Monthly Archive for September, 2010

What I’ve starred this week: September 28, 2010

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

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Free SMS voting using intelliSoftware SMS Gateway service

Technology -
Technology - "Future Vision"
Originally uploaded by $ydney

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://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/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.

What I’ve starred this week: September 21, 2010

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

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

How to Google Instant(ise) a Custom Search Engine (CSE) – Revisited

Previously I posted How to Google Instant(ise) a Custom Search Engine (CSE), which like a lot of my pet projects is perpetual beta (my general fallback to explain away bad coding or user interface). In particular it wasn’t until I took Chris Jobling’s Google Custom Search Engine for #PLENK2010 and ‘instantise’ it that a couple of issues became very apparent:

  1. Wouldn’t it be good to allow a traditional search on hitting the return key or clicking ‘search’.
  2. It would be great to make it easier to share the joy of Instant Custom Search Engines.
  3. Google Scribe was more of a hinder than help

So I’ve come up with Instant CSE v2. This version has been beatified slightly using the Google search styling and also pulls the traditional Google CSE ‘search element’ results in when the search form is submitted. You can also instantise your own custom search by extracting your CSE ID and adding it to the url e.g. http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/search/?cx=012010416210434366262:-vttp31xsd0 (I haven’t fully tested this feature so feedback is very welcome).

If you are interested in making your own custom searches for courses or events I recommend reading Alan Levine’s OPML to CSE recipe (OPML is one way to output the source url for a collection of RSS feeds) or Tony Hirst’s  work on hashtag communities.

A couple of Instant CSE’s to play with:

Morphic Resonance, Threshold Concepts, e-Portfolios and OERs

The Cattle Grid
The Cattle Grid
Originally uploaded by gwendolen

Probably the most unlikely blog post title ever, let me expand.

On Friday we had our ePortfolio Scotland 2010 conference at Queen Margaret University. The final presentation on the day was by Dr Gordon Joyce entitled ‘JISC Effective Practice with e-Portfolios – Where are we now?’. As well as giving an overview/update of the JISC ePortfolio programme he introduced the JISC funded e-Portfolio Implementations Study (ePI) which is investigating, analysing and documenting how intuitions go about large-scale portfolio implementation.

The thing that caught my attention was the framework they were using to capture this information, ‘Threshold Concepts’.

Threshold Concepts’ may be considered to be "akin to passing through a portal" or "conceptual gateway" that opens up "previously inaccessible way[s] of thinking about something" (Meyer and Land, 2003).

This wasn’t the first time I’ve come across this theory (having worked with Ray Land at CAPLE), but it was the first time I heard it being used as a analysis framework. I’ve embedded Gordon’s presentation below, he starts talking about Threshold Concepts and ePI from slide 15, so you can find out how they are using this framework.

JISC Effective Practice with e-Portfolios – Where are we now?

At almost exactly the same time as Gordon was giving his presentation John Robertson from JISC CETIS published a blog post on Threshold Concepts And Open Educational Resources in which he:

considers the possible possible application of threshold concepts to open educational resources and the conceptual challenges faced by those advocating the use and release of OERs

Now what are the chances of that! Or is it just a case of ‘Morphic Resonance’?

Morphic Resonance I hear you ask. I first came across this concept on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Museum of Curiosity’. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that ideas can be shared without contact, a bit like collective unconscious. An example regularly cited is the observation that sheep in part of Australia discovered they could cross cattlegrids by rolling across them. At the same time thousands of miles away the same behaviour was witnessed in a different flock of sheep, morphic resonance.

So if you are putting a JISC bid in I recommend you reference Threshold Concepts ;-)

What I’ve starred this week: September 14, 2010

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

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

How to Google Instant(ise) a Custom Search Engine (CSE)

Furry 2yo instant coffee
Furry 2yo instant coffee
Originally uploaded by avlxyz

Update: This solution has evolved slightly. More information in How to Google Instant(ise) a Custom Search Engine (CSE) – Revisited

Google have grabbed quite a few headlines with their new Instant search and there has been a rush of developers ‘instantising’ other sites. The one which has got the most attention is Stanford student Feross Aboukhadijeh who after making YouTube Instant has been offered a job with YouTube.

Following this and some other ‘Instant’ sites popping up (usually with an employ me banner) Tam Denholm has come up with instantise.com which at last count has 16 different sites that you can get an instant style search result. A number of these are created by just adding a ‘site:a-single-site.com’ operator which limits the search just to a particular domain.

But what is you want to search across multiple domains like the ALTC2010 custom search engine created by Tony Hirst from the #altc2010 hashtag community (See Deriving a Persistent EdTech Context from the ALTC2010 Twitter Backchannel)?

Fortunately the Google AJAX Search API used in Tam’s example can be directed filtered using a Google Custom Search Engine. Here’s how to do it (BTW :

  1. Log in to Custom Search and set up your own custom search engine
  2. Next you need to sign up for an API key on the Google AJAX Search API
  3. Download this code unpacking the files
  4. In instant.js you will need to enter you AJAX API key and your Google Custom Search ID (this information is on the Basic’s page of the CSE control panel)
  5. Upload files to your server and test them

I only modified Tam’s files slightly but one addition I made was to include the Google Scribe bookmarklet script. Google Scribe is a Google Labs project which provides autotext completion. Whilst this is probably not as accurate as the prediction used in Google Instant (Scribe helps build sentences rather than return the most popular search terms) it still potentially speeds up the process of getting search results (here is more info on Google Instant, behind the scenes).
If you want to see how all of this looks:

*** Here is a Google Instant(ish) search of this blog and some of my other social media activity ***

BTW if anyone wants to give me a job you should also check out my post on Convergence @youtube meets @twitter: In timeline commenting of YouTube videos using Twitter [uTitle] ;-)

eAssessment Scotland 2010: Twitter workshop reflections

Last Friday I ran a Twitter workshop as part of ‘eAssessment Scotland 2010: Marking the decade’. In the programme I described the session as:

What’s happening? Twitter for Assessment, Feedback and Communication

Twitter is a social networking site which continues to divide personal opinion. Some believe that the micro-blogging service is just an opportunity celebrities to boost their ego with millions of followers or just full of people ‘tweeting’ what they had for lunch. Whilst some users do use Twitter for this purpose a number of academics are now discovering that Twitter has the potential to support teaching and learning, providing a means to enable students to discuss and share within their personal learning network. Before you dismiss Twitter there are some basics worth considering: the service is free to register, status updates can be made from the most basic mobile phone, and users can monitor conversations through multiple means including, for some users, sending free SMS updates.

This workshop uses some of the features of Twitter highlighted above to let participants experience and use this service as a free electronic voting system (EVS), for classroom administration (assessment notification/reminders) and to monitor real-time student evaluation. As this technology is relatively new the workshop will begin with an overview of basic Twitter interaction making it suitable for novice and expert users.

I was perhaps too ambitious to include ‘novice’ users and it would have been better if I either focused on beginners or intermediate/advance users. The workshop I delivered was probably more beneficial for the later, but hopefully novice users were tantalised by the utility of twitter.

During the workshop I really missed having Timo Elliott’s PowerPoint AutoTweet tool (which is broken because of authentication changes at Twitter). This would have been really useful to send out links during the presentation (this example shows how I used it for another presentation).

As a number of participants had only just created Twitter accounts the week before it looks like Twitter quarantines their tweets preventing them from appearing in search results (I guess they wait until you hit some threshold in terms of following/followers/tweets to make sure the account isn’t being used from spam).

In the sides you’ll noticed I’ve revived the Twitter voting tool (TwEVS). Previously this solution relied on using Yahoo Pipes to manipulate results from Twitter, which meant graphs didn’t always have the latest results because of caching. To get around this I’ve created a script which can be run from a webserver. Here is the new TwEVS interface (you can also download the code).

Using a Learning Apps textwall for SMS voting for £25/year

I’ve written about the different ways you can do electronic voting without buying clickers a number of times from creating a simple wi-fi system, to using services like polleverywhere.com, to even using Twitter (more on the latest on this one in a separate post).

For the ‘eAssessment Scotland 2010: Marking the decade’ conference we ran a poster competition and not wanting to collect lots of slips of papers we thought it would be good to have a SMS vote. Having seen the Learning Apps (formerly xlearn textwall) being used at other events and knowing it allowed data to be exported via RSS it was the ideal candidate. Using the same concept for voting via Twitter (TwEVS) of counting the occurrences of options after a hashtag it was easy to just substitute the feed from Twitter search with the one from Learning Apps.

Wanting to add a bit more than just a static Google Chart I was interested to see if I could get the graph to update automatically without browser refresh. After looking at a couple of options including the Javascript plotting library ‘flot’ I came across a post by Sony Arianto Kurniawan on Create Realtime Chart Without Page Refresh using FusionCharts Free and Ajax (prototype.js), which worked a treat.

The advantage of this home grown solution is it gives you some flexibility in how it is used in particular using the space before the question identifier for users to explain why they think their answer is correct. You can access the voting site using the link below (here is also the source code for download).

*** XVS – SMS voting using Learning Apps ***

Instructions

  1. Rent a textwall from Learning Apps (xlearn) for £25/year (this solution only requires you to receive messages so you won’t need any additional credit unless you plan on contacting students via SMS)
  2. Once created login to the xlearn admin panel and click either ‘Text Wall’ or ‘Inbox’ and note/copy the code after ‘http://xdalearn.co.uk/rssfeed/Feed?id= (might be 12 random characters)
  3. When you want to ask a question give users the options and instructions like “to vote for option ‘A’ send a text message to 07XXX XXX XXX with ‘xyz #q1 A’ (where 07XXX XXX XXX is the mobile number and xyz is the short code provided by Learning Apps).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)
  4. On the XVS site enter your textwall RSS id saved earlier and the hashtag identifier without the ‘#’ (in this example it would be ‘q1’). You can also optionally set the maximum number of options to graph. The reason you would use this is to try and prevent any malicious uses like sending rude messages.
  5. 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://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/twevs/xvs.php?id={see note}&tag=q1&options=-&type=live

id - is an encode version of your textwall RSS id. It’s encode to try and prevent direct access to you entire text wall. 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

One last thought. As this solution uses RSS feeds to pull the voting results, just as with the Twitter voting example, it would be very straight forward to combine the two (already a feature of polleverywhere.com, but something I’m not interested in doing).

What’s happening? The ‘utility’ of Twitter in teaching and learning

In this post I want to put down a marker as to the role I think Twitter could have within education. When previously presenting on the use of Twitter in education I’ve always tried to emphasis its not just about a tool for discussion (in fact I try to avoid the word discussion because 140 characters can seriously hamper the depth you can go into), but instead Twitter which can be easily interacted with via its API and 3rd party services has the potential to be used as the building blocks for a service to support teaching and learning.

Some examples for you.

Does your institution use (or is about to cut) a SMS service to send administrative information to students? If so you could save yourself 4p per text by asking students to follow a Twitter account and receive free SMS updates if they are customers of one of the four big mobile network operators.       

Do you use or want to use electronic voting in the classroom but don’t have enough handsets or are frustrated when students don’t bring them in? If so Twitter can be used as a mechanism for collect votes even using the most basic mobile phones.

Making a strategic decision to use Twitter for different aspects of the educational experience I believe students are less likely to perceive it as a gimmick and consequently more likely to take more ownership of it as a tool to support their own education.

A nice diagram I came across recently which illustrates the ‘different aspects of Twitter’ this is Mark Sample’s Twitter Adoption Matrix which featured in his A Framework for Teaching with Twitter post.

Twitter Adoption Matrix  

(Mark has followed up his post with another expanding on Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, which is also worth a read)

The idea of building applications around social network sites to aid teaching and learning isn’t new. Examples like OU’s SocialLearn and Purdue’s Hotseat spring to mind. Perhaps the issue with these is they are designed around breadth instead of depth, trying to tap into the illusive Personal Learning Environment.

What if instead we ignore the personal and focus on the functional. That is building applications around Twitter to provide students and tutors with the tools to support learning, focusing on formal uses enabling opportunities for serendipitous informal learning. 

But why Twitter and not Facebook or FriendFeed et al.? For me it comes down to a couple of things. With Facebook there is the ever distraction of games, friends and family. Twitter stripes a lot of this away. FriendFeed is better in terms of simplicity but you are not restricted by 140 characters. Whilst this makes FriendFeed a better tool for deep discussion it makes it less mobile friendly (i.e. you can read notifications from Twitter on the most basic phone via SMS).

Finally flexibility. My favouring of Twitter’s flexibility is perhaps down to my own limitations as an educational mash-up artist. I find it a lot easier to extend Twitter’s functionality because of the simplicity of the core product and number of examples that can easily be adapted.

Hopefully you are getting my gist. Focus on adopting Twitter as a tool. Think of Twitter’s utility. The utility to collect comments. The utility to collect votes. The utility to send notifications. Through focusing on utility you are creating opportunities for other learning theories to come into play enabling the transition from formal to personal.

About

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

mhawksey [at] rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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