Hi! I'm Tanner.

I'm a software engineer at Apple. I write here occassionally.

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Developing an Online Student Response System

Last week I started my second year at Georgia Tech after taking some humanities and social sciences over the summer. This meant taking an entire new set of classes including the exciting upper-level computer science classes. The new school year also meant something else; Georgia Tech was transitioning to a new personal response system (PRS).

What is a PRS you may ask? I didn’t know too much about them as I have never had to use one in my previous semesters at Georgia Tech. A PRS is a device that allows a presenter (such as a professor) to get feedback from an audience on what they think on a topic or to quiz on their understanding of material. Most PRS’s use a small hardware device for students to send their response, something that costs around $50.

A friend and a fellow teaching assistant of mine, Ryan Ashcraft, thought that it was really neat that you could get live feedback on a class’s understanding of material - something we really thought would be useful for seeing if our recitation understands the material we are discussing. However, we couldn’t force the students in our recitation to go out and spend $50 on a device. We still wanted some way to get feedback from our students during recitation and asking for people to speak up isn’t really cutting it - rarely anyone does it or it is a select few who always speak up.

So what are two computer science majors to do? Build their own system of course. We weren’t going to make an iOS/mobile app or a Java app, though. This system requires a more platform-independent solution - and we are going with a website. I have never worked on a web-based product before, but I’m excited for what it will offer for me as a developer. It’s about the easiest to build, run, and about every device that connects to the internet has a browser that should be able to use our site. And we’re calling it Class Response.

Now you can go out today and do a bit more Googling to find some already-existing personal response systems that use a web app or mobile app. However, almost all of them cost money. We’ve already made a decision that ours will be free. We’re also planning on eventually opening the source on GitHub (because git > subversion).

We realize that our system may not be the best in the world with all the whiz-bang features. We just want something that simple that is targeted specifically for the classroom. We’re hoping it will be a really good, free alternative to Georgia Tech’s expensive PRS.

We’ve still got a ways to go before it will be released. I’ll be posting more updates as our development advances. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.