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Building an Open Source "Clicker"?

Cliff posted about 9 years ago | from the clicky-here-clicky-there-clicky-everywhere dept.

Education 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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The question is (2, Insightful)

PunkOfLinux (870955) | about 9 years ago | (#13618141)

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)

Re:The question is (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618191)

And make it run on ANY system (windows, linux, mac)

Why? Windows should be enough for everyone. It comes preinstalled at no cost at all and is the industry-standard.

Re:The question is (1)

FosterKanig (645454) | about 9 years ago | (#13618216)

Wait. This is so students can answer questions they are too shy to answer? Man, the pussification never ends, does it?

Parent post has all the answers! (0, Offtopic)

fireboy1919 (257783) | about 9 years ago | (#13618372)

Also, you might consider stopping all human maladies. Here's how you do it:
Do you know anything about psychology or physiology? If you're good at one, get somebody who's good with the other to help you out. And make sure you cure ALL people (Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans, etc..).

What could be simpler?

Re:Parent post has all the answers! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618413)

I think you are being too hard on the OP. Most questions on /. can be answered in a similar manner and he/she was just pointing it out.

Obvious attempt at frst pst is... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618149)

Click Click

Car alarm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618153)

RF, Decent range, cheap, serialized, multiple buttons, multiple vendors, hardware isn't really going anywhere fast, sometimes can be "secure"

Mobile phones! (2, Interesting)

hyphz (179185) | about 9 years ago | (#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..

Re:Mobile phones! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618185)

Most students have cell phones, but I only know a couple of students that have blue tooth enabled cell phones. Many of them just have whatever was cheapest with thier plan, or whatever phone thier mommy and daddy got them with the plan.

Uh, no. (5, Insightful)

ChePibe (882378) | about 9 years ago | (#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. (2, Insightful)

CableModemSniper (556285) | about 9 years ago | (#13618435)

Addendum to 2, even students with cell phones don't necessarily have cell phones with bluetooth.

Re:Uh, no. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618471)


Re:Mobile phones! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618398)

The vast majority of phones, of course, do not have Bluetooth. And if you do have one, making it work with somebody else's device is a giant pain in the ass.

Dumb idea.

hardware... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618157)

It wont be a single person job as far as i can tell and you will probably need some initial financing as well... Also, tell me where to sign up! :)

if open source was a dick... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618160)

would you suck it?

Re:if open source was a dick... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618414)

Yes. Yes I would.

Re:if open source was a dick... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618434)

if open source was a dick ... would you suck it?

What a question! This is Slashdot, man! We do not only suck it, we drench every last dribble of semen out of a dead horse's penis and eagerly swallo the whole pint.

Address space required? (2, Insightful)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 9 years ago | (#13618161)

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.

Re:Address space required? (2, Informative)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 9 years ago | (#13618266)

URLs for the hardware I talked about:

Clicker: []

Reciever: []
Computer Interface: [] .

Mr House software for Linux would also be a good start- it's very scriptable and would eliminate the need to write your own drivers.

Status Quo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618164)

Hay, someone needs to make me a clicker!!!!111one

if you can't take the trouble to proofread your (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618165)

own submission, what are the chances you can properly test your clicker product?

Devote time to a better alternative (2, Interesting)

Tourney3p0 (772619) | about 9 years ago | (#13618174)

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.

Re:Devote time to a better alternative (2, Insightful)

_pi-away (308135) | about 9 years ago | (#13618301)

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.

Re:Devote time to a better alternative (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618406)

But college is for losers and wankers that can't make their way without a worthless piece of paper, so who gives a fuck anyway?

how about .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618175)

... raising your damn hands and grunting "ooh, ooh." Don't forget to do the pee-pee dance.

my school has this too (1)

ninjakin (839756) | about 9 years ago | (#13618176)

My school has this.. its pretty gay, desnt work right and each department has their clicker that they want you to use, and it changes it semmester. but I guess I didnt really answer the question.

whas wrong w being gay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618352)


Missing the point, really. (5, Insightful)

XoXus (12014) | about 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (4, Interesting)

rknop (240417) | about 9 years ago | (#13618231)

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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (1)

XoXus (12014) | about 9 years ago | (#13618283)

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 that very hard.

Re:Missing the point, really. (5, Interesting)

MushMouth (5650) | about 9 years ago | (#13618304)

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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (5, Insightful)

XoXus (12014) | about 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (2, Interesting)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 9 years ago | (#13618440)

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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (5, Interesting)

vidarh (309115) | about 9 years ago | (#13618365)

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.

Re:Missing the point, really. (2, Informative)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 9 years ago | (#13618445)

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 it again? y/n)

If you have an instructional technology department you may want to ask them, or check one out at a conference or just call a sales drone. They'll be happy to stop by and show you a nice setup I'm sure :)

Re:Missing the point, really. (1)

VoidWraith (797276) | about 9 years ago | (#13618483)

(do you understand this or do we need to cover it again? y/n)

I think you need to have some of those action buttons. I would have NO idea what I would be answering for this question... =P

Lo-Tech Solution (5, Funny)

multipartmixed (163409) | about 9 years ago | (#13618193)

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.

Re:Lo-Tech Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618290)

surely that would only work if the ceiling, and the floor of the room are seperate.
if not, the laws of physics sorta get in the way of the room moving

Re:Lo-Tech Solution (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618380)

Most rooms have seperate floors and ceiling. Doing otherwise requires rather bizarre architecture.

Re:Lo-Tech Solution (1)

PickyH3D (680158) | about 9 years ago | (#13618386)

I could imagine the people getting motion sick. It would be funny to watch.

The submitter's real question . . . (3, Funny)

EraserMouseMan (847479) | about 9 years ago | (#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!"

Re:The submitter's real question . . . (3, Funny)

dhclab49 (567553) | about 9 years ago | (#13618262)

First, go make some smart slashdot folks.

Try these Cypress chips (5, Informative)

Savantissimo (893682) | about 9 years ago | (#13618195)
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
        * Programmable Interval Timer interrupts
        * Reduced RF emissions at 27 MHz and 96 MHz
        * Advanced development tools based on Cypress PSoC(TM) tools
        * Watchdog timer (WDT)
        * Low-voltage Detection with user-configurable threshold voltages
        * Improved output drivers to reduce EMI
        * Operating voltage from 2.7V to 3.6VDC
        * Operating temperature from 0-70C
        * Available in 24/40-pin PDIP, 24-pin SOIC, 24-pin
            QSOP/SSOP, 28-pin SSOP, 48-pin SSOP, and DIE form
        * Industry-standard programmer support

The CY7C601xx/CY7C602xx is targeted for the following
  Wireless HID devices
--Mice (optomechanical, optical, trackball)
  Wireless gaming
--Game pads
--Console keyboards
  General purpose wireless applications
--Barcode scanners
--POS terminal
--Consumer electronics
--Remote controls

ugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618196)

way to go training students to be just numbers that are counted instead of individuals who actually raise their voice.

this whole idea is perverted.

I'm from EUROPE... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618198)

Students in Ann Auleb's biology of human sexuality class at San Francisco State University are often shy about joining classroom debates on gay marriage, abortion, circumcision and other emotion-stirring topics.

But more students came out of their shells this spring when Auleb introduced "clickers" into her classes.

I recommend getting laid!

I know one... (1)

Papay-Noel (316944) | about 9 years ago | (#13618208)

There's this one option that is free and widely available: it's called voice.

smart or dumb (1)

ak_hepcat (468765) | about 9 years ago | (#13618209)

If you make just dumb wireless wands, except for a unique serial number, then it comes down to the software for managing the registration of the wands, and capturing the data.

It would seem like you're going to have to deal with a lot of input at once (i'm forseeing about 200 simultaneous..) so your RF communication is going to have to be pretty smart to be able to deal with all that interference.

the wands should be transmit only, to save cost and limit complexity. You could limit the number of simultaneous broadcasts per "channel" by including some sort of user-modifiable channel-selector or encryptor, ala a garage door opener.

Spread-spectrum broadcasting might be a good fit as well, along with multiple-diversity receivers.

A good smart receiver, maybe even a software radio, might be able to be trained to handle the inputs.

you're going to need hardware (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 years ago | (#13618210)

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).

Open-source, royalty-free, wireless solution (2, Funny)

sulli (195030) | about 9 years ago | (#13618211)

Students raise hands and shout "ME ME ME ME ME!!!!" when they get the answer.

Actually, this is a poor solution (4, Insightful)

edremy (36408) | about 9 years ago | (#13618328)

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

Re:Actually, this is a poor solution (2, Informative)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | about 9 years ago | (#13618442)

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.

Some thoughts (1, Flamebait)

igotmybfg (525391) | about 9 years ago | (#13618221)

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 questions or worry about grading anything 4. Did I say get bent?

Ignore Parent (1)

rknop (240417) | about 9 years ago | (#13618258)

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 grading classes with hundreds of people in them.

Finally, gee, somebody wants to use something you don't want to use, and they should get bent, eh? Thanks for the contribution.

Re:Ignore Parent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618356)

It has been a while since I was in University, but when I was there the profs could care less if you showed or not. You payed the tuition, if you attended or not was your concern.

As far as the clickers go, I think it's another excuse to be anonymous. Says the Anonymous Coward poster... :)

(I'm just too lazy to open an account...)

Re:Ignore Parent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618432)

Yes, I never understood taking attendance. Especially in college. You're paying for an education, if you want to waste it by not showing up, go ahead. If the student never bothers to come in except for exams, but sends in his homework and aces the exams why should the fact that he was never in class matter?

Re:Some thoughts (1)

AeiwiMaster (20560) | about 9 years ago | (#13618427)

Wow, the automated exam system sounds cool.

I wonder if one could write a script which solves the exam problems.

Open the architecture more (1)

jasongates (800911) | about 9 years ago | (#13618228)

Why not approach this from a different angle?
Instead of using the closed system approach currently being utilized,
keep going with the "Open" method you are attempting to use.
The first thing that comes to mind is to use WiFi (802.11 a, b, or g) as the receiver.
This will keep the delivery systems open to laptops, PDA's, etc.
There are also Wifi capable "clickers" available.

A growing number of students are using laptops as a standard tool.
Why not let those students have a small application that allows selections.

The "clicker" units can still be used and available to students who can not or do not wish to carry a laptop or PDA.

This solves the range problem, receiving hardware is very inexpensive,
and I'm sure with a large enough quantity the "clicker" price will drop to a very reasonable level.

MAC addresses can be used as the ID, though I would not recommend forgoing authentication.

A nice side effect is fewer pieces of equipment students have to worry about.

Adding bluetooth receivers would also allow a wider range of PDA's and some cell phones too.

Wireless? (2, Insightful)

simcop2387 (703011) | about 9 years ago | (#13618229)

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? (2, Informative)

rknop (240417) | about 9 years ago | (#13618247)

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 wireless receivers various places. There's many fewer of those to deal with than every individual desk. -Rob

Re:Wireless? (5, Funny)

chris_mahan (256577) | about 9 years ago | (#13618297)

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.

Re:Wireless? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 9 years ago | (#13618497)

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.

Re:Wireless? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | about 9 years ago | (#13618307)

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.

Re:Wireless? (1)

Xarius (691264) | about 9 years ago | (#13618350)

Because wires are sooooo 1990s! Wireless is the exciting "new" technological buzzconcept of today.

I can't imagine why though...

Clicker? (1)

ebuck (585470) | about 9 years ago | (#13618470)

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 any questions. After all, just after the class "clicks" that they don't understand, the professor will STILL have to ask the class questions to find out why the don't understand, or how they mis-understand.

Plus, who is to stop the person clicking what they guy to the left of them clicked?

low tech way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618236)

get a sheet of paper. print A and B on one side, and C and D on the other side. fold in half.

very advanced meathod, many of my instructors used this back when i was in college

My experience with clickers. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618242)

I once took a physics class that used clickers, and a big problem was with click collisions. By that I mean two clicks at the same time prevented the system for getting either. This is a serious problem in a lecture class, and only about 50% of the students ever got their answers through in any reasonable time. Maybe an open source clicker with bluetooth or some other protocol would be much better.

the problem with clickers (3, Insightful)

cashman73 (855518) | about 9 years ago | (#13618243)

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

Modify existing movie voting system? (1)

Andrew Lenahan (912846) | about 9 years ago | (#13618245)

This may or may not be helpful, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

In the mid-90s there was a system which could allow movie theatre audiences to "vote" for different choices on a movie appearing on screen, sort of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but as a big-screen movie instead. From what I recall, the idea wasn't too popular, with only one movie actually released (called "Mr. Payback") but perhaps the technology behind it could be used as the basis for open-source clickers. I don't actually know if the devices themselves were wireless or not.

ZigBee (4, Insightful)

truesaer (135079) | about 9 years ago | (#13618248)

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 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.

Re:ZigBee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618455)

ZigBee is the way to go. For the hardware, use MaxStream's XBee implementation ( f-module-zigbee.php [] )

I have some of these units and they work very well, have plenty of range, they're low cost, and you can get them today.

Each node has a unique address, too.

best clickers... (1)

LordMaxxon (898539) | about 9 years ago | (#13618268)

don't exist. at least, my experience with cps pads has been dismal at best... or was that because they were used in chemistry class ? :P

Go back to basics. (1)

barryman_5000 (805270) | about 9 years ago | (#13618272)

The only way to make something like this affordable would be to design the clickers yourself and get them mass produced. You can probably build a bulk 1000+ clickers @ 20 dollars or less each. Starting with a "smart remote" will be way too expensive. If you really cared, then pool a few investors and get some outsourced electronics company to build your clickers (preferably with a design you submit to them. I wouldn't trust some guy I don't know to mess up my idea). You could even set a unique id on a memory chip in the manufactured remote.

There is no cheap and easy way to do it.

Try this... (1)

cffrost (885375) | about 9 years ago | (#13618274)

It sounds like you want a universal remote.

This site [] has a schematic for a universal remote that you can build yourself.

How often do they use these??? (2, Interesting)

brian0918 (638904) | about 9 years ago | (#13618284)

We only used them once or twice in a couple classes when I was an undergrad. Are they really used that often?

Ummm... (3, Insightful)

Spetiam (671180) | about 9 years ago | (#13618299)

Raise your hand?

Re:Ummm... (1)

Jugalator (259273) | about 9 years ago | (#13618475)

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.

Low-cost Low-tech "Clickers" (1)

nosuphoru (765095) | about 9 years ago | (#13618308)

I have used multi-color 3"x5" cards as "clickers" for years to teach classes. Have a set in with one in each of four colors (red, green, blue, yellow) and give each student a set. You can ask multiple choice, true & false, matching, ect.. questions and have the entire class respond by holding up the card with the color that signifies the answer they think is right. No computers, low cost, and very effective. Clickers are a case of too much technology for too little learning, IMHO.

Re:Low-cost Low-tech "Clickers" (2, Insightful)

chris_mahan (256577) | about 9 years ago | (#13618431)

Still allows the other students to see what "the shy student" or "the embarrassed student" said.

Some students feel that being made a fool of in front of class is embarrassing enought that they would rather fail the class than be ridiculed.

Yes, it's stupid, but I bet you a full 1/2 of students feel that way.

Yes I go to school still at night, so this is not from 1984. And yes, I usually don't care who thinks what so I open my big mouth whenever, but others say nothing the entire semester, and are happy with a C.

I tell you it's bad because my current teacher asks: "Does anybody _not_ understand this concept?" and the class stays silent, looking confortable. Then the teacher asks: "Does anybody understand this concept?" and the room also stays silent and still, very unconfortable now. (he's doing a lousy job btw)

The key is that people try to make friends of other students, not professors, so student-to-student image is veeeery important.

I know I'm going off-topic, but I can tell you that this is the very reason educators need something like the clicker.

Ultimately, the teaching environment sucks. Teachers are too few and many are very bad, can't be understood because of poor english speaking skills, can't make the subject interesting, or simply don't care.

The younger students I see (and I do pity them) are adrift in a sea of bureaucracy that is absolutely sucking their creativity dry. They look like zombies, listening like drones for hours on end and just memorizing enough to pass the next test. Cumulative final? Have to remember this crap more than 4 weeks straight? Drop the class, or suffer through yet-another crappy class taught by someone who can't teach.

I know you want to know: CSUN.

Talk with an engineer at your school. (1)

Eneff (96967) | about 9 years ago | (#13618311)

They often need to do projects for their senior projects. That might be one in which someone is interested.

use existing hardware (1)

j1mmy (43634) | about 9 years ago | (#13618317)


most cellphones have java support these days and most college students have cellphones.

TI-83s (2, Informative)

figment (22844) | about 9 years ago | (#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 []
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 (2, Insightful)

AndreiK (908718) | about 9 years ago | (#13618385)

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.

Slashdot Q & A (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618322)

"So, what do the talented people of Slashdot recommend?"

Raise your hand; you'll get noticed quicker. You also don't require batteries to run it.

You do not need a hard coded ID for the clicker. (4, Interesting)

soft_guy (534437) | about 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:You do not need a hard coded ID for the clicker (1)

raoul666 (870362) | about 9 years ago | (#13618488)

Who says you don't want to identify who clicked it? I used one of these last year, and we did it for marks. Kinda hard if it doesn't identify who's who.

802.11b (1)

RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) | about 9 years ago | (#13618337)

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.

clickers? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618364)

What kind of half assed college uses a clicker? The purpose of college is to teach, not train monkeys.


Deanasc (201050) | about 9 years ago | (#13618366)

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 their key to their dorm room.) No trying to aim for the reciever you don't think everyone else is trying to aim at. Wireless is a neat toy but hard wired is really the way things should have gone.

Sorry, couldn't resist... (1)

MisterLawyer (770687) | about 9 years ago | (#13618370)

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. :-)

Re:Sorry, couldn't resist... (1)

Chasuk (62477) | about 9 years ago | (#13618407)


Most Slashdot readers have read about "clickers," remote control style devices that [allow] students to wirelessly answer a teacher's questions.

I recommend a class project (1)

Safe Sex Goddess (910415) | about 9 years ago | (#13618381)

I'd recommend finding faculty members who are interested in making this a class project. Students can be grouped together to form teams to work on parts of the project, or to compete against each other to develop the best project.

I don't understand why more faculty don't do this type of "real world" project. I get so tired of the 2,000 plus year old style of teaching where the instructor is the fount of all knowledge spouting it in the front of a group of students.

Good or Bad (1)

Chasuk (62477) | about 9 years ago | (#13618382)

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?

These clickers are annoying (1)

EndingPop (827718) | about 9 years ago | (#13618392)

Instead of making the students pay $45 (like they do here at my university) why not go with something simple? How did they do this a decade ago? They passed out scantron sheets (the fill in the bubble, machine read sheets). If used correctly they are just as effective for use as class attendance and a lot less expensive.

Clicker Cheats (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618436)

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 blinks means select "c".

The teachers swore me to secrecy. I only reveal it now as a warning to others....

Use the clapper, not the clicker (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618454)

It's proven technology, and your professor will feel important and respected when you give your answer.

why bother (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618463)

sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

Their's work. (1)

superub3r (915084) | about 9 years ago | (#13618465)

Perhaps we need to get in touch with the "Who want's to be a Millionaire" Folks. They seem to have clickers that work. Otherwise, why not a web based system? Sorta like those 'webpolls' you see intagrated to every forum system/cms, thats based on a simple PHP/MySQL style thing, used to record and display the data.

No one likes clickers (5, Insightful)

vectorian798 (792613) | about 9 years ago | (#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.

Why Clickers Have to be Wireless (1)

auburnate (755235) | about 9 years ago | (#13618493)

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. Kids don't have to be singled out. Multiple choice quizzes are graded instantly.

Wireless is the feasible way to go. Wires would be tripped over and yanked at. The only boon to wired is that you can run power to them and not worry about batteries. Although .... my company develops low power portable devices and they claim 20 year lifetime.

RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13618494)

RFID with read/write capabilities. In a few years, every student will have implants anyways. Seriously though. RFID.

~adjusts tin foil hat

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