Saturday, 3 September 2011

Aplha Launch! Cloud Learning Environment, here it is.

Cloud Learning Environment Developed at School of Engineering, University of Portsmouth, UK deployed on the Google Cloud (or Google App Engine).

Cloud Learning Environment (CLE), a term that I coined and got a lot of publicity and attention over the past two years is described in a previous post here. The CLE described below is unique, in that the staff and students using the platform have very similar levels of access rights. Control is kept with the staff only where it absolutely necessary. We have developed this platform at the School of Engineering at the University of Portsmouth in a very short time and there may be bugs and inactive features. This blog will warn you about these in advance.
For now it is open to all and can be used using your Gmail / Google credentials and it be accessed at

Cloud Learning Environment (Use chrome or Firefox may work with IE)

Unfortunately there is not much in terms of help files inside the platform however this blog will serve both as an introduction to the environment and its features and as a guide.

To get started click the above link and login using your Gmail ID etc. See the image below for help.
 CLE Login Page (click to enlarge)

Once logged in, you can start by either define some questions in your questions database or creating learning circles (groups or classes).

CLE Landing Page (click to enlarge)

The questions database allows you to define multiple choice questions, short / long answer questions, survey type questions and questions with more than one choice. You can create groupings where you can organize your questions into categories. Details of this part are within the section titled "How to start using the PRS (or the response system app)" see below.

A list of features of this CLE
  • Organize and save questions for  later use
  • Create Exam papers using the above defined questions
  • Create revision sheet for students to revise for exam collaboratively (also called Examopedia)
  • Create a poll to be answered by SMS, email, twitter, hand movement (MARS), Bluetooth and other systems - poll is know as PRS within the CLE (see below on how to use)
  • Create Learning circles or classes to add learners and teachers (see below on how to)
  • access different applications available to the users such as Personal response system (PRS), other automated Google Apps features like create documents, assignments, folders etc and many more
  • Create shared folders/documents within a learning circle
  • Set and Mark assignments within a learning circle 
The text in dark grey are features/apps not yet available but in pipeline.

The list is set to grow over the coming months as we expand the features/functions on the site.

What is a Learning Circle and how to create one?

Learning circle is nothing but the equivalent of a course or class site accessible only to a group of learners and teachers. The unique feature is that both staff and students can use the applications that are available and there is very little power difference for the two type of users. A learning circle can be created by both the students and the staff and the creator then decides who all are given access and with what rights. This opens up the platform to both parties and opens up further uses of the platform. To improve organizing of new and old learning circles over time the landing page has a check-box to show hide the learning circles. 

To create a Learning Circle (LC): Simply follow the instructions within the CLE Landing page above and the screen shots below.  You will need to create a LC if you want to try using the PRS. 

Setting up  / Creating a Learning circle (click to enlarge)
When a LC is created and is current it shows up as below on the landing page and can be accessed by clicking the name.

How to start using the PRS (or the response system app)

You will need to define some survey  (or one answer / greater than one answer)  type questions first.

To do so look at the images below and have a go at the instructions within. To get to the screen in the first image below click the button on the landing page that says "My Questions Database".

CLE Questions Database interface (click to enlarge)
Questions can be defined within categories which are like say a topic or a unit that you teach. Within each category there can be 4 different types of questions and the ones useful for PRS are listed in the first line of this section above.

To create your first question, create a new category or use the default category on the CLE and select the type of question you want to define.

CLE Questions definition interface  (click to enlarge)
We will create a question in Default category and select the survey type question to start. Choose survey under the "type of the question" choice and type in the question text and the relevant number of options by choosing 2, 3 or 4 under "number of choices" option. You can leave the possible choices set to 1 or can change it if you wish. It allows a user to vote to one or more than one choices. 

Click lock choices when you have made the relevant entries for this questions and click OK. As an example I show you how your question will look like if it was a one answer type question (note that this is not what you are trying here), see below.

Example question (of type - one answer) (click to enlarge)
Once you have defined the question(s) you can move to the next section where we create learning circles so that you can use the questions within your chosen learning circle. PRS app is accessible only within a learning circle whereas the qeuestion database is accessible within and outside the learning circle. After creating a learning circle, click the newly created learning circle and come back here for more instructions.

For example

Click the app that says "PRS", this will launch it.

Launch PRS within a Learning circle  (click to enlarge)

You will see the following screen

CLE PRS App Page (click to enlarge)
The above screen shot shows the questions that I defined earlier using the CLE question definition interface as shown earlier. Select a question, that you want to use, to see the following screen.

 CLE PRS Setup (click to enlarge)
When finished setting up the above screen, you can click broadcast and you will see the following screen. You can choose to generate keywords automatically or define your own. Keywords become clear a bit later. Anonymous users may also use the system alongside users within the learning circle. On clicking broadcast the system sends an email to all registered users in the current learning circle with instructions on how to reply to the question. For non registered users, there is instruction that appears on the screen that follows. If the check box related to anonymous users is not checked then emails from anonymous users are not considered, else they are included in the stats.

CLE PRS Broadcast / Stats page (click to enlarge)

At this stage you could either kill the session and not collect any votes by clicking "abort" button. However this will be pointless for the sake of this demo, hence we will now send some responses to the app so that the stats can be updated dynamically.

Open any email client and send an email with to field defined as "" replacing keyword with the chosen keyword for the option you want to vote. Click send and that's it.

Send your vote via email  (click to enlarge)

You have sent your vote to the PRS App!!! It should appear within a few seconds on the stats page as shown below.

Stats page with data/votes (click to enlarge)

To leave the session running and allow people to continue to answer this question click "continue" to close the popup or click "abort" to end the session and free the keywords. You can always come back to this question by clicking "questions asked tab" on the page below the popup above.

You are hereby invited to use the platform for any purpose you wish.
The features are limited and we reserve the right to stop the service without prior notice. Although this blog may have information in advance of anything like that.
For now we are opening this mainly to collect your views and feedback. Please feel free to either email me on or use the commenting feature below to post your thoughts, suggestions, comments etc.

Enjoy it.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Motion Based Audience Response system - MARS

In this post I detail one of the recent developments at the School of Engineering at the University of Portsmouth, U.K., the all new Motion based audience response system (MARS), developed by one of my students Emeline.

Response systems are now widely used within classrooms and conferences. The carrier technology used to get the votes from the students to a centralised system is key in such systems. The faster the votes are collected the better the feel of the system. RF keypads perform well in this regards and votes are collected almost instantaneously (2-3 secs delay if that). SMS on the other hand can have longer delays. Tweets and emails can be within the 5 second window. But the truth is that depending on the class size any delay up to 10 seconds is acceptable as different students take time to respond to a question. 

In previous posts I have detailed some of our previous development of personal response system / Electronic voting systems / Audience response system (phew so many different names for the same thing!) based on SMS, Bluetooth, twitter and email. In this post I detail a new way to capture the response to multiple choice questions from a class of students using just a simple HD web cam and a laptop with some software that we developed.

Yes, its that simple!

No need for any clickers, keypads or mobile phones (with varying features) or wifi connection etc. Just a web cam suitable to capture your audience, a laptop (2GHz+, 3GB RAM+) and the shiny new MARS software.

Below is a sample screen-shot of how the system mixes a live view from a class-room with as many virtual keypads (with keys A, B, C and D) as there are students to be used by them to respond to a 4 choice question. Video is here now, see below:

Two types of virtual keypad - Horizontal and Square.
The image you see above is what the student see on the over-head projector, live, as the camera mounted in front of them captures these frames and mixes the black and white virtual keypads wherever it detects human motion. The system can provide these virtual keypads for around 70 students in the audience (limited by the size of the keypad and camera resolution). 

Now, imagine the students can also see on the overhead projected screen a question with four choices, one for each letter in the virtual keypad. As students have individual keypads they reach out to the option of their choice with their hand and select the response they want to answer the current question. This is shown in the image below. 

This is how the overhead projector screen looks like in full.
Example class using the system

As you see in the picture above the individual options (A, B, C and D) change colour when students hover their hand over the individual boxes. To vote a student simply hovers their hand three times over the option of choice and the colour changes from orange to red and finally to green (yes, not quite the traffic light!). When the teacher sees enough green lights then they can stop and collect the stats, as shown in the image bottom right.

Reflections after 1st use with students:
I will continue trialing the system in schools (two planned) and in my own classes (as you can see in the pictures above) so more details to follow. Today (19th Sep 2011) I used this system first time with my students and their immediate reaction was "Cool", "Can we have another go at the system" (after I stopped it)" and "it would be nice to get the virtual keypad not to overlap my eyes". The last response can easily addressed when allocating boxes manually as opposed to based on motion. The session lasted 30 minutes and i was able to ask 6 questions and talk about the results and other things within the time. All responses were in within 1 minute.

On the issue of shy students - I think, and I still need to evaluate it properly, the faces of people are covered with the virtual keypads (see pics above) and within 1 min students will probably focus in getting their response in as opposed to check out a) who is sitting where and b) find out what their response is. After the minute we only show the stats and the votes are cleared.  

Any thoughts, suggestions, applications and inquiries are welcome. Like this post all comments will be treated as creative commons license relevant to this blog (i.e CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Happy teaching to you all.