Roy Vanegas

Discreet Answers

“Tell your teacher you don't understand, without the fear of your classmates knowing”

Crafting with Data: Revelations, Illusions, Truth and the Future

discreetly Answers is designed to enable students to discretely notify their teachers—without their classmates' knowledge—of their confusion regarding a topic presented in class.  This process is carried out by a device called a Discreet Responder, or DR, which is a box containing a wireless module and a sensor that tracks foot pressure.  Each student is given a DR, which has a serial number that identifies each student to the software running on the teacher's computer.  Since the DR is foot–controlled, it remains out of sight and fully discreet.

I carried out no research to locate a previous or current project like this one. However, since I plan on publishing findings related to this project, I will carry out formal research in early 2010.

This project is designed specifically for teachers/instructors to use with all students. In an ideal classroom situation, only those students too shy to acknowledge confusion before their classmates would actually use it.

User Scenario
A teacher presents a topic to the class.  Before moving on to the next topic, which builds upon the understanding of the previous topic, he/she asks the students, “did that make sense?”  Every student will either answer “yes,” “no,” ask the teacher to clarify, or remain quiet.  The silent ones are either not paying attention, don't care to answer (because they understand), or are embarrassed to say they don't understand, for fear that their peers will perceive them as dumb.  It is these quiet, shy students who would choose to answer discreetly by pressing—with their right or left foot—on their DRs. The more each student doesn't understand, the greater the pressure he/she applies to the DR.  The teacher sees on his/her computer exactly who didn't understand, and by how much each student didn't understand.

The teacher can now gauge how much time to spend re–explaining the previous material, based on how many didn't understand, and by how much.

Discreet Answers is implemented in a combination of both hardware and software. In hardware, one XBee radio receives data while two or more DRs send data. In software, a small program running in The Terminal interprets the receiving data and parses according to individual student.

The DRs are simple: one XBee radio, two LEDs, a miniature trim potentiometer (trim pot), two AA batteries, and a force–sensing resistor (FSR).  The XBee wirelessly transmits to a computer the pressure read by the FSR. The LEDs are used to indicate power and transmission.  They're present for debugging purposes only, and are hidden under the cover of each device.  The trim pot regulates the serial data read by the FSR. And, the batteries power the entire device.
[An image of the simple electronics inside each DR]

At the computer end, all the DRs feed wireless data to one receiving XBee that is connected to an Arduino. The Arduino, which is physically connected via USB to a computer, parses the serial data received from all the devices, then prints a report of each DR's FSR pressure.
[Screen capture of Discreet Answers' Terminal–based software]

Since Discreet Answers shows true academic promise, I'll be carrying out research on how it affects my own teaching by using it in my classes with my students.  In early February 2010, I'll submit my findings for peer review to the Journal of Research on Technology in Education.

Once I have a robust implementation of Discreet Answers, both in software and in hardware, I will release the project to the open source community.