DIY: A wi-fi student response system


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 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 3G iPhone White
Apple iPhone

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 KC910

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

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

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 b
y Simon Bates at the University of Edinburgh. More information on the project including the original proposal is available here.


Join the conversation

comment 3 comments
  • Imperial

    This prototype is fantastic, and has been modified by John Conway into a fully fledged (but simple) system that we’re now using in Imperial College maths department:
    It has been very effective, and just involves two webpages (one for tutor to set multiple choice questions, one for student to click on answer) and a graphical output. It’s also free of course.

    • Martin Hawksey

      Brilliant! It’s great that someone has been able to take this idea and run with it.
      I’ve met John a couple of times and he is a great guy. Good luck in getting your colleagues on board. I know how difficult and isolating it can be in convincing people that clicker technology is worth the investment in time (despite all the research by people like Eric Mazur).
      I commend you of keeping it simple, definitely the right way to go.
      Thanks for highlighting your work, and if there are any other developments I would love to hear about them!

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