To click or to text

To click or to text

Cool! Just had one of our lecturers come up with a new challenge: she would like to have an interactive session away from our university. She will be talking to 150+ professionals and would like them to answer a few questions anonymously and as easily as possible (budget? what budget? ;)).

The most straight-forward solution would be using clickers, but there is a catch: there are only about 50 radio frequency clickers available on the days she needs them (this is a very popular technology in my uni) and, while there are loads of infrared clickers around, to be honest I wouldn’t really advise anyone who wants speed, 70%+ accuracy and little hassle to use them…

Which took me on to my next project: find a reliable alternative environment which would meet her requirements.

First of all I looked at possibly using Twitter in conjunction with the LiveWeb. My plan was to use some of the Twitter polling tools like twtpoll or PollDaddy (BTW, thanks, Eamon, for talking about them on your blog). I would open a poll, people would vote and the live votes could be displayed live within PowerPoint using LiveWeb. Well, to some extent that may have worked but there are a few things which need sorting (and a few more which I don’t think can be sorted). The first issue is that LiveWeb seems to stop working if you don’t follow a linear course through your PowerPoint presentation – am chasing it up with techy people around the world ;). The second issue is that we can’t really assume everyone at this conference is on Twitter – and initial enquiries show they are really not πŸ™ The third issue is that I would have needed to find a way to restrict the poll only to the audience rather than have the whole WWW chipping in .. though, now that I think about, that may not be such a bad idea… So nice idea, but may work better in a classroom rather than at a serious conference… I don’t regret the research, though, as from blog to blog, I stumbled on this very cool resource: 50 Terrific Twitter Tutorials for Teachers (someone likes his/her alliterations, I guess ;))

The next cool tool I read about was Today’sMeet which is super funky in that it would have dealt with the WWW interfering. The audience would need to go to an URL and chip in, but that assumes that they have web-enabled devices which they are willing to use. Even more challenging in my specific conference setting… πŸ™ Grrr…

Then I started thinking about sms texting, as hopefully most people would be able to use their phones this way. I started off with txttools, with which my uni has a long work relationship. The tool was not bad and the company representatives were very helpful, but unfortunately the tool doesn’t yet have the capability of generating real-time stats as the votes come in. In order to do that, you would need to assign a label to each vote (manually from what I gather), then download an Excel report, fiddle with graphs and eventually display a chart. Doable, but not in my context…

Then I read more and tried more tools: QuestionPro, which I’d read on a wordpress blog that was not handling SMS votes, too – didn’t seem to be, though, when I played with it. The SMS2vote plug-in for PowerPoint from sendsteps, which was intuitive and easy to use, but also needed a bit of fiddling, as there is no number for the UK: the company website states: “The products of Sendsteps can be used worldwide via a phone number in the Netherlands or New Zealand. If you would like to have a number from your country please send in your request to _______”. However, I felt I was making progress.

Finally, I tried out two more tools: Polleverywhere which loads of people were raving about on the blogs and SMSPOLL which turned up among the first hits in Google (probably thanks to some well-places AdWords). Polleverywhere seemed indeed to be a very powerful tool, allowing the creation of custom keywords to make the voting easier for students, as well as response moderation and multi-poll reporting. I’m not particularly bothered about the moderation bit as I trust (based on some evidence, of course) students to moderate themselves and not encourage annoying behaviour (if they see some value in voting, naturally), but powerful reports does sound cool. SMSPOLL on the other hand was the one I spent more time with. It was a little bit cheaper, less powerful but good enough for what I needed and it worked so nicely that I had to restrain myself from voting after a few minutes – the graph animation was too groovy πŸ˜‰

The only other question I had was what happens with the data on the audience’s phone numbers. SMSPOLL say they give them a unique identifier rather than show you the number, but they don’t really tell you what happens – or at least I couldn’t work it out… Polleverywhere seem to have their act together a bit better in this respect and the info I wanted is somewhat answered in the FAQs: “Although results are stored by Poll Everywhere to tally up the number of votes, no participant will receive unsolicited text messages in the future as a result of participating in a Poll Everywhere poll. Participants’ phone numbers areΒ never shared with poll creators or third parties of any kind.”


  1. uninstall all the apps I downloaded while looking for the Grail… πŸ˜‰
  2. run local and WWW poll at the same time during the session: ask students a question, debate it and then poll them again. Then bring up what the WWW has had to say on the matter while you were debating, and have another chat about the online arguments.
  3. look at SMS voting again if needed πŸ˜‰