Thursday, August 20, 2009

What do you think?

Personal Response Systems are used in schools and universities to collect opinions, and answers from students. They work like the ask the audience system on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I must admit that I wasn't sure they would be much use until I tried them in a lecture. The response from the students was so positive that I was convinced after one use. However, there are problems. Handing out and collecting the handsets, setting up the software and receivers etc. is all a bit of a pain.

It occurred to me that since I already have a Twitter backchannel going in many of my presentations, it might be possible to use Twitter to collect student votes.

What's the big idea?
It seemed such an obvious idea that I was sure someone must have already done it... So I spent most of yesterday evening failing to find what I was looking for. I thought you could ask a question and give a unique hashtag for each possible answer. For example, you could ask:
Do you think voting with Twitter is a good idea?
1) To vote Yes, Tweet: @ddm090820 #ddm001
2) To vote No, Tweet: @ddm090820 #ddm002
Something would look for the unique hashtags, count them and then display the votes cast. Simples! Except, I can't find anything that does it. I asked for suggestions from Twitter but nobody could come up with exactly what I wanted. Essentially, I want a free version of Poll Everywhere!

I got quite excited when I found TweetVolume. It seemed to do what was required... until I realised it used Google to search Twitter - not much use if you want real time reporting of the results. If only they had used Twitter Search instead of Google.

My next idea, suggested by Barbara007 on Twitter (in response to my pleas for suggestions), was to search for the tags myself and just count the results. I investigated this too but while Twitter Search tells you how long it took to come up with its results, it doesn't tell you how many hits it finds. I want to use this with groups of over 100 students, so scroll and count is not going to work!

It seems to me I have four options:
  1. Talk the TweetVolume people into using Twitter Search instead of Google.
  2. Get someone who knows about programming and APIs to write an app for me.
  3. Find a live Twitter search tool that tells you how many hits it finds.
  4. Give up!
...Unless you know differently. Any suggestions?


Stuart Meldrum said...

Hi David,

I was aware of you asking questions about this the other night - I was so caught up in an annoying video uploading problem that I didn't reply to them. It occurred to me as I read this post that it might be possible to do something with GDocs. It is already so easy to set up a form to feed results, real time, into a spreadsheet; so it aught to be possible to have a spreadsheet that could take information from a webpage like twitter's search results - or possibly (though slower) from an RSS feed.

I'm not sure yet, but I'll think about it and the answer might pop into my head.

David said...

Thanks Stuart

RSS Feed into a spreadsheet and then count the results there... Hmm! Might be worth a shot. If I have time to play I'll try it and get back to you if it works.

David said...

It is worth noting to that someone from Poll Everywhere got back to me both on Twitter and by email.

The Twitter messages were:

@DavidDMuir Wish that PE better fit your budget. Realize it is about 1/10 the cost of clickers (~$37/person over 5 yrs).

This is probably true, and I understand arguments about Total Cost of Ownership, but despite that, a one off cost to buy kit is an easier sell than an ongoing subscription. He also sent the following:

@DavidDMuir Actually, let me know what would fit your budget. PE may offer future plans that are less expensive (may be less functional). I am now investigating prices and sources of funding. Good to see a company that is responsive and on the online ball.

Martin Hawksey said...

Hi David,

Could you perhaps use yahoo pipes? See


Martin Hawksey said...

Hi David,

Me again. You sparked my interest so here it is - a yahoo pipe which can aggregated voting tweets

I don't know how quickly the responses filter through. I'm now interested in graphing the results using the Google Chart API (all within the Pipe)



David said...

Martin - it's brilliant. I don't see how you've done it... but it's brilliant.

I was working on a post which I'll now need to edit a bit before posting but thanks for getting it working.