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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


A new perspective on electronic voting

By Steve Rowett, on 12 June 2012

As part of UCL’s involvement in the Cheltenham Science Festival, someone from our team goes down to Cheltenham to support the use of electronic voting in some of the events there. My colleague Matt has already blogged about the kinds of things we do.

This year, one of the groups we are supporting is the Festival of the Spoken Nerd – Helen, Matt and Steve – who are doing a show in Cheltenham on Thursday 14 June.

Last night they did a try out of some of their material in the upstairs room at the Green Man in London. They certainly had a packed house, although seating only about 30 at a squeeze the venue is very cosy and the audience certainly get to interact with the performers.

Part of the performance was a re-make of Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, with a teams loosely led by each of the performers and a series of science and maths questions to answer. The voting handsets led each member of the audience have their say, with a number of trick questions to add to the fun.

So far, so fairly ordinary in the world of voting. But what made it more interesting was another part of the performance where teams used their mobiles to play pong against each other using crowd-sourcing to aggregate the individual commands to move the bat up or down.

We started talking about how the voting handsets might be used within this. TurningPoint do provide an SDK, and with this it should be possible to use the handsets as controllers for pretty much any application. It turns out that a colleague, Daniel Richardson, has already done this, using voting handsets to control a crowd tightrope walking game.

So, what else could we do with the handsets. Well, lots. For Economics, how about a simulation where different teams play the Treasury, Bank of England, Banks etc in a simulation of the economy. Controlling machinery in Engineering. Determining the functioning of the human body in medicine.

We could take it further. Rather than having each handset being an equal partner in the crowd-sourcing efforts, we could plant catalysts or decoys to simulate real world phsychology or group behaviour, or disease or system failure.

There is lots of potential here to go beyond simple multiple choice questions to involve the audience in dymamic live simulations, games and experiments. I’m quickly discovering that there’s much more to these simple handsets than I ever realised.

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.