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, 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 ***


  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 ‘ (might be 12 random characters) Update: There’s a new url so it’s the code after
  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:{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, but something I’m not interested in doing).


Join the conversation

comment 11 comments
  • David Muir

    Hello there
    I’ve replied to your comment on my blog to explain how I set up the SMS backchannel. I had been meaning to ask you if your SMS vote system used something smart that textwall provides or if any system that could provide an RSS feed from text messages would do.
    Drop me an email if you want to talk more about what I did.

    • Martin Hawksey

      Hi David – Textwall just has the option to grab entries using a RSS feed so if the Intellisoftware that you use was able to do something similar (even if it was converting the default email output to RSS) it should work. I noticed tat Intellisoftware have an API block so it might be possible to tap into this. Definitely something I want to look at.

  • David Muir

    Hello again
    I’m not sure if Intellisoftware can go directly from text to RSS but what I did was make it send the email to a Blogger blog; and the blog has an RSS feed…

    • Martin Hawksey

      Partial progress. I’ve modified the code so that this page lets enter any RSS feed url and it will try and extract votes from the item title. The problem is finding a service which isn’t limited to 10 or 20 items in the RSS feed.
      Any thoughts anyone?

  • David Muir

    So close and yet…
    Following your suggestion, I dusted off a long forgotten WordPress account on, set up a secret email address, and tested posting from email So far, so good.
    Next went to Intellisoftware and set up a new account to email WordPress… but no joy. Intellisence posted the mail but it didn’t show up on wordpress. I think the problem is that WP only accepts email posts from registered email addresses and Intellisoftware seems to create a new email address for each phone that sends to it. Curses! Can’t see how to make WP accepts posts from any email account.

  • lilian soon

    Textwall accounts are now £30pa but still good value as they offer you rude word filter, option to post by webpage and you can now even email into the textwall. So with one wall, you can collect all of your audience/learner responses and use RSS to feed the results wherever you need them.

  • jim

    hi Martin
    staff here have gone ‘textwall’ crazy.
    good in some ways but
    i’m worried about reliability and the fact that we haven’t had time to review alternatives
    should i be concerned?

    • Martin Hawksey

      Hi Jim – tricky one. Sounds like you’ve got a bunch of enthusiastic staff just getting of with it, the danger being any intervention will temper that enthusiasm. There’s obviously going to be a financial breakpoint when all these £25 will be the equivalent of a shared/centralised. Perhaps it’s time to look at some of the alternatives and work out the pros and cons of a new model?

    • lilian soon

      Hi Jim, we do have an organisation account that’s £400 for 25 walls. Brings the price right down. We also offer an unlimited accounts option. Email me if you like: lilian @ learningapps dot co dot uk. Textwall have been going for 6 years. Let me know what your concerns are…

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