Archive for the 'TwEVS' Category

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).

MASHe Review: Electronic voting systems (clickers)

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.]

Integrating twitter voting and feedback into PowerPoint

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my current interests is using twitter as a live in-class voting tool (TwEVS). Today, via Jane Hart, I was made aware of ‘Free PowerPoint Twitter Tools’ developed by Timo Elliott.

Timo’s solution not only integrates voting within a PowerPoint presentation, but he has some other nice features including a real-time twitter ticker-tap and a feedback wall which pulls questions and response from twitter (shown below).

Using these tools is very easy and all you need to do is download the PowerPoint .ppt file with embedded tools and instructions from Timo’s site (unfortunately PowerPoint for Mac isn’t support yet).

The technology behind this solution is simple Adobe Flash which was developed using SAP BusinessObjects Dashboarding product, Xcelsius (don’t worry all you need to use this solution is PowerPoint and Adobe Flash Player). Initially the PowerPoint file didn’t work for me but thanks to a suggestion from Timo it was traced to a problem with my Flash Player installation. If you experience problems I would suggest following the uninstall/install instructions provided by Adobe.

When I presented my solution using twitter and yahoo pipes for voting last week  I would say most of the interest was in combining in-class and out-of-class activity. Timo’s solution potential fits in well with this giving an easy way to use voting as well as a the feedback wall which could be used at any point during a presentation to stimulate dialogue.

TwEVS – Presentation (using twitter for electronic voting)

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 …

Electronic voting and interactive lectures using twitter (TwEVS)

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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.

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 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.

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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