MASHe

The Higher Education blog from the JISC RSC Scotland North & East

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.]

Posted on the January 14, 2010 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, Student Response System, TwEVS, Twitter | 1 Comment, Add Yours


Using the festive period to stray slightly away from my core remit I thought I would document a little mashup which allows you to automatically tweet items you share in Google Reader.

Background

I’m a big fan of Google Reader and its the main way I consume RSS feeds (unsure about RSS? Here it is explained in plain English). Already I use the  Shared Items Post Plugin to automatically post a digest of my shared Reader items. The idea is I’m acting as an intelligent filter, sifting through almost 150 subscriptions to pull out items which might be of most relevance to staff at our supported institutions. The nice thing about Google Reader is I can share items making a personal note or comment. This has parallels to micro-blogging sites like twitter. 

The emergence of twitter, and similar status update sites, is changing the way many people tap into information streams and for me it makes sense to make sure information I produce or find useful is disseminated through as many channels as possible.

How to do it

Go to your Google Reader Shared page (if you haven’t set-up a public page or can’t remember where it is login to Reader, click on ‘Your stuff’, then ‘share settings’, shown below).

On the page that opens there should be a link to ‘Preview your shared items page in a new window’, on this page you need to copy your ‘Atom feed’ link.

At this point you can go to straight to an automatic tweeting service called twitterfeed and paste this link in as a new feed (Twitterfeed is a free service which allows you to submit a RSS feed. New feed items are then ‘tweeted’ on your behalf). Unfortunately doing it this way means that any notes you’ve written about a post are lost.

Not satisfied with this I decided to create a Yahoo Pipe which extracts my notes, if any, and tweets this instead. If you’ve never tried Yahoo Pipes its a great free service to take existing RSS feeds, do some tweaking and output a new custom RSS feed. I’ll explain how the pipe works at the end of this post. For now:

  1. open this ‘Tweet Google Reader Shared’ yahoo pipe
  2. paste your ‘Atom feed’ link from Google Reader and click ‘Run Pipe’.
  3. copy the ‘Get as RSS’ link into twitterfeed.com.

Now when you share an item in Google Reader with a note, the note will be tweeted via twitterfeed.com (if you share an item without a note the existing item title will be used).

To see an example here is a tweet posted via twitterfeed which was pulled from the Google Reader Shared page shown below:

How the pipe works

Below is a screenshot of the pipe I created (click here to see it in Yahoo Pipes). The pseudo code is:

  1. Fetch Feed from Google Reader Shared page
  2. If feed contains annotation copy as title else do nothing
  3. Sort by date (new first)
  4. Remove <a href> tags from title 

  

Enjoy (and Seasons Greetings)!

Posted on the December 17, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under How-to, Twitter | 1 Comment, Add Yours


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.

Posted on the November 25, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Student Response System, Twitter, mashed | Add Your Comments


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.

Posted on the October 6, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, TwEVS, Twitter | 4 Comments, Add Yours


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 …

Posted on the September 30, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, Presentation, Student Response System, TwEVS, Twitter | 2 Comments, Add Yours


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 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 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.

Posted on the September 4, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, Student Response System, TwEVS, Twitter | 20 Comments, Add Yours


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).

My 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.

Posted on the August 26, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, Student Response System, TwEVS, Twitter | 5 Comments, Add Yours


Recently I’ve been rediscovering twitter, this was largely instigated by the discovery of a nice little application which allows me to monitor tweets from the comfort of my desktop. The application in question is called Twirl. I had previously tried another desktop client called TweetDeck but didn’t find it particularly intuitive and felt it took over my entire desktop. One of the reasons I lost touch with twitter was I didn’t have a mechanism for alerting me to new tweets. Twirl not only allows me to review my twitter feed but also pops up notifications of new messages in the corner of my screen allowing me to keep a passing eye on what is going on in the ‘twittersphere’. 

The value of twitter is still a hot debate. Moving away from a pure educational use, which I covered in Twitter in higher education, I’ve been recently interested in its use as a marketing tool. This was started after I found Heather Mansfield’s ‘10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education’ on University Business (a site for those interested in higher education management). These tips are for institutions interested in marketing themselves via twitter.

Before designing your institutional twitter campaign there are a couple of demographics you should be aware of. Firstly, How Many People Actually Use Twitter? The answer, approximately 6 million registered users (compared to Facebook’s 200 million). Also the demographic for a twitter user, as highlighted in a recent Pogue’s Post is “older, better educated and higher-earning. About 80 percent … are over 25, and two-thirds of us have college degrees”.

Secondly, who knows about twitter? According to a recent LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll over two-thirds (69%) of consumers say they “say they do not know enough about Twitter to have an opinion about it”.

So with such a tight demographic is a institutional twitter presence worthwhile? I think so but I would want to be clever about it. To add to Heather Mansfield’s tips I would add something on integration.

There are a number of ways that you can intelligently integrate twitter into your existing marketing campaigns. At RSC Scotland North & East (@rsc_ne_scotland) we use twitterfeed,which is a free service that automatically turns RSS feeds into tweets. This service has some very useful features allowing to control what is tweeted. For example you can prefix/suffix rss feeds before they are tweeted making it easier for people to scan/search. We use this on rsc_ne_scotland to separate news and events. We also use a keyword filter to be more selective in what we tweet.

I would also look at how twitter can be integrated into other ‘status updating’ services. For example Facebook uses ‘the wall’ to allow users to essentially tweet what they are doing. If your institution already has a Facebook presence I would want to sync my Facebook and Twitter updates. As it happen this is very easy to do because twitter have developed the Twitter on Facebook application.

If your institutions social network presence extends beyond twitter and Facebook you might want to look at Ping.fm. This service is allows you to post updates to over 40 social networking sites from one site.

List of HEIs in Scotland N&E I’m following:
@aberdeenuni
@aberdeenunilib
@AbertayUni
@DundeeUniv
@EdinburghNapier
@EdNapLib
@elearn_StA
@heriot_watt
@QMULRC
@RobertGordonUni
@SACinfo
@saclibrarynews
@TweetUHI
@UniofEdinburgh
@univofstandrews

Posted on the July 31, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Research, Social Networking, Twitter | 2 Comments, Add Yours


A research note written by a 15-year-old Morgan Stanley intern on the media habits of his generation made it to the front page of the Financial Times this week sparking various headlines including ‘Twitter is not for teens, Morgan Stanley told by 15-year-old expert’ and ‘Teenage media habits: was the whiz-kid correct?’.

Apart from various other teenagers being poked and prodded by journalists to give their analysis of teen-media Jenna McWilliams at the Guardian asked “Why is one 15-year-old’s middling analysis of teen media use being interpreted as the new bible of social media?”.

Her answer:

The answer is simple. We’re lost in a forest, and we’re looking for a guide to lead us out. We live in a world where knowledge is abundant and access is near-ubiquitous. What’s scarce is the ability to sift through the information, to extract, synthesise and circulate key ideas to a public that’s starving for someone to serve as an intelligent filter. Lost in the new media universe - guardian.co.uk

Hopefully MASHe is serving as ‘an intelligent filter’ (although by highlighting the ‘middling analysis’ of a teenager I’m probably setting myself up for a fall – the full copy of the research note is here).

Posted on the July 15, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under News, Twitter | Add Your Comments


Twe2 - Steps to getting twitter updates via SMS Last month I posted about Twitter in Higher Education. This post, while very recent, has already made it to my top 5 read posts. This has spurred me to make some follow up posts. In particular I’ve been looking for 3rd party applications that use twitter which might be useful in an academic setting. My starting point was the Twitter Fan Wiki, which has compiled a huge list of Twitter Apps. One particular application which took my interest was Twe2.com.

Twe2.com is a free service which allows you to receive SMS updates. Towards the end of July 2008 I highlighted how you could use twitter as a free SMS text message broadcast system. The idea being that students could follow a twitter feed for a class or course receiving updates on their mobile phone i.e. assignment reminders or general administration etc. Unfortunately 2 weeks after making this post twitter pulled the service citing rise costs :-(.

Twe2 have cleverly found a way covering the costs of this service by including by adding an advert at the end of each SMS update. Twe2 fully integrates into twitter and there is very little additional setup. I’ve prepared this sort screencast to show you how to do this.


Example of using twe2 as a free SMS text broadcast system from Martin Hawksey on Vimeo.

In my screencast I also mention another 3rd party application twitterfeed. This service allows you to convert any RSS feed into twitter tweets. So for example if your course uses a VLE which creates an RSS for news or announcements this can be automatically be pushed to your class twitter account which will then be sent to any student who has registered their mobile phone with twe2.

Posted on the February 20, 2009 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Twitter | 2 Comments, Add Yours