Pusher at Code Africa

Last weekend we attended Code Africa – a code jam organised by the Times. The purpose of the event was to create a number of prototypes for applications that can make a difference in Africa; either through direct usage or by highlighting interesting and important information about the continent.

The weekend saw a lot of discussion, innovation, openness and eventually four very interesting prototypes; one of which made great use of Pusher – Simple SMS Education.

The Simple SMS Education team (that I was part of) tackled a number of interesting challenges:

  • It’s been proven that students respond better to interactive teaching
  • It can take a full day for a student to travel to school so they may only attend a few days a week – remote learning was clearly important
  • The most advanced technology a student will have access to is a mobile phone

that let a teacher send out questions to their student’s mobile phones. The student could then reply and the application could instantly display the answer to the teacher and determine if the student got the answer correct.

The team decided to build a Question & Answer application with a web dashboard* for the teacher. The teacher could define the Q&A in the dashboard, submit that question and it would be sent to each student via SMS using Twilio. The student could then answer the question via SMA and Twilio would deliver that answer to the application via a WebHook call. The team used Pusher to instantly display the answer in the web dashboard, which would also display if the question was answered correctly by each student.

* this was good for the prototype and would be usable within schools with Internet access. But, a SMS-based mobile application would also need to be built

Simple SMS Education sequence diagram

A sequence diagram showing component interaction for the Simple SMS Education prototype

Over the weekend the team used github for source code hosting and sharing, PHPFog for application hosting, Twilio for SMS delivery and receipt and Pusher for pushing question responses to the web dashboard. This use of hosted services meant the prototype could be quickly developed with very little dependency on local dev environment infrastructure and a public version of the application could be easily made available for demonstrating, and even pitching, the following day at the Times CEO Summit.

Congratulations to the Code Africa team, all the attendees and Hosted Services FTW!

You can see more information about the Code Africa code jam projects here.

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