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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Electronic voting at FameLab & why this matters

By Matt Jenner, on 22 March 2012

Electronic voting systems are a curious thing, first they run under many guises (EVS, PRS, clickers, doofers, voting pads – to name a few), they show strong signs of increasing engagement for learning and they are successful all over the college. They’re often well below the radar and often spread within departments harmoniously between technology evangelists, rather than just a central supporting team. Sometimes they even bust out of our little campus and make it to some faraway lands. One of these places is Cheltenham and the Science Festival which is held each year. Last night, the clickers were being used by FameLab over at the Royal Institution.

Usually used for promoting and engaging student learning this time they were used for an audience vote. There were ten scientists who presented their research/idea/area of interest and at the end of the evening the audience cast their vote, using the clickers, and the winner was Andrew Steele.

FameLab contestants all lined up

Why this matters

First of all it’s a real logistical pain having to drag 380 handsets across London. These things are small, credit-card sized devices. A single one is OK but once you start carrying two hundred+ they become a burden. We already know this but by remaining active users of the technology ourselves, we can ensure that people who use them across UCL will get the best method possible for having hundreds of these things for a large session – as this is when they can be most useful. To help address this we’re looking at more permanent installations actually within the Lecture Theatres – and we shall be releasing more information on this over the coming months.

Carrying 380 handsets - not ideal & could be better!

Secondly it’s another user-case challenge. You can usually use up to 1000 clickers with one laptop, usually enough, and it’s all radio frequency and the only problem we’ve had before is two rooms interfering with one another. We found that the environment rarely gets in the way, but last night it did. Upon testing the Lecture Theatre at the Royal Institution had a huge black spot in the middle. Luckily we tested the voting and moved the laptop into a position where everyone could vote and the results could be read.

Lastly, we had an open vote. This meant that people could vote at any time throughout the evening. If another talker swayed them, they could always change their mind – a standard feature of the clickers. But this meant running a laptop for hours with an open vote – and we’ve never tried this before. Further experimentation could have made this even more exciting, for example there’s a ‘point to point’ option in the voting which allows a heart-rate monitor style open question and it can show the results of the buttons at set intervals. If, for example, teams were up against one another and the audience could continually vote, this would have provided some interesting longitudinal results. Maybe next time?

So the reason why FameLab matters, isn’t necessarily that it’s good outreach (Cheltenham Science Festival has an established relationship with UCL) but that it provides yet another testing environment for creative uses of the voting and this will come back around into the teaching and learning for the institution.

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