Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Twitter + voting/polling + Yahoo Pipes = TwEVS (The Making Of)

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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 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.

What I've starred this week: August 25, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

What I've starred this week: August 18, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Android Mobile OS: Pandora’s box of accessibility opportunities

HTC Hero Android 1
HTC Hero Android 1
Originally uploaded by louisvolant

[Update (21/10/09): Google have recently announced  more accessibility features in Android 1.6]

At the RSC we were fortunate to get our hands on one of the latest Android mobile phones, the HTC Hero. For the uninitiated Android is a Open Source mobile operating system originally developed by Google, but now maintained by the Open Handset Alliance. Android is very similar to the iPhone in terms of its multi-touch interface and drop-in add-ons. The real divergence between the two platforms probably lies in the openness.

With the iPhone, whilst it is easy for developers to code applications which use the functionality of the phone, Apple maintain a very strong control over which ones can be download from the ‘App Store’ and unless you are prepared to do some major tinkering to ‘jailbreak’ your phone you are locked in. Android is different because while they have a similar official ‘Market’ where you download approved applications, with one click you can install any 3rd party application. As David Flanders puts it “we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we want it”.

So what does the community want? Well Google research scientist T.V. Raman and his colleague Charles Chen see Android as an opportunity to move assistive technology to the mobile world.  They have been working on the Eyes-Free project which has created a text-to-speech (TTS) library for android. This, like Android, is an Open Source project and already other developers have been using the TTS library in their own applications. A list of applications is available here. My particular favourites are:

Alchemy Clip - Cameraphone OCR to speech

Alchemy Clip (Web Link) | Alchemy Clip (Android Link)
Allows you to take a snapshot of a piece of text using the phones camera which is then OCR’d to be read-a-loud.

AutoTran iVoiceBrowserLite – Web browser with screen reader

iVoiceBrowserLite (Web Link) | iVoiceBrowserLite (Android Link)
Web browser with built in screen reader.

Eyes-Free Shell - eyes-free communication device

Eyes-Free Shell (Web Link) | Eyes-Free Shell (Android Link)
Turns your Android into an eyes-free communication device, providing one-touch access to Android applications, as well as useful mini-apps built into the Eyes-Free Shell. Move your finger over the screen to explore; lift your finger up to run what you stopped on. See also the Eyes-Free Config Manager (Android Link), which lists the applications from the Eyes-Free Project and enables you to set the Eyes-Free Shell as your default Home application.

Talking Dialer

Talking Dialer (Web Link) |Talking Dialer (Android Link)
Another Eyes-Free project application to help with dialling.

The vOICe – Seeing with sound

The vOICe (Web Link)
The vOICe for Android translates live camera views into sound, targeting augmented reality for the totally blind through sensory substitution and synthetic vision. Includes a talking colour identifier and talking compass.

Speaking Pad – Talking notepad

Speaking Pad (Web Link) | Speaking Pad (Android Link)
A talking notepad for Android. This notepad will speak what you type.

As you would expect with such a new platform some of these applications are still a little ragged around the edges, but I believe the Android platform has huge potential in making mobile technology inclusive, accessible and affordable.

What I've starred this week: August 11, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

National (Unsatisfied) Student Survey 2009 – The Scottish Picture

The National Student Survey results has been published by HEFCE which has no doubt left school/department managers burning the midnight oil to see how they have faired. Feedback remains to be a talking point with only just over half of Scottish students agreeing or strongly agreeing that feedback has been prompt, detailed and helpful.

But what about the students who neither agree or disagree? If you turn the question around and ask what proportion of students disagree or strongly disagree with the level of feedback they receive then you are looking at approximately a quarter of students. Obviously this is still a substantial number and still makes feedback the worst performing area, but if you are drilling down into course level performance perhaps it is worth bearing in mind.

Table 1 below shows the results for the percentage of Scottish students who responded disagree or strongly disagree to the NSS questions.

Looking at how this analysis effects the overall satisfaction with Scottish HEIs the most notable changes are University of Stirling and Robert Gordon University who (by my calculations*) jump 2 rankings. Below (#) denotes rank.

University of St Andrews91% (1)3% (1)
University of Glasgow91% (1)5% (2)
University of Aberdeen89% (3)6% (4)
University of Stirling88% (4)5% (2)
University of Dundee88% (4)7% (5)
University of Strathclyde87% (6)7% (5)
Robert Gordon University84% (7)7% (5)
Glasgow Caledonian University84% (7)8% (8)
University of Edinburgh82% (9)9% (9)
Napier University81% (10)9% (9)
Heriot-Watt University81% (10)10% (11)
Glasgow School of Art69% (12)22% (12)

*Data provided by the NSS is susceptible to rounding errors. For example University of St. Andrews has an overall percentage agree for Q22 of 92% yet the percentage breakdown is 35% agree and 56% strongly agree, which equals 91%. To allow comparison with the percentage of disagreement, the sum of percentage of responses for agree and strongly agree have been used.

Table 1: Unofficial National Unsatisfied Student Survey (UNUSS)
Provisional sector results for Full-time students - Scotland Registered HEI (% of students who disagree/strongly disagree) extracted from HEFCE NSS 2009 Data

The teaching on my course
1 - Staff are good at explaining things.44
2 - Staff have made the subject interesting.66
3 - Staff are enthusiastic about what they are teaching.44
4 - The course is intellectually stimulating.55
Assessment and feedback
5 - The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.1715
6 - Assessment arrangements and marking have been fair.1110
7 - Feedback on my work has been prompt.2827
8 - I have received detailed comments on my work.2927
9 - Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand.2725
Academic support
10 - I have received sufficient advice and support with my studies.1211
11 - I have been able to contact staff when I needed to.67
12 - Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices.1312
Organisation and management
13 - The timetable works efficiently as far as my activities are concerned.1011
14 - Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively.1215
15 - The course is well organised and is running smoothly.1113
Learning resources
16 - The library resources and services are good enough for my needs.1211
17 - I have been able to access general IT resources when I needed to.66
18 - I have been able to access specialised equipment, facilities or room when I needed to.66
Personal development
19 - The course has helped me present myself with confidence.76
20 - My communication skills have improved.54
21 - As a result of the course, I feel confident in tackling unfamiliar problems.55
Overall satisfaction
22 - Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course.77

Paper: Identifying Middlewares for Mashup Personal Learning Environments

A paper popped into my RSS feed today which reinforces the idea recently touched upon by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) that we are in A World Where No-One Visits Our Web Sites. Below is the abstract and link to the full open access text:

Abstract: The common understanding of e-learning has shifted over the last decade from the traditional learning objects portals to learning paradigms that enforces constructivism, discovery learning and social collaboration. Such type of learning takes place outside the formal academic settings (e.g., seminars or lectures) where a learning environment is created by using some kind of web application mashup tools. The use of these mashup tools moves the learning environment further away from being a monolithic platform towards providing an open set of learning tools, an unrestricted number of actors, and an open corpus of artifacts, either pre-existing or created by the learning process – freely combinable and utilizable by learners within their learning activities. However, collaboration, mashup and contextualization can only be supported through services, which can be created and modified dynamically based on middlewares to suit the current needs and situations of learners. This article identifies middlewares suitable for creating effective personal learning environment based on Web 2.0 mashup tools. This article also proposed a general framework for constructing such personal learning environments based on Ambient Learning realized by learning agents and the use of Enterprise Mashup servers.

Fiaidhi, J.; Mohammed, S.; Chamarette, L.; Thomas, D. Identifying Middlewares for Mashup Personal Learning Environments. Future Internet 2009, 1, 14-27.

What I’ve starred this week: August 4, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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