I’m referring to (“Tell me how you’re feeling about constructing harmonic minor scales.”), then launch the poll. Best of all, it’s anonymous, at least from other students.1 I think this makes students more comfortable admitting they don’t know something, and it’s been really helpful in pacing new material.

A similar poll I use a lot is a very simple self assessment. After we do an activity in class, such as “write out the counting for this measure’s rhythm”. Then we look at it together and I ask everyone to self assess, with the options of either “Nailed it!”, “Not quite, but close.”, and “Nope.” Again, this lets me see how students are doing as a whole without singling anyone out, and it also makes sure they’re all playing the home version of the gameshow, since I can see how many folks have answered and make sure (nearly) everyone does before moving on. And this is all way less tedious than creating a different poll for each concept or meeting. Because I use the same recurring Zoom session for each class meeting, I only have to set these up one time.

Note that you can't use emoji in poll options. Those dashes on the right are emoji that have been stripped out. 😩
Note that you can’t use emoji in poll options. Those dashes on the right are emoji that have been stripped out. 😩

To create a poll, log into Zoom on the web (not the app), and go to Meetings > My Meetings and scroll to the bottom of the page to find Polls, with a button in the right corner to add a new one.

Having just one or two of these that you can recycle in a lot of different situations can help keep your prep time down, and students quickly get used to responding to these questions when they see them regularly. This kind of recycling won’t save the planet, but it might help preserve your prep time sustain your personal health.

  1. If I really want to know, I can dig into reports after the meeting is over to see who selected which options. But like most things related to polls, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I Shaved You a Yak: Dorico Edition

“Yak shaving” is not only fun to say, but it’s a very useful concept. It refers to a series of tiny, seemingly pointless, often mindless tasks that stand between you and accomplishing a larger, more fulfilling project. Sometimes they’re necessary—putting gas in your car before a road trip. Other times they’re procrastinatory1—drawing beautiful album art for the playlist you have lovingly crafted for said road trip. As I try to move much of my work from Sibelius to Dorico, there are many yaks to shave. My practical yak is learning keyboard shortcuts associated with Dorico tools. My silly yak is turning the quick reference for Dorico’s popover system into a wallpaper for my 5K iMac so I can easily see all of them. I shaved that yak so you don’t have to. Feel free to download and use.

Dorico Popover Reference 5K wallpaper

Just a quick warning, the text is already pretty small on my giant screen. It will probably be completely useless on a laptop. Sorry about that.


  1. Shockingly, there is no red underline for the word “procrastinatory” as I type this. 

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