Student Response System

Last week my colleague, Kenji Lamb, and I were up in Inverness providing some support to the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) EDU Team. We were exploring the use/approach to assessment and feedback, sharing what is going on in the sector for the EDU Team to disseminate around UHI. Below are a couple of slide decks I used over the two days.

Having worked on the REAP project a couple of years ago there was a bit of material I recycled from that (as the ripples from this project are still resonating finding there way into publications like Effective Assessment in a Digital Age and workshop/design tools like the JISC funded Viewpoints project) Note to self: must write about Viewpoints once online tool is available 

I also took the opportunity to test drive my idea for a Google Form/Visualization mashup for electronic voting (couldn’t be bothered lugging voting handset up was my excuse ;). Technically it worked reasonable well. One major improvement would be to monitor how many people had voted in real-time.

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First I should say I don’t think this is the best solution, in fact an earlier post from 2008 DIY: A wi-fi student response system is probably a solution, if perhaps needing more tidying up, but I’m posting anyway just on the of chance that this might inspire or help solve someone else's problem.

This post has come about as a result of a couple of things:

  1. I’m in a bit of a Google Apps run.
  2. I read and enjoyed Donald Clarks Clickers: mobile technology that will work in classes
  3. I saw and contributed to Tom Barrett’s crowdsourced X Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom (I added #39 Collaboratively building a timeline which I discovered through Derek Bruff’s class example.

Concept: Using Google Forms as an interface for a mobile/desktop based voting system.

Issue: If you are asking multiple questions the form needs prepopulating with options making it a long list for the student to navigate and potentially creating a predefined route of questions.

Solution: Use a generic form with one set of response options, the class using a unique question identifier for response graphs to be generated from.

The finished result

Below (if you aren’t reading this via RSS) is this Google Form. [You can make a copy of the related Spreadsheet and customise the text and options. For example, you might want to turn qID into a list option rather than free text.]

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And here is a page with a summary of responses, which allows the user to choose which response set to display (screenshot shown below):

Screenshoot of summary of responses

How it was done

Some of you might already be familiar with Google Chart. This service allows you to create chart images by encoding the data in the URL. I’ve used this service in a number of my mashups, in fact all of my previous voting mashups use it in some way, and not surprisingly in Generating charts from accessible data tables using the Google Charts API.

Google Chart works well if it easy for you to get the data and format it for the image URL. For more complex tasks there is Google Visualization. The advantage of Visualization is it gives you a way of querying a data source before displaying as a table or chart. To see what you can do (and the place where I aped most of the code for this mashup) you should visit the interactive gallery of Visualization examples.

Using the Using The Query Language example as a stating point I could see you could lookup data from a Google Spreadsheet and filter the response using Google Visualization API Query Language, which is very similar to SQL. What I wanted to do was SELECT the data from the spreadsheet WHERE it matched a question identifier and COUNT the number of occurrences for each GROUP of response options. An extract from the table of data is:

A B C
Timestamp qID Answer
- q1 A
- q1 B
- q1 A

My attempts to convert the SQL version of this query which is something like:

SELECT C, Count(C) AS CountOfC WHERE B = ‘questionID’ GROUP BY C

initially I was left with keyboard shaped indentations on my forehead trying to get this to work but Tony Hirst (@psychmedia) was able to end my frustration with this tweet. This meant I was able to use the following query VQL friendly:

SELECT C, Count(B) WHERE B = ‘questionID’ GROUP BY C

The next part of the problem was how to let the user decide which question ID they wanted to graph. Looking at the Simple Visualization example I could see it would be easy to iterate across the returned data and push out some html using JavaScript. What I wanted to do was GROUP the questionID’s and COUNT the number of responses, which is possible using:

SELECT B, Count(C) GROUP BY B

This returns a table of unique question IDs and a separate column with a count of the number of responses. A form list element is populated with the results using:

for (i=0; i
var ansText = data.getValue(i, 0)+' (No of votes '+data.getValue(i, 1)+')';
var valText = data.getValue(i, 0);
ansSet.options[ansSet.options.length]=new Option(ansText,valText);
}

And that’s it. If you want to play around with this the code is here. Enjoy and if you find this idea useful or if you spot any issues as always I value your comments.

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Previously I written about Using a Learning Apps (xLearn) textwall for SMS voting for £25/year, but what if you haven’t got £25 to spare? How about free SMS voting*, and when I say free, I don’t mean free for the first 15 votes like SMSPOLL.net or free for the first 30 votes like PollEverywhere.com, I mean free for as many responses and polls you like!

*excluding the price to send a txt msg

I’ve been think about free SMS voting for quite a while, 4 years in fact! Back in 2006 one of the first blogs I regularly read was David Muir’s EdCompBlog. At the time I worked at the University of Strathclyde in CAPLE and David was in the Faculty of Education. His blog was great to find out what was going on at the other end of the institution, something Brian Kelly regularly highlights.

In October 2006 David posted his experiences on Moblogging: Turn it on again where he was able to mash a free SMS textwall using intelliSoftware SMS gateway. At the time I left a comment asking if David had:

thought about parsing the text messages for voting? i.e. students text 'pgdes2blog Q1B' to answer B in MCQ for question 1 etc? (Anonymously said …)

As it happened David had but neither of us was in the position to come up with a solution back then. Roll forward 4 years (with a Twitter voting solution inspired by David in between) and the old grey cells get a jump start after David posted some reflection on his student induction 2010 style in What did they need to know?. David mentioned he used his free textwall solution again collecting responses on this blog.

Both of us realised that if David was collecting responses on a blog that it would be easy to reuse my earlier Learning Apps solution to grab and parse the responses (using RSS). In fact it was so easy all I needed to do was change one line of code.

So below is an alternate version of XVS – SMS voting using Learning Apps:

*** RSSvs – SMS voting using RSS ***

With this version you can submit any RSS feed and it will extract/graph the number of occurrences of an answer option after a question identifier in the post title. Here is an example of a response chart which is generated from this test blog

So potentially you could use anything for voting which somehow creates results as an RSS feed. But how can you use this for SMS voting?

How to use RSSvs with intelliSoftware  

Unlike the Learning Apps textwall it doesn't have a native RSS feed for the SMS inbox, but as David has already demonstrated it is possible to automatically forward messages sent to intelliSoftware as an email which can then be used to publish a blog post. This is possible because a number of blogging platforms allow you to create posts from emails (e.g. Blogger: How do I post via email?). Here is how to setup your intelliSoftware account:

  1. Create a blogger account and enable mail-to-blogger (taking a note of your personal mail-to-blogger address)
  2. Usual form filling. Important: Username will be your message identifier i.e. students have to start their response txt with your username so keep it short and meaningful
  3. Once registered login and select ‘Preferences’ in ‘My Account’
  4. In the ‘Forwarding’ tab enable ‘incoming message forwarding’, choosing forwarding type email and entering your mail-to-blogger address.
  5. In the Advanced Settings for this you can also modify the email template. Important: Make sure [Message_Text] is included at the end of the ‘Email Subject’, you should also remove [Message_From_Number] to prevent students mobile numbers being published.

Collecting and displaying responses

When you want to ask a question give users the options and instructions like “to vote for option ‘A’ send a text message to 07786 XXX XXX with ‘xyz #q1 A’ (where 07786 XXX XXX is the mobile number found in the Trial Service section and xyz is your username created with intelliSoftware).

The question identifier (in this example #q1) can be anything you like as long as it starts with ‘#’ and the options can be anything you like (a, b, c … 1, 2, 3 … etc).

To display a response graph visit the  RSSvs Site and enter the rss feed for the blog you are collecting responses on and the question identifier.

Important Tip: If you are using Blogger Blogspot you can increase the number of items returned by adding &max-results={and a number}. For example: http://rschetest.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss&max-results=200 

Once the form is submitted you can swap between the live results and a static chart. (the url of this page can be included in PowerPoint slides allowing you to link directly to the results) Below is the format it uses:

http://mashe.hawksey.info/twevs/rssVS.php?id={see note}&tag=q1&options=-&type=live

idis an encoded version of your RSS feed url.The encoded id is fixed so can be reused

tag – your question identifier

options – optional number to restrict the number of options displayed

type – setting to ‘live’ displays the chart with realtime updates. Leaving blank displays the static chart

 

As intelliSoftware have been providing their SMS forwarding service for free since 2006 I would encourage you to have a look at some of there paid for services. Lots of developer tools to look at and the Multimedia Messaging Service MMS looks interesting too.

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As we start a new year now seems like an ideal opportunity to revisit some of my old posts, pull out some common themes and reflect on what was and potentially what will be.

For my first theme I want to revisit electronic voting systems (EVS). EVS has been used in education for a number of years. This particular technology has had a well documented positive impact the learner experience, particularly attainment and retention, yet still hasn’t received mass adoption. One of the reasons is probably the cost of bespoke hardware and software. With the increasing mass adoption of mobile phones with Internet connectivity via 3G or campus wi-fi networks there is increasing potential to use student owned devices for in-class voting.

Cans and strings

Over the past 12 months I’ve made a series of posts on how this model could be used. First was the very experimental ‘DIY-PI’. The thinking behind this was to run a local web server with very basic web based voting software which students could then interact with over a shared wi-fi connection. The result was very much a ‘two cans and a string’ solution and never intended as a final product. The post, DIY: A wi-fi student response system, outlines the argument for using mobile phones as voting handsets and containing links to a short demonstration video and the source code used to create DIY-PI.

One of the issues with DIY-PI is, whilst it uses existing open source technology, it requires custom coding to handle the voting and it is fair to say my efforts are very rough around the edge.

Twitter for voting

The model of voting via student owned devices was one I revisited later in the year with TwEVS. TwEVS removes the need for custom coding, instead it mashes existing free web services including twitter to allow electronic voting style interaction. The two posts which cover this are Twitter + voting/polling + Yahoo Pipes = TwEVS (The Making Of) and Electronic voting and interactive lectures using twitter (TwEVS).

This work culminated in a presentation at the University of St. Andrews for the eLearning Alliance. Even though this solution removes a lot of the techie programming it still requires a degree of knowledge to create and embed custom urls into PowerPoint.

Shortly after I made this presentation I was made aware of work by Timo Elliot which used the same concept of conducting votes via twitter but he has a much more elegant twitter integration with PowerPoint.

Voting via text (SMS)

One of the advantages I highlighted about using twitter for voting is that users can setup their account to update messages on twitter via text messaging (SMS). This means even the most basic phones without wireless access can be used, but it still requires students to register for twitter accounts. In the midst of my twitter-for-voting research I came across some other solutions which allow voting via SMS.

The first came courtesy of Sean Eby at polleverywhere.com. This service is specifically designed to make it easy to create and administer voting via SMS (as well as giving users the choice to respond via the web and twitter). One of the feature I like about Poll Everywhere is that they make it very easy to embed polls into your existing PowerPoint presentation. If you have less than 30 people responding to a poll then the service is free (perhaps not enough to test it properly in-class, but still a service worth looking at).

Along similar lines my colleague Adam Blackwood demonstrated how an application for Android mobile phones could be used for voting/polling. More details of this solution are here: ALT-C 2009 I: Mobile technology – proximity push and voting/polling on Android. This solution is slightly different to Poll Everywhere in that votes are administered from the tutors phone using their existing mobile number to collect responses.

A factor which will probably mean SMS voting won’t see mass adoption in the UK is the cost to students for sending a text message although changes in the way mobile contracts are promoted (bundling text messages) may be enough to convince more people to try this solution.

Future trends

It’s unlikely that voting will be for everyone but there is some examples of institutions using student owned phones for collecting responses. The trend appears to be using multiple means, integrating a number of social networking sites, dedicated web interfaces and SMS. An example of this is an application developed by Purdue University, which I highlighted in Hotseat: Any Mobile Will Do. This solution, whilst not explicitly used for voting, also highlights another future trend in this area. The move towards continuing in-class discussion outside the classroom, extending the time students spend actual thinking about new concepts and ideas.

[Final thought: I've been out of the loop with what EVS/clicker manufactures have been doing with their voting software (other than virtual handsets), but I'm sure they must be looking at a similar model of aggregating votes from different sources.]

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It's rare for me to have an idea of my own, instead I rely on mashing up ideas of others. A case in point is taking a post on Pontydysgu 20 things to do in the classroom with Wiffiti and David Hopkins PowerPoint: Embedding YouTube Video, which equals ‘Enabling micro-discussion in PowerPoint using Wiffiti’.

Some background – Wiffiti is a free web service which allows to to upload an image, users can then publish messages in real time which are overlaid. Message can be submitted via SMS, twitter, flickr or via the web. Below I’ve embedded the example Jenny Hughes used (if you don’t see swirly messages it is probably because your network goes through a proxy server. Potentially a big issue if using it on campus - I’ve let the developer know):

In Jenny’s post she list some educational uses of Wiffiti. The obvious application for me is to stimulate in-class discussion. Like EVS removing the stigma of putting your hand up with an anonymous communication channel. You could of course just like to the Wiffiti page from your presentation but having read David Hopkins how-to on embedding YouTube in PowerPoint I was inspired to look at Wiffitifying PowerPoint. 

Basically all you need to do is:

  1. Create your page on Wiffiti
  2. Copy the ‘Share this Screen – Movie url’
    [The next part is an edit of David’s instructions]
  3. Go to the point in your presentation where you want the Wiffiti to be placed.
  4. Control ToolbarMake sure you can see the ‘Control Toolbox’ toolbar. [For Office 2007 users if you can't find the 'Control Toolbox' toolbar you might need to enable it by opening PowerPoint -> clicking on the Office icon (top left) -> click 'PowerPoint Options' and within the popular tab make sure the 'Show Developer tab in the Ribbon' is checked]
  5. Select the ‘hammer / spanner’ looking icon and then select ‘Shockwave Flash object’ from the subsequent menu list.
  6. Then drag the cross-hairs into a square area you want the video to be shown in. You’ll end up with a white box on the screen with two diagonal lines from corner to corner.
  7. Right mouse-click in this box and select ‘Properties’ from the list.
  8. In the empty ox next to the heading ‘Movie’ paste the URL of your Wiffiti.

Here is a PowerPoint file with the Wiffiti embedded. To see it work you need to be in presentation mode. You may also need to enable Active X Macros.

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Yesterday I presented TwEVS to the e-Learning Alliance FE/HE SIG held at University of St. Andrews. My presentation (including audio) is below:

The day included presentations on remote teaching using video conferencing, electronic voting systems and an introduction to twitter, so finishing on TwEVS seemed to round the day off nicely.

When I get a chance I would like to post some reflections on the other presentations …

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Just back from ALT-C 2009 having been asked to present a session with colleagues on EduApps (this resulted from JISC RSC UK's donation of an EduApps stick to all conference delegates and ALT members). Over the next couple of days I'll be making a series of posts to highlight some of the best bits.

For my first post in this series I'm going to highlight some of the ideas presented by my colleague Adam Blackwood at RSC South East. Adam, amongst other things, is a mobile guru and in his session he highlighted some interesting tools [Click here for a copy of Adam’s slides and his Mobile Technology Summary Sheet].

Proximity push using TextBlue

First there is TextBlue.This company specialises in ‘proximity marketing’, using Bluetooth to push information primarily to mobile devices. This company has a range of products from plugin dongles for your laptop to 'broadcasters’ which can push content out for up to 1000 meters.

Adam demonstrated how this technology could be used to push learning content to student owned phones (or any Bluetooth enabled device). The only restriction you have on the file types you can use is what is viewable on the student's device. You probably also want to keep file sizes down because of the transfer time so the 30 minute podcast might be out of the question, but this technology could be ideal for distributing quizzes etc (something you could easily create with Mobile Study, which is free).

There is nothing stopping you transfer files via bluetooth without TextBlue. Doing it this way is very cumbersome and the TextBlue software turns it into a one click solution. A demo version of TextBlue software is available on request – Contact TextBlue

SMS polling/voting

I’ve been aware of SMS polling/voting services for sometime. All the examples I’ve previously looked at use the model where the hosting/collation of votes has been handled by a 3rd party site. Adam highlighted a new model which puts the editing/collation software on your own phone, students responding to your mobile number, not one provided by a 3rd party.

The software to do this currently only seems to be available for Android mobile devices. There are a couple of software applications that can do this but Adam was highlighting ‘Polls’ by Pollimath:

The concept is simple; draft the opinion poll on your phone, add your voters and open your poll. Your list of voters would receive an SMS and/or E-Mail notification. They vote via the Web or SMS Reply as per the options selected by the pollster. The pollster can see the poll statistics and the voting details (who voted for what choice).  

Polling Concept
Pollimath Concept Diagram

There is a free ‘Lite’ version of Pollimath which is limited to 10 voters per poll, but at $3.95 the full version is very reasonably priced. Pollimath has some nice features like being able to send vote invitations via email as well as SMS, allowing you to use multiple input methods, and being able to view the results online. This is a relatively new application and some more work needs to be done to graphically represent poll results as well as an easier way to distribute polls links but so far it looks very promising.

An alternative to Pollimath is ‘Handy Poll’s’ by Marc Tan. This has a better graphical results view, but doesn’t have as many of the features of Pollimath.

Augmented reality

The final thing Adam showed us was some ‘augmented reality’. With this the camera on your phone is combined with your location and direction information so that additional information can be overlaid. One of the most popular working examples is Layar for Android, but the video below shows where the next generation of augmented reality is going:

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Last week I posted a method for combining twitter and Yahoo Pipes to allow electronic voting (EVS) style interaction within lectures, TwEVS [see Twitter + voting/polling + Yahoo Pipes = TwEVS (The Making Of)]. At the time I was only interested in documenting the development of this ‘mashup’ but felt a follow up post would be useful to highlight: how to use TwEVS; advantages of using twitter for student response; and areas for future development / discussion.

How to use TwEVS

Before using TwEVS there is some preparatory work in terms of getting students to register an account with twitter and possibly establishing some house rules (usage policy, appropriate use). You should also have an idea of the questions you would like to ask, which may sound simple but to fully engage and enhance learning isn’t (the most common mistake I see is setting trivial questions, which are suitable while you find your feet, but if continued will the students cue to disengage).

Another thing to consider is the format of the hashtags you want to use. Hashtags are a simple way to add metadata to a variety of information making it easier to search and filter. TwEVS requires a unique hashtag for each question you ask so if you are planning to uses this over a semester your might use a combination of an abbreviated course code and date (e.g. #code-year-weekNumber = #CS101-09-wk1)

Pedagogically and technically there are a number of ways you can integrate TwEVS. For more on the pedagogy visit Steve Draper’s ILIG site.  My suggestion for technical integration would be to have a slide with the question/options and instructions on how to respond e.g. tweet ‘#CS101-09-wk1 A’ etc. After students had time to respond you could then either open the TwEVS Pipe in a browser, enter the hashtag where prompted then click ‘Run Pipe’ (you can also limit the number of response options, which might help filter out malicious tweets or mistypes). Clicking the ‘TwEVS Result for …’ link opens the graph. If you wanted to streamline this a little you can use the free LiveWeb PowerPoint plugin which allows you to embed live webpages.

Alternativly you could prepare a custom link for each question  within your PowerPoint (like this example). As Yahoo Pipes uses information in the url these could be created beforehand.

Below is an example url for the poll #twevspoll limited to 2 responses:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=40e4326b88a69c2d6287ae124314fd7c&_render=rss&limit=2&q=%23twevspoll&vm=r

[Edit: Tony Hirst has pointed out that this url can also be written as http://pipes.yahoo.com/mashe/twevs?&_render=rss&limit=2&q=%23twevspoll&vm=r]

[Another Edit: if yo are wondering why the links above don't return graphs it is because the twitter search by default only pulls tweets from the last 10 days]

The first part of this url will always remain the same allowing you to change the range of response by adjusting the limit (e.g. to limit to 5 would be limit=5) and the hashtag for each question, by changing the text after ‘q=’ (the ‘#’ is replaced by the more url friendly ‘%23’).

Example chart produced by TwEVSExample chart produced by TwEVS

Its worth noting that Yahoo stores a copy of each pipe run so when a pipe is run again before an allotted amount of time has passed it just pulls results from memory and doesn’t necessarily check twitter for the latest tweets. So if you are creating urls to use in class I would advise not accessing them until you need them. Alternatively you can also trick Yahoo into getting the latest data by modifying the url slightly, the easiest way is changing the limit number.

Advantages of using twitter (or other status update sites) for EVS style interaction

Zero cost - the biggest advantage perhaps for the majority of people is cost. There are no handsets or specialist software to buy. You don’t need to worry about replacement batteries. You don't need to worry about lost of stolen handsets.

Multi-device – you can update your twitter status from a wide range of devices phones to laptops and everything in between (and using SMS updates means even the most basic phone could be used). Its also very apparent that manufactures are currently falling over themselves to get twitter (and other social networking software) built into their devices (my TV even has a twitter client).

EVSPLUS – using twitter as a EVS allows a natural extension to existing pedagogies. For example, the TwEVS mashup is programmed only to aggregate responses after the hashtag. This means that as well as asking students to indicate a response (A, B, C, D etc.), the tutor could ask students to prefix their response with why they believe the answer is correct. Using twitter to collect responses also opens up a huge degree of flexibility in terms of asking questions on-the-fly, removing some of the restrictions imposed by bespoke EVS software (and you are obviously not limited to A, B, C results).

Example of TwEVS responseExample of an individual TwEVS tweet

Future development/discussion

So far I’ve painted a rosy picture of twitter/EVS integration but there are some obvious issues. One of the biggest is there aren’t that many twitter users and even less under the age of 24. So to use this model would require proactive encouragement from tutors for students to create accounts. There is also issue around the personal/work divide. Will students be happy to include responses in their public timeline?

Another drawback is voting isn’t entirely anonymous and students would even have the ability to check other student responses before replying (which is event easier if students follow their friends). The proposed system is also open to malicious attack. As everything after the hashtag is collected as a response students could get up to all sorts of hijinx to ruin your lovely chart.

Finally something not to be overlooked is the possible distraction element of actively opening back channel communication, although I’m sure there will be situations where this could enhance learning, and giving students an excuse to get lost in their mobile phone.

Putting all these issues aside for one moment, the model of using twitter as a EVS offers a lot of flexibility. As twitter’s search results can be pulled as RSS XML their is endless scope to harvest results and reuse them in a number of ways using either via in-house systems or existing web services. For example it would be very easy to develop a system which removed the dependency on Yahoo Pipes altogether, storing results in a separate local database which could be linked to a student management system or even a custom portal which allowed the continuation of discussion and learning outside the classroom. You also don’t need to only support just one platform, combining results from various status update sites like FriendFeed would be very easy to integrate.

In summary, I hope I’ve stimulated the grey cells and demonstrated one way in which twitter could be used to enhance teaching and learning as a EVS alternative. TwEVS should should be seen as a working prototype and there is no doubt a lot more research to be done in this area. I’m sure with the hype associated with twitter it would be relatively easy to get some project funding to develop some of the ideas outlined above further.

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Recently David Muir of EdCompBlog was looking for a way to use Twitter as a personal response systems (also known as audience response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers …). I’ve previously covered this technology in DIY: A wi-fi student response system, where I propose a solution for creating a voting system which uses wireless enabled devices, so my ears immediately pricked up when I read David’s problem.

At the time David explored a number of solutions, including both free and fee paying, but was left scratching his head. Reading his post I immediately thought of Tony Hirst’s ‘Who’s Tweeting Our Hashtag?’ mashup where he uses Yahoo Pipes to find who’s been tweeting with a particular hashtag. This pipe calculates how many times an author tweets using a particular tag. Tony does an excellent job of explaining how the pipe is designed and modifying it for David required the smallest modification (changing the unique filter from item.author.uri to item.title).

imageMy modified pipe is here. To use it the presenter would pose their question then ask students to tweet a specific hashtag followed by their response (e.g. #comp101 A). Once the responses are in running the pipe entering the hashtag gives a summary of responses (shown).

This pipe has the basic functionality of aggregating responses but having worked with voting systems for a number of years I know the best way to summaries the data so that the information can be conveyed and interpreted quickly is by graphing it.

Having previously used the Google Chart API I wanted to use this to create a graph of the data within the pipe. I found a couple of examples of existing pipes which already did this (including one by Tony Hirst), but couldn’t find a way to build the url required for Google Chart within the pipe. Knowing Tony had a lot more experience of pipes I chanced my luck and dropped him an email. Tony got back to me with some key suggestions. Firstly, I should consider processing  the data outside the pipe, and secondly it would be easier to rename some of the items to make them easier to grab.

To process the data outside the pipe I had to use the ‘Web Service’ module. This is designed to push out the data in a JSON format so that it can be processed by an external website and passed back into the pipe, basically a black box.

Collecting the data and processing it was straight forward enough. I had lots of problems passing the data back to the pipe and my first attempts to re-encode the result as JSON failed (I think because of illegal characters in the Google Chart url). On the advice of Tony I tried passing it back as a RSS XML item which worked better. Pipes still had problems parsing the data, which I was able to definitely  trace to the Google Chart url. This was easily solved by automatically converting the chart url into a tinyurl.

The code for my little black box is here (I’m not a professional programmer so I’m sure there is a lot of tiding up which can be done). Basically all it does is collect the data from pipes, creates a Google Chart url and then uses this to create a RSS item which is passed back to the pipe.

The final TwEVS Yahoo Pipe is here and I’ve also embedded a poll result below. So if you like TwEVS tweet ‘#twevspoll yes’ or if not ‘#twevspoll no’.

There are numerous ways you could pedagogically and technically use this pipe which are worth a separate post in their own right (something for next week). In the meantime I welcome any suggestions for improvements or any other general feedback (just use the comments link/box below).

BTW David ended up having a number of suggestions which he has followed up in Vote with Twitter. My thanks also go to Tony Hirst for his advice.

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Mobile phone ownership within the UK is regularly reported around 90% peaking to 95-97% for 16-24 year olds. While we know ownership is high, there is very little research on the type of phone young people have. Knowing the type of phone potentially allows us as educators to start tapping in to this resource. I'm particular interested in the data capabilities of mobile phones, previously posting on various topics including 3G usage. One area not to be overlooked is wi-fi access.

Wi-Fi Enabled Phones

Nokia
Nokia N95 8GB Music
Nokia E71 White
Nokia N85
Nokia E71 Grey
Nokia N95 sport
Nokia N96
Nokia N78
Nokia N82
Nokia 6301
Nokia N81 8GB
Nokia N95 8GB
Nokia E90 Communicator
Nokia E65
Nokia N95

Apple
Apple 3G iPhone White
Apple iPhone

Samsung
Samsung i900 Omnia White
Samsung i8510
Samsung Omnia 16GB
Samsung Omnia
Samsung G810
Samsung i780

Sony Ericsson
Sony Ericsson C905 Silver
Sony Ericsson C905 Gold
Sony Ericsson G900 Red
Sony Ericsson G900
Sony Ericsson C905
Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1
Sony Ericsson P1i
Sony Ericsson W960i

LG
LG KC910

T Mobile
T-Mobile Ameo 16GB
T-Mobile G1
MDA Vario II
MDA Compact III

BlackBerry
BlackBerry 8120 Pearl Pink
BlackBerry Bold
Blackberry Curve 8310 Pink
BlackBerry Pearl 8120 Titanium
BlackBerry Pearl 8110 Pink
Blackberry Pearl 8120

Windows Mobile 5/6
HTC
HP
MWg
Glofish
i-mate
Qtek

There is now a growing list of phones (see column) which can connect to wireless networks. Importantly, this list is not just limited to the business exec prousers with their iPhones and Blackberry's, but also extends to free-on-contract phones which are already finding there way into students pockets. So assuming there will be a growing number of portable wi-fi devices knocking around campuses, which students are already prepared to carry with them on a day-to-day basis, how can we start utilising them?

A particular area I'm interested in is students response systems (also known as audience response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers ...). Prior to joining the RSC I worked at the University of Strathclyde, arguably the first UK institution to integrate this technology as part of active collaborative learning. Having seen these systems in practice, particularly when combined with Peer Instruction (developed by Professor Eric Mazur), you cannot but be impressed with the level of engagement and learning gains students experience. [Here is a paper and video case study of what is done at Strathclyde and Mazur's Peer Instruction site]

A number of response system manufactures supply 'virtual' versions of their handsets. The solutions tend to be either purely web based or an application add-on. Web-based is the most flexible as it only needs a device with an Internet connection and Internet browser with basic JavaScript support (theoretically you could use anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Application based requires a small application to be installed on the users device. This can be more limiting and unless the manufacturer has been incredibility busy developing different versions of their software for different platforms (you have the added complication of distributing the right software to your students).

There is also a cost associated with using a response system manufactures solution. If your institution is already using physical handsets it however might be possible that a set number of 'virtual' licences come as part of the package.

If you are looking for free solutions one option is ClassInHand (CIH). CIH was developed by Wake Forest University and basically turns a Windows Mobile device into "a web server, a presentation controller, and a quizzing and feedback device for a classroom instructor". Turning the Windows Mobile device into a web server means that any device with a web browser and a wi-fi connection can be used (again, anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Unfortunately development of CIH appears to have ceased in 2003 and when I recently tried the software on my Windows Mobile 6 device it kept crashing :-(

One other big limitation of CIH, apart from it not working, is the reliance on the web server being hosted on a mobile device. Not every member of staff will have access to one of these and with tight budgets a purchase might be hard to justify. An equally, if not more, portable solution would be to run a response system from a USB pendrive. To my knowledge no one has done this but all the components are potentially already out there.

Similar to CIH, for a core you would want to run a portable local web server. There are a number of projects which already allow you to do this. I use XAMPP which, at the the danger of completely loosing you non-techies, creates a integrated server package of Apache, mySQL, PHP and Perl. The bits I'm interested in are: Apache - the bit which can serve web pages; PHP - which allows you programme the pages to do clever stuff; and mySQL - a database which allows you to store and retrieve information.

So a rainy weekend later here's what I've come up with:


DIY wireless student response system from Martin Hawksey on Vimeo.

Here are links to the components I've pulled together for this example:

  • XAMPP - Portable web server
  • PHP Libchart - Simple PHP chart drawing library
  • LiveWeb - insert and view live web pages in PowerPoint

and here's my DIY code:

If you've found this post useful you might also be interested in the JISC funded 'EVAF4All: Electronic Voting Analysis and Feedback For All' project being led by Simon Bates at the University of Edinburgh. More information on the project including the original proposal is available here.