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Building an Open Source "Clicker"? 347

fieldtest asks: "Most Slashdot readers have read about "clickers", remote control style devices that students use to wirelessly answer a teacher's questions. Unfortunately, as a college student, I have had less than stellar experiences with these clickers. I hear complaints from my professors and fellow students often as well. So, I want to build an open source clicker system for all universities to use. I believe that this is a prime opportunity to show how powerful free software can be. So, what do the talented people of Slashdot recommend?"
"The problem is this: a clicker system requires...clickers. What I need are remote controls that have a minimum of 6 buttons (for users to select options with). The sticking point comes when a button is pressed -- the remote must send the option choice, as well as a unique ID specific to the remote, so the clicker software can distinguish between different students.

I've experimented and Googled around. I've tried standard TV remote controls combined with an USB-UIRT receiver, but the range was too low. Googling shows some interesting programmable remotes, but they're far too expensive ($100+) to have each user purchase one.

How should I go about building the perfect clicker and receiver system? Any suggestion is welcome, from IR to radio, from Bluetooth to ZigBee based communications. Recommend a commercial product, or a do it yourself solution. Please also recommend a receiver device, and a way to connect it to a computer. Also, if you recommend that I just build a custom circuit board for the remote control, please give some references and examples of how it should be implemented."
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Building an Open Source "Clicker"?

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  • The question is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PunkOfLinux ( 870955 )
    How much do you know about hardware and software? If you're good with one, get somebody who's good with the other to help you out. And make it run on ANY system (windows, linux, mac)
  • Mobile phones! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hyphz ( 179185 ) * on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:00PM (#13618154)
    There is a project currently in progress to write a program using mobile phones as clickers via bluetooth.

    They're full featured, do everything necessary, and in the vast majority of cases STUDENTS ALREADY HAVE THEM.

    Unfortunately I'm not aware of it being open source - it was distributed at a conference at the start of September..
    • Uh, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChePibe ( 882378 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:28PM (#13618333)
      1. Professors won't go for it. Cell phones are already enough of a problem in the classroom. The last thing most professors want to do is encourage people to bring them to class and more importantly, if they must be brought to class, they'd rather not have students leaving them on (as a college student who has had a lecture course of 300 students interrupted on multiple occassions by one or two idiots who leaves their phone with who-knows-what ringtone on, believe me, I know).

      2. Students won't go for it. Contrary to popular belief, not all students have or want cell phones. I don't own one and plan on avoiding owning one as long as possible (hopefully until whoever I work for buys me one and pays for it). I'd rather not have to pay yet more money to go to school just so I can answer quizes - books cost enough, thank you very much.
      • Re:Uh, no. (Score:2, Insightful)

        Addendum to 2, even students with cell phones don't necessarily have cell phones with bluetooth.
      • ...not all students have or want cell phones. I don't own one and plan on avoiding owning one as long as possible...

        It's just a matter of time [theonion.com] :)
      • Re:Uh, no. (Score:3, Informative)

        by MrJack5304 ( 908137 )
        It's actually unbelievably odd that I saw this article up here on /. I am a CS major at RIT(Rochester Institute of Technology) and there is a pilot going on here with a few teachers, using a "clicker" to answer multiple choice type questions during the lecture. I find that the clickers are a great idea, inspiring more students to answer questions due to being anonymous. It totally eliminates the blank silence after the prof. asks any sort of question. As a matter of fact it actually helps hold my attention
    • Re:Mobile phones! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by swimin ( 828756 )
      Very few of them have bluetooth capable phones though.
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:01PM (#13618161) Homepage Journal
    It occurs to me you might be able to do something with cheap X10 remotes- but you'd be limited to 16 students per class, or alternatively, using the 8 button keychain remotes programed to split each housecode into 4 students for a total of 64 addresses (4 on, 4 off per student). That's still pretty small for some college classes- but at least it's reasonable on price. There are now whole-housecode recievers and the software is just interpreting a serial stream.
  • My friend has a class that uses these for exams. I don't see how this can possibly be a good idea, especially if the means to modify them is trivial at best.
    • Ya, i like where this is going. Set up your clicker to listen to the other clickers around you, then answer with the majority, or the same as the really smart guy you know, or some weighted mix thereof.

      But really, even ignoring all that stuff, it seems like a bad idea for any kind of testing anyway, too easy to cheat off your neighbor just by looking.
  • by XoXus ( 12014 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:04PM (#13618188)
    I think you're missing the point here. Most people who have problems with clickers won't find those problems disappearing with an "open-source" clicker. Their problems are either with the hardware (which it seems you are not trying to improve), or with the whole concept of using clickers.

    Personally, as an educator, I would find clickers to be a nuisance, and wouldn't find them useful anyway. It is far more effective to try to interact with the students and understand where their learning is at, individually, then tailor my teaching to whatever common problems or such need the most attention.
    • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:09PM (#13618231) Homepage

      Personally, as an educator, I would find clickers to be a nuisance, and wouldn't find them useful anyway. It is far more effective to try to interact with the students and understand where their learning is at, individually, then tailor my teaching to whatever common problems or such need the most attention.

      Where clickers are most useful are in large lecture classes. When you have 100+ students out in the audience, you simply don't have the time to tailyr education to individuals without giving short shrift to a lot of other individuals. It's also frequently very difficult to understand just where the students as a whole are. Clickers, when well used, can help with all of that.

      The fact remains, though, that some teachers won't like them. Some, however, do... but would love it if there were an open-source solution, so that we weren't stuck with using the software and such provided.

      • Where clickers are most useful are in large lecture classes. When you have 100+ students out in the audience, you simply don't have the time to tailyr education to individuals without giving short shrift to a lot of other individuals. It's also frequently very difficult to understand just where the students as a whole are. Clickers, when well used, can help with all of that.

        I think that's a fair point. Knowing your students is, I think, the hardest aspect of teaching, and big classes is going to make tha
    • by MushMouth ( 5650 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:21PM (#13618304) Homepage
      I thought the point of the clicker were to override the need for todays students to "fit within the norm". thus when a student has a problem that student can make it known to the teacher without making it know to everyone in the class or even identifying himself for a potential scorn. I think there is an essay about this in "Freakanomics" but then again it could be another pop econ book that I read.
      • by XoXus ( 12014 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:31PM (#13618361)
        That sounds like a social problem, one that I remember from high-school but not from university. Social problems tend to require social solutions, and if students fear "potential scorn", then there is a culture problem. These are rarely solved by technological means. And I do mean _solved_, rather than just hidden away.
        • Social problems tend to require social solutions

          But only when they are problems that you should be solving. A problem you can't or shouldn't solve isn't a problem, it's an 'issue.'

          And any good system should be able to work around its issues.
        • The problem isn't really scorn, so much. By and large, students in college classes *don't* put down other students who aren't getting it.

          Students themselves, however, feel very timid about going out on a limb and doing something that might make them look stupid. (As do we all.)

          As such, the anonymitiy of the clickers is more for the comfort of the students than it is to save the students from scorn of other students.
      • But "identifying yourself for potential scorn" is the entire definition of life. If you can't hack it in a class, you'll never hack it anywhere else, you might as well crawl back into the womb.

        It seems to me that _that_ problem should be handled outside of class. But I have a hard time seeing any utility in having "clickers" in class in the first place.

    • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:31PM (#13618365) Homepage Journal
      Thats great and all when you can do it in small groups, and for longer range planning. But my experience with classes - both as a student when I was a kid and teaching a few courses a few years ago - is that during a lecture you'll have little guidance on whether you're moving too fast or too slow. If you ask questions, there'll always be students that's hanging behind that do their best to conceal it because they don't want to seem stupid, and students that are ahead and just get bored and disinterested.

      You'll also not have much of a chance of genuinely assessing how the group of students as a whole are handling the material.

      I was the kind of student who'd never ever ask questions, who'd never volunteer answers, and who'd in general just try my best to get the teacher to ignore me because I usually found classes boring.

      In a setting like that, having the chance of asking quick control questions that everyone can answer and seeing the results from a whole class in seconds without putting anyone on the spot can be quite helpful... Instead of asking and getting answers from 3-4 people and not knowing whether they're an anomaly or not, you immediately know exactly how many got what you're going through and how many don't...

      It helps you tailor your presentation at a much more granular level - being able to skip material everyone understands, or repeat material lots of students have problems with.

      With proper use, at the end of it you may end up having more time to spend on interacting with the individual students.

      And, as an extra benefit, you'll already have a pretty good record of what they have problems with, that could replace a lot of quizes etc.

      I can certainly see teacher abusing them, but I wouldn't discount them so quickly.

    • Just wondering if you've tried a setup yet. We got one at work a few days ago, but after the glitches were worked out (not enough units, more units keyed to a different reciever), they did everything the sales drone said they would - collect answers and display a graph/numbers/whatever.

      Of course, it is still up to the instructor to ask the right questions, and give reasonable answers to choose from. And its up to the students to answer honestly when it counts (do you understand this or do we need to cover
    • IIR my student days through a beer drenched fog, at least 20% of students would purposefully answer wrongly just for a lark, eg. answer "yes I'm gay" when in fact they're straight - or would be if they were getting any.
  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:05PM (#13618193) Homepage
    Put the room on springs.

    Put a giant bar magnet with the north pole facing down in the ceiling.

    Give each student a bar magnet. Mark the south pole "yes" and the north pole "no".

    Students hold their magnets in the air to indicate the answer.

    If the room moves up, the majority of the students chose "yes". If it moves down, the majority of the students chose "no". The more it moves, the more the students are in agreement.

    Best of all, the batteries will never die.

    Unless you drop the answer sticks.
    • by femto ( 459605 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @09:26PM (#13618644) Homepage
      Is it really fair that a taller student's vote counts more than a shorter student's?

      Here is a better idea:

      Enclose the room in a giant coil. Ideally this coil will be of infinite length to get a uniform field, thus giving short students the same vote as taller students. Each student gets to keep their magnet.

      At the count of three, each student either points the north pole of their magnet to the front of the room (for yes) or the rear of the room (for no).

      The polarity of the current spike induced in the coil indicates the majority yes/no vote. The magnitude can be usd to inicate the strength of the yes/no.

      Apart from being fair to short students, this method does better then needing no batteries. It generates power. The power generated can be sold to the electricity grid and the system will eventually pay for itself. Once it has paid for itself the system will return a profit to the university. Surely a good thing in this day and age when Universities are expected to return money from teaching and research?

      • I know you mean this as a joke, but I thought I'd point out that a professor of mine once built a setup like this (okay, it had nothing to do with clickers) in a circular room on our campus. Basically he made a giant set of Helmholtz coils, big enough to enclose the whole room.

        What he did was take the circumference of the room, and multiply it by 2, and then go out and got two lengths of 50-pair phone cables that long. One he mounted on a raceway on the wall, the other at about floor level. Where the cable
        • No need to splice individual wires: just press insulation-displacement connectors onto the ends of the ribbon cable at an offset of one wire and connect them together. Cut the two outermost wires with a sharp knife and attach them to the signal source.
  • by EraserMouseMan ( 847479 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:05PM (#13618194)
    Q: "How do I get the smart slashdot folks to help me with my class project?"

    A: "Tell them that I'm gonna make it Open Source!"
  • by Savantissimo ( 893682 ) * on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:05PM (#13618195) Journal
    About $3-$5 in quantity
    Development kit: CY3655 $350

    (also check out their wireless USB products)
    * Wireless enCoRe(TM) II -"enhanced Component
    o Crystalless oscillator with support for an external crystal or resonator. The internal oscillator eliminates the need for an external crystal or resonator
    o Configurable IO for real-world interface without external components
    * Enhanced 8-bit microcontroller
    o Harvard architecture
    o M8C CPU speed can be up to 24 MHz or sourced by
    an external crystal, resonator, or signal
    * Internal memory
    o 256 bytes of RAM
    o Eight Kbytes of Flash including EEROM emulation
    * Low power consumption
    o Typically 10 mA at 6 MHz
    o 10-A sleep
    * In-system reprogrammability
    o Allows easy firmware update
    * General-purpose I/O ports
    o Up to 36 General Purpose I/O (GPIO) pins
    o High current drive on GPIO pins. Configurable 8- or 50-mA/pin current sink on designated pins
    o Each GPIO port supports high-impedance inputs,
    configurable pull-up, open drain output, CMOS/TTL
    inputs, and CMOS output
    o Maskable interrupts on all I/O pins
    * SPI serial communication
    o Master or slave operation
    o Configurable up to 2-Mbit/second transfers
    o Supports half duplex single data line mode for
    optical sensors
    * 2-channel 8-bit or 1-channel 16-bit capture timer. Capture timers registers store both rising and falling edge times
    o Two registers each for two input pins
    o Separate registers for rising and falling edge capture
    o Simplifies interface to RF inputs for wireless
    o Internal low-power wake-up timer during suspend
    o Periodic wake-up with no external components
    * Programm
  • unless you use phones or whatever.. or you could just assume people to have wap or whatever and send the answers through whatever wireless internet connectivity they have.

    seriously though, you want hardware for a pretty specific use.. ..and somehow free software should do it? yikes. look for poll systems, because that's what it is(and largely hardware tied).
  • by sulli ( 195030 ) * on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:07PM (#13618211) Journal
    Students raise hands and shout "ME ME ME ME ME!!!!" when they get the answer.
    • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:26PM (#13618328) Journal
      IIAAT (I am an academic technologist) and hand-raising is almost worthless in a classroom. Why? Anonimity and response rates

      People don't like to feel stupid, especially in front of their peers. If a professor is trying to find out if her students know something and asks for hands, you get three different groups

      1. The kid in the front row who knows everything, or at least thinks he does
      2. The people who wait to see what #1 answers and then agree with him
      3. The ones who won't raise their hands in any case for fear of being called an idiot.

      Clickers let the professor get high response rate with anonymity. There's a lot of hate on /. for these things, but used properly (and I've seen it done many times) they're a great tool

      • You missed "4. The people who take their education seriously and will raise their hands." You know, the kind of people that we should be encouraging to attend universities.

        The only place that I've seen these clickers marketed to is huge freshman classes where everyone still acts like they're in high school anyway. The students either grow up or get out after the first couple semesters anyway.

        Clickers are a solution looking for a problem.

        • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @09:27PM (#13618648) Homepage

          Clickers are a solution looking for a problem.

          In fact, research has shown that using clickers to help enable "Peer Instruction" techniques can greatly improve the quality and durability of learning.

          Hopefully, some empirical evidence outweighs what you think ought to be true.

        • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <(gro.tserofed) (ta) (todhsals)> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @10:24PM (#13618896)
          Well, the last time I chimed in with experience from lecturing, I was modded down "flamebait" -- but I'll come back for more. The clickers (in my experience) really help the middle third of the class -- the people who aren't coming back as majors, and therefore will only learn whatever they glean from this particular class: it is the last time they will encounter this material formally.

          The future majors will probably do just fine anyway -- it's the history majors in astronomy class, or the engineers in art history class, who need help. The clickers have been shown to help those students focus and assimilate material.
      • My 6th grade teacher broke me of this. After catching me being the only one to raise my hand on a yes or no question, and then quickly put it down, he called me out. He made me put my hand back up. He then made a big deal about how I thought I knew better than every single person in the class. He really rubbed it in.

        Then he did the work, and...I was the only one that got the answer right. I don't know if it made the impact on everyone else that it did on me, but it was definitly one of those defini
  • Some thoughts (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by igotmybfg ( 525391 )
    1. Get bent, my university (Univ of Texas at Austin) uses these clickers for physics and students hate them because profs use them to take attendance 2. You obviously have it good at your univ because the clickers they make us buy here cost around $70 3. The physics department has it so good here, they have this automated hw/exam system in place that dynamically generates problems using different numerical values for each student. They use it for hw and for exams, the profs never have to think of question
    • Sheesh. Somebody with a chip that big on his shoulder is unlikely to have anything useful to say.

      Gee, taking attendance at class; horrible, eh? Sick when teachers think they should do that.

      Re: the hw/exam system, how about commenting on the actual problems and questions that you answer? Are they good or bad? Do they do a decent job of testing whether you've learned the material and do they help you learn the material? That would seem to be more important than how much work your professors have to do gr
    • Wow, the automated exam system sounds cool.

      I wonder if one could write a script which solves the exam problems.
  • Wireless? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by simcop2387 ( 703011 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:09PM (#13618229) Homepage Journal
    My question is why does it HAVE to be wireless? why couldn't you add it on to the desks/tables/etc.? it'd be much simpler/cheaper to design it to work over wires (though it would still take alot of wires for a sufficiently large classroom). This would prevent any problems with range or interference from other students that IR or RF can have.
    • Re:Wireless? (Score:3, Informative)

      by rknop ( 240417 )

      My question is why does it HAVE to be wireless? why couldn't you add it on to the desks/tables/etc.? it'd be much simpler/cheaper to design it to work over wires (though it would still take alot of wires for a sufficiently large classroom). This would prevent any problems with range or interference from other students that IR or RF can have.

      Yipers. You're talking about redesigning a room. With a wireless solution, you can bring stuff in and just set it up. The most work you'll have to do is hang wire

      • by chris_mahan ( 256577 ) <chris.mahan@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:20PM (#13618297) Homepage
        laser pointers, 4 large areas above the boards: A, B, C, D. A&D substitute for yes/no.

        Have people point to the area they want. roughly count the dots.

        Anonymous too: it's hard to tell in a room of 100 students where 1 in patricular is pointing to.

        Of course, this could also be used as a mass weapon against a professor who insists on lecturing until the very last minute of class, and _then_ giving out the assignment for next class.
        • yeah whilst lazer pointers are usefull presentation tools it seems a very bad idea to give one each out to a huge unruly first year (you yanks call it freshman i belive) class.

        • i had the exact same thought. give everyone laser pointers. anonymous, unless you're the only kid in class with the ultra cool green laser pointer of death.

          but then the whole system turns into a lawsuit when you get the one idiot kid who reads the label on the side "do not point in eyes" and then decides to stare into it while turning it on. (i knew such a kid. wanted to smack him in the head).
        • <blockquote>Of course, this could also be used as a mass weapon against a professor who insists on lecturing until the very last minute of class, and _then_ giving out the assignment for next class.</blockquote>

          a simple way to deal with this might be to use something like an IR laser and a screen that flouresces when being hit by the beams, though that'd make it hard to aim. and could still be dangerous
      • Existing solutions are talking about requiring students to buy $70 handsets. That's only cheaper than a wired solution because the cost is being foisted on the students.

      • With wireless, you'll have to design in anti-interference measures. Not from malicious users, but from the clickers in the other room.

        You'll have to put batteries in every one of these units, creating N points of failure (one for each student).

        You'll have to design the system to handle N inputs at roughly the same time, since every professor will ask you to click "yes" or "no" now.

        We haven't even solved all of these problems perfectly with wires, unless you have a dedicated wire for each of the student's d
    • I'm not very interested in whether an open source solution can be built, of course it can.

      My question is, "Why do we need such a device?"

      It would be a much simpler solution to not interrupt the class for some nearly anonymous touchy-feely "feel-good" feedback from the class, when the professor can just ask the class to raise hands, or ask for questions, etc.

      After all, learning is not instantaneous, so instantaneous feedback on whether the class "just" go a point amounts to no more than asking if there are a
      • Part of the advantage of the clicker aside from teacher feedback is that you can give students extra points for getting the answer correct or more often for answering at all. The students pay more attention and feel more engaged, and they tend to enjoy the idea of easy points, even if it's a small fraction of the grade. As a bonus the physics education research people love performing statistical analysis on the data.
        • And I forgot the most obvious advantage: You can wait to display the students' responses until they're done voting so that you don't get people waiting to see what the majority of the class answers.
  • by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:11PM (#13618243) Journal
    In a small class, it's unnecessary. As has been said already, I think most professors would actually prefer to interact directly with the students and ask questions freely. Technology such as this is actually a nuisance with these small classes, which is what most of your college classes at the 300 level and up are going to be like.

    For those 100 or 200 level classes with 200+ people in them, one might argue that it would be beneficial to maintain order. But the reality of the situation is that you'd have to give out clickers to every student, then train the professors how to use them. And seriously, folks, most professors aren't going to give a damn about learning to use these, especially those older ones with tenure who were born before Christ walked the earth. So they're most likely going to ignore them anyway. The other disadvantage is that these things would break down, and probably frequently. Students themselves wouldn't know how they work (properly, being the key word here). When they think they know how it works, the darn thing will break, and have to get fixed. IT departments are just going to love these things! LOL

  • ZigBee (Score:5, Insightful)

    by truesaer ( 135079 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:12PM (#13618248) Homepage
    ZigBee would be a cool technology to use for this. It is a low speed adhoc wireless standard with a smallish range (but sufficient for classroom use). The problem is that there isn't much silicon available yet because it is a relatively new standard, but you should be able to find a few things out there.

    You could use USB for the interface back to a piece of host software on a regular computer. There are lots of cheap microcontrollers with USB interfaces built in, and they even come with reference firmware and drivers. USB is an incredibly easy bus from a hardware circuit perspective too.

    Combine that with pcb123.com and a couple hundred dollars for boards and parts, and you've got your clickers. The only hard part will be finding some kind of plastic case to put them in that will be durable enough for classroom use. You can save money by not soldering the USB connector onto all the boards.

  • by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:17PM (#13618284)
    We only used them once or twice in a couple classes when I was an undergrad. Are they really used that often?
  • Ummm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Spetiam ( 671180 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:20PM (#13618299) Journal
    Raise your hand?
    • I agree. I can see this being useful for sensitive questions, but do a teacher have to ask the students sensitive questions in public like that? Why?? I can't recall a time I've been, and I recall my education being pretty good. And if they really must do it -- anonymous questionnaires? One can cover what you're writing with your hand and then fold a piece of paper before you throw it in a box... It's over with within minutes.

      This just looks like throwing money on a non-existant problem to me.
      • I agree. I can see this being useful for sensitive questions, but do a teacher have to ask the students sensitive questions in public like that? Why?? I can't recall a time I've been, and I recall my education being pretty good. And if they really must do it -- anonymous questionnaires? One can cover what you're writing with your hand and then fold a piece of paper before you throw it in a box... It's over with within minutes.

        Speaking from experience-- raising hands has serious problems. If you've ask

  • They often need to do projects for their senior projects. That might be one in which someone is interested.
  • TI-83s (Score:3, Informative)

    by figment ( 22844 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:24PM (#13618319)
    The easiest way to do it is to just not go wireless in the first place. Once you get rid of this criteria, wiring a lecture hall with the cable for a connection really isn't that difficult.

    The subjects in which clickers are mainly used (physics, engineering), everyone already has a graphical calculator, and they're generally of either HP or TI variety. Thus you only have two (ok maybe 3, TI-85 line is quite different from 83's), but then you have no mandatory extra cost to the student, since everyone in these disciplines has a suitable calculator already.

    No hardware issues, no support issues, you basically just wire a minijack to every seat, and you're set.

    I know the physics program at uiuc has experimented with this about 5 years ago, prior to them becoming the new fad. You probably want to check with their physics education group http://www.physics.uiuc.edu/research/per/ [uiuc.edu]
    about the plus/minuses with it. IIRC they eventaully went with commercial clickers -- I'm pretty sure there's a good reason why, you probably should check with them.

    Unlike the majority of these posts that you're going to read from /., these guys actually did the experimentation, are intellectually capable of rolling their own project had they desired, and made a decision based on their experiences. They're very nice people and will probably share their experiences with you, particularly prof. Mats Selen, who afaik headed the project.
    • Re:TI-83s (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AndreiK ( 908718 )
      The problem is, everyone may use a different one. You mentioned three different calculators, but I personally use either an 89 or a laptop. These days, people just get software for their laptop as opposed to a new calculator.
  • by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:28PM (#13618334)
    The problem with a unique ID for the clicker is that you could later identify who had which clicker, meaning that the answers would not truly be anonymous.

    Instead, I would have a button on the clicker with a label like "begin session" which would cause the device to generate a UUID for the session.

    Alternatively you may want to take each measure independently in which case you can create the UUID for each button press.

    It is preferred that you have a MAC address to create a UUID, but you don' t necessarily have to have one. Some classes of UUIDs do not require a MAC. Alternatively, the device could retrieve a UUID via a transaction when it is activated.

    If I were doing this, I would probably write a version of the app for Windows, Mac, Linux, Palm, WinCE, and Symbian.

    On the more capable devices, you could make such a clicker pretty sophisticated. For example, it could show the text of the question and whether you have already answered it or not.

    I would probably have a Mac/Windows/Linux PC application recording the data for each question. I'd probably set it up to be fed into SPSS or whatever.
    • The problem with a unique ID for the clicker is that you could later identify who had which clicker

      That's not the problem, it's the point.

      At my local university, they use these for 2 reasons. 1 - to take attendance and give a partial grade for it. 2 - to give quick quizzes at the end of a lecture.

      Sort of hard to assign grades to students without a unique ID.

      My understanding is that students buy these at the campus bookstore, then register them online as to identify themselves. They then bring them to cl
    • Why make it so hard? Give each clicker a unique ID, store them in a box, let each student take one at the beginning of the class and return them at the end. No way to know who had which clicker and secondly you can keep an eye on those clickers and prevent them from disappearing.

      The ID is necessary, how are you otherwise going to prevent a student from voting multiple times (intended or not)? Normal RCs toggle a particlar bit in the code they send each time the button is pressed. This way a receiver can
    • Nicely over complicated! you must be a Business management major.

      make all clickers 100% identical, simply including the ibutton 3 legged transistor looking serial number chip in the parts count will make each unit have a nice huge unique serial number. coupled with a nice dirt cheap 442mhz transmitter module and your button push simply transmits your serial number and a single byte multiple times the PC on the recieving end (better yet, 4 reciever modules spaced around the room evenly) will sort out the
    • Keep It Simple you freakin paranoid Spaz. We're not talking about government secrets, just enough anonymity to make students comfortable enough to answer truthfully.
  • 802.11b chipsets are already pretty cheap, and in many cases schools already have network infastructure instealled. If you can do an 802.11b scanner for $50, why not a wireless "clicker"?

    At my university, we use H-ITT "clickers". They are the crappiest pieces of crap that I have ever used.
  • Gen Chem at Penn State tried these things a short while ago. They didn't work worth a damn and the students were bitter about having to shell out ten bucks each for a system that didn't work. (That's on top of the thousands the college shelled out on their end of the system.) I'm thinking hardwired with a mag stripe reader would have worked much better. Swipe of the student ID and attendence is taken (remember multiple clickers could be carried around by one student but students aren't quick to give up t
  • Most Slashdot readers have read about "clickers", remote control style devices that students [use] to wirelessly answer a teacher's questions.

    On behalf of all the talented people of slashdot, I recommend implementing a grammar-check function into those new-fangled clickers. :-)

  • I'm a full-time student, a freshmen, and I'm amazed (and annoyed) at the number of my peers who sit dumbly when the discussion requires a response. Isn't it preferable that the educational experience encourage the growth of balls/ovaries, rather than allowing timidity to flourish?
  • Clicker Cheats (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I saw a demonstration of such a system. It had a screen at the front of the class room. The screen had the question and the multiple choices. Below the choices were the numbers assigned to each clicker (student.) When you made your selection, your number on the screen blinked verifying it had recorded your answer. If you changed your answer, it would blink again.

    So during the demo, I point out that if I worked out a code, I could message each other students the answers via these blinks. Say, three bli
  • by vectorian798 ( 792613 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @08:50PM (#13618476)
    Here at UC Berkeley most students hate these clickers (called 'PRS' here, for personal response system or some shit like that). It is so superficial. A professor throws on some multiple choice question, and people hit a button to answer it and get participation credit. Is this the second grade or something? What the hell is participation credit for - in colleges we don't need that kind of bullshit. If people don't want to pay attention to lectures, that is their choice - most of the time lectures are useless anyways. Not only that, it wastes $45 on each student's part.

    The best solution is to not have any such system and simply DO example problems in lecture. The thing that college lectures lack is not something captivating (like hitting the button on a remote is actually captivating...) or innovative, but BETTER LECTURES. Period. Lecturers tend to go over things in too much of an 'overview' format (at least in the science/tech classes) and avoid doing actual example problems that might help us LEARN.

    Instead of throwing materials and problems at students and saying 'Here go study and come take my test later', lecturers should try to teach the students legitimately and AIM to improving their testing performance...right now, all it feels like is that I am paying 20k a year for taking a few tests. A f***ing remote control won't solve this issue of boring, shitty lectures.
    • The point is not to test whether you are paying attention, the point is to get you to pay more attention and to learn more. Folks seem to learn more when they are thinking and solving problems, rather than simply allowing the lecture to wash over them. The clickers are a tool to get people thinking about and applying (or maybe even just regurgitating) what they just heard -- it's a memory aid.

      I have lectured at CU in several courses with over 200 students, and it's remarkable how difficult preparing such
    • The best solution is to not have any such system and simply DO example problems in lecture.

      If only.

      There is a lot of research that backs up the effectiveness of "active learning." You don't really learn something until your brain has to actively grapple with it.

      There is an "old" model of education whereby the professor presents the material and the students learn by listening. In practice, this does not work so well-- and educational research has shown this. This is true even when professors do e

    • unless you're distance learning and use it to change the channel. ;P

      Ah, but wouldn't it be great if you could switch lecturers with the click of a button. "Sorry RMS I'm just not understanding your point, why don't we try a little Knuth instead?"
  • My wife is a 6th grade teacher. Shes heard about these clickers and commercial solutions seem pricey. She says these clickers would be quite the boon to the classroom. She could get instant feedback as to who was understanding a concept and who wasn't. "Everyone who thinks the answer is TRUE press your clicker TRUE button" Instant feedback on who is listening and grasping the ideas. Also, the clickers should be designed in such a way that discourages cheating. Maybe the buttons are beneath a sheath.
  • by stienman ( 51024 ) <<adavis> <at> <ubasics.com>> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @09:13PM (#13618587) Homepage Journal


    First, a normal infrared remote won't work. You'll need a custom programmed microcontroller remote and a receiver to handle such. In order for the receiver to detect all the remote's answers (given a one way system) each remote, when the button is pressed, would send its message, pause a random amount of time, send again, pause random again, etc. This would go on for a second or so during and after the button press so the receiver has a chance to catch it in the midst of all the other remotes sending their data. The data burst would have to be *very* short to increase the bandwidth and decrease the collision rate.

    A one-way RF system would be very similar.

    If you do a two way radio, there are a few more options. Ideally you'd do a two-way network (such as zigbee) since it would be very expandable - it could accept a variety of clickers from the simple credit card remote to the full keyboard and display.

    A simple 2.4GHz custom network could be designed using Nordic Semiconductor's nrf series of chips. The nRF24E1 chip would be perfect - includes microcontroller, 2.4GHz transceiver, and is very low power.

  • These things will pass. Look at developing a better technology.

    What would an open-source solution offer over the commercially available ones that would possibly make any one want to switch?

    Don't say cost, because these are not costing the nuiversities a penny - the students bare the cost buy buying/leasing/renting the clickers.

    You say you think this is a prime opportunity for open-srouce. I say good luck.

    I work in product development, particularly electronics. A student showed me his clicker and describe
  • I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself. If you haven't taken a product design class, now would be a good time.

    You really need to spend some time figuring out what your requirements are (do you want a variable number of answers, or a set amount? Does there need to be any immediate feedback? Do you need a keyboard or will pushbutton input be acceptable?).

    Define high-level requirements and then brainstorm for each one. Don't get caught up in wired or wireless, 802.11 or bluetooth, that's
  • Today I rode my horseless carriage to the general store. I traded some venison for a brand new 'clicker'. Now that wireless is obsolete, I need something to control all my new-fangled devices.

    Maybe it is just a generation gap thing. Old people call remote controls clickers, because they used to click. That was a long time ago, folks. Why are we adopting an archaic usage of this word?
  • by j-beda ( 85386 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @09:44PM (#13618734) Homepage
    I wonder if http://www.opensourceschools.org/ [opensourceschools.org] or http://www.schoolforge.net/ [schoolforge.net] have anything to say?

    I think that St Francis Xavier physics http://www.stfx.ca/ [www.stfx.ca] was looking at a WiFi system that was pretty inexpensive, and I remember UIUC physics doing some investigation of building their own.

  • Seems like such a narrow use device that could be completely subsumed by using webbrowsers (driven from either laptops or cellphones or Wifi PDAs). Everyone in school these days (even highschool) has at least a laptop, cellphone or PDA. And schools are often forcing the purchase of a laptop or similar.

    So you mean a classroom poll like this?

    Do you brush your teeth before sex in the morning ?
    () Yes
    () No
    () I don't have sex.
    () I don't have teeth.
    () I don't awake up til the afternoon
  • I know it has been a while since I was in a classroom, but the last time I was a student it was a part of the learning process to get destroyed by a prof in front of everyone at least once. It's nothing compared to what a CIO or other exec can and will do to you on a daily basis.

    When did students become such wussys?

  • [Click] [Click] [Click] ..


  • The question you have to ask is whether you actually want to use the data you'd gather from the clickers and how you want to use it. My statics class just switched from clickers back to a colored flash card system because the professor wanted a system to get responses from all the students in the class so he could get a feeling for students' understanding. The teacher projects a problem with multiple choice answers coded by color and can gage student response immediately without the technical hassle or
  • Worst Idea Ever!

    Honestly, I challenge anyone to come up with a legitimate educational application for this piece of idiocy that doesn't have a simpler and more effective solution.

    I can't get over this kind of nonsense actually showing up in classrooms. Sounds like someone needs a venue to sell $2 remote controls for a 1000% markup, and is falling back on the oldie-but-goodie "think of the children".

  • why don't we figure out a way to break the system? a jammer, or some clicker mutant that causes a buffer overflow somewhere in the software...=P just an engineering applications tangent...has nothing to do with the fact that i'm lookin for a cool wireless project for one of my senior classes...
    • Re:different tack (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Myself ( 57572 )
      The clickers must have some way of managing contention, a backoff algorithm or polling of some sort, otherwise they'd just all collide if everyone clicked at the same time, and the results wouldn't be discernable.

      So, it appears that all you'd need is to hotwire a single clicker into transmitting continuously, and it would inhibit all the others.

      Of course, your idea of crashing the software is cute, but it just takes one software patch and you're back to the drawing board. Attacking the RF layer is more like
  • Keypads? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by inicom ( 81356 ) <aem@inic[ ]com ['om.' in gap]> on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @10:07PM (#13618820) Homepage
    I'm not sure why it needs to be "clickers" - in a large classroom environment, I'm assuming auditorium style fixed seating, which suggests that keypad for each seat would be the best solution. There are readily available keypad solutions (i.e. crestron) which would support 250+ keypads on a single bus, all individually addressed, and would be far less maintenance intensive than any wireless solution. From 2 to 12 buttons could be done "off the shelf". And no replacement cost for "clickers" walking out the door every class period.

    And, if you still needed some # of wireless devices, they could be easily tied into the same system.

    http://www.crestron.com/ [crestron.com]
    http://www.humaneinterface.com/ [humaneinterface.com]
  • by MBraynard ( 653724 ) on Wednesday September 21, 2005 @10:50PM (#13619034) Journal
    Pretty much every phone has blue tooth OR an IR POrt. Just get a receiver.

Neutrinos have bad breadth.