An open source solution that allows for mid-presentation interaction between attendees and presenters through SMS


At the University of Tennessee, we are required to have a Turning Point Technology "clicker" to answer mid-lecture questions in many lower-level classes. The problem with this system is that we not only have to pay for the clicker, but we also have to pay for a yearly subscription to Turning Point. We feel almost scammed because of the amount of money we have to pay for this, so we decided to come up with a free option that doesn't require extra hardware and that doesn't require any subscription, and that scales to be applicable to any type of meeting or conference with a speaker. In addition, we saw this as an opportunity to improve the way students or other meeting attendees interact with the professor or speaker. There's always people in large lectures that want to ask questions but that are either too shy or too worried about sounding stupid, and there's also the problem that a professor in a large lecture wants to wait for a natural pause before answering questions instead of stopping mid-stream. To solve these problems, we've added capability to PollMe to allow people to submit anonymous questions real-time to the professor or speaker.

What it does

Anyone can set up an account to put out polls in a class or meeting; the attendees just have to send a text to the app's phone number with a header to identify the class section and poll. The presenter then can see real-time results of how attendees answered. Similarly, if someone has a question, instead of having to raise their hand and ask it in front of a large group of people, they can send a text with a header identifying the class section or meeting, and the professor can receive that real-time.

How we built it

We're hosting this project on an AWS-ec2 instance. We're using flask and docker builds on the backend, and we're using Twilio's API to send and receive SMS's.

Challenges we ran into

We started out trying to use a different SMS API, but it turned out to be anti-user-friendly. Also, figuring out how to receive a text in Twilio wasn't the easiest thing in the world. We realized that docker doesn't work correctly on the Ubuntu subsystem for Windows 10; it wasn't a huge problem, but it meant some work that should've been done locally had to happen on the server. We also got a little bit of a slow start and started to get fairly time-constrained towards the end.

What we learned

Most of our group had never worked with an SMS API, so using Twilio was a good learning experience. API endpoints were also new to most of us.

What's next for PollMe

We would like to add the option for students/attendees to interact with the app via web instead of forcing SMS, but we just didn't have the time for that at this hackathon.

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