iClicker under GNU/Linux

Electronic “clickers” are personal wireless transceivers carried by every student in a lecture hall and are used for in-class feedback and assessment in teaching. At McGill, we have just switched to a new clicker system that is all about integration with Microsoft Powerpoint. When attending the new faculty welcome session with the Provost and others, a demonstration of this system failed and ended when Powerpoint crashed. There is some ability (TurningPoint Anywhere) with that system to do general overlays, but the company has now bundled that software with the main Windows/Mac packages, so it’s impossible to install under Wine.  I’ve given up for the time being.

In any case, back at UBC we used iClickers, and I am reposting my very old notes (which were on a static html page) here so that people may add their wisdom.  Note that I never got iClicker working under GNU/Linux natively, either: I used a virtual machine (under GNU/Linux) running Microsoft OS to give my lectures.

I’m teaching a course at UBC with the iClicker. iClickers are a radio transceiver system that allow lecture-style classes to include real-time individual feedback and assessment. But until mid/late 2009 (according to the manufacturer), the interface on the lecturer’s side only supports Microsoft and Apple operating systems. In the mean time, what can be done for Linux-wielding lecturers?

The following are currently being tried. Please send me infos if you have some. The second one, using Virtualbox, seems to work for me. To use this would mean I would use a PDF viewer or other display software inside Windows to give my presentation, as well as to run iClicker. That way, the iClicker panel can overlay the talk.

  • Wine: Use the api “wine”. Well, you can download MSVBVM60.DLL and put it in ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/system. Then the iClicker application will work fine. But Wine simply doesn’t support USB (!), so there’s no way to connect to the iClicker hardware. (one old ref: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=937412)
  • Virtualbox. Install the non-open-source version (which comes with nice USB support) of Sun’s miraculous “Virtualbox” software. You can do this just by adding an extra software source repository in Ubuntu. Then add a single line to your /etc/fstab to make your usb ports available to vboxusers. Use a Microsoft operating system inside VirtualBox. Now, in setting up USB interfaces in VirtualBox, I can see the iClicker. Now everything seems to run (software, no initial complaints about missing the iClicker). But the interface was very flakey, at best, under Win2K. Under Win XP it seems to work fine… mostly. I’m not sure if the remaining problems are there under Windows, too? The fwd/back selection on the instructor’s clicker didn’t do anything, and the “show correct answer” sometimes needed to be pushed twice to advance the highlighted response.
  • Write a driver… Here’s one stuck attempt: http://osdir.com/ml/python.pyusb.user/2008-06/msg00000.html
  • [2012 update] and now there’s a successful attempt by Jason Siefken. This is a command-line interface, only. Jason said:

    For including a screen-capture, “http://beans.seartipy.com/2006/07/30/different-ways-of-taking-screenshots-in-gnulinux/ lists that if you have ImageMagick installed, you could run

    import -window root -resize 400×300 -delay 200 screenshot.png

    to take a screenshot. This could be set up in a shell script to take a screenshot, then start the poll. It’s also worth noting, I haven’t yet tested iclickerpoll.py on a large class (only with the small number of clickers I brought home) so I would encourage people to test it before depending on it. “

I am also in the process of developing a LyX environment for iClicker questions in beamer presentation (LaTeX). If you’ve already made progress on such a thing, please contact me.

This entry was posted in GNU/linux, McGill University, Microsoft, software. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to iClicker under GNU/Linux

  1. Ed says:

    Did you ever get decent LyX slides? I have some templates I use for iclicker questions…

    Also, was thinking about trying to get something running on a Rasberry Pi, but sounds like that may not be possible. I want to start stop polls from the master remote…

    • cpbl says:

      Hi Ed.

      Oh… I ended up sticking to LaTeX, I think. So I do have environments for clicker questions, though they’re nothing especially clever. I’d be happy to share. They also have a non-clicker class-interaction mode, ie where the optional answers are labelled with images of 1 through 5 fingers (or a fist) rather than letters for a clicker.

      Raspberry Pi: ah! Brilliant idea.

      By the way, I’ve moved universities, and we don’t use iClicker here. Turning Point, used at McGill, is similarly hard to work with from open OSs.

      Cheers, Chris

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