The ART Award for Excellence in the Development of Technology in Teaching

Highly commended: David Norman and Giles Wood

Ding is a new tower and handbell ringing simulator, which allows ringing together via the internet using real bell sounds from Great Yarmouth. A key feature is automated ringer “Bob”, who can be assigned bells not taken by humans. Thus, Ding can be used for solo and group practice, currently up to 12 bells. Ding is available as Standard Ding (PC Windows) and Unity Ding (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iphone/ipad). Both show the bells in a unique square button format. Unity Ding was developed in a gaming “Unity” software environment to enable it to run on multiple platforms listed above, and to allow programming of a unique 3D virtual rope circle. This and other rope layouts develop ropesight and listening when the bell sound is delayed, as in real ringing.

Ding has to be downloaded and installed, so getting started is a little more complex, but it means all versions are interoperable through a single server. This architecture also allows others to create their own client software to interact with the Ding server. Ding supports a wide range of input devices including mouse, keyboard, touchscreen, dumbbell and handbell manager/motion controllers. Various combinations of these have successfully rung together over the last few months.

The first prototype of Standard Ding was written by David in a week (March 2020) to allow Trowbridge to ring during lockdown. Having proved the system, David added Bob, and the nominees started Open Practices. Unity Ding (which incorporates a version of Bob) was written by Giles in response to demand to run Ding on a Mac. The first of many versions was released in lockdown1. While fully functional, Standard Ding/Bob and Unity Ding are subject to on-going development.

David and Giles have combined their expertise as software developers and ringing teachers to produce a simulator with unique features beneficial to solo learners and small/inexperienced bands, as well as challenging for experienced ringers. Ding started out to support ringers through the pandemic, but the evidence suggests it has a future supporting ringers’ development when used alongside real bells. By accelerating ringers' progress it should increase retention.

Each ringer in a band can set their own preferences within Ding to suit their progress, learning style and aims without affecting what the other ringers see or hear. For example, a ringer on buttons will hear the bells immediately, and therefore before a ringer on ropes. This is made possible because the bell sounds are generated within each ringer's computer - only the instruction for each bell to ring is sent across the internet.

Trowbridge/Open Practice learners find the button format intuitive and “place” easy to understand. To quote Giles “From the onset, and without preconceived ideas, learners were able to ring rounds and progress to plain hunt by listening and counting, focusing on all the bells, not just the ones they are following”. A ringer using it for the first time said “because it's easy to keep the rhythm, there are few clashes, so listening is easier.” Button format is also used to introduce course and after bells, facilitating ringing on higher numbers. The layout (top buttons handstroke and bottom buttons backstroke) reinforces the link between place and stroke.

Many Open Practice ringers now use ropes some or all of the time. Most begin by waiting for the rope before them to start moving before activating their bell. The resultant ringing is slow, in part because of their reaction time and the time taken for the signal to get to the server and back. However, with practise ringers become better at using a combination of rhythm and ropesight to ring faster, trusting that the bell before them will move. Regards listening, the transition from buttons to ropes is similar to that from handbells (immediate sound) to tower bells (delayed sound).

Bob is designed to make teaching and learning easier, for example:

  1. Learners can be introduced to a new method in 3 easy stages: 1) Watch Bob ring, 2) Ring a bell assigned to Bob. This won’t affect Bob ringing, but the learner can tell from the movement of the buttons whether they are in the right place. We call this “Shadowing”, 3) Ring with Bob. Here a bell is assigned to the learner and the rest to Bob. Bob waits for the learner, plus the peal speed can be reduced to make ringing easier.
  2. Bob can be placed strategically to strengthen a human band.
  3. Bob can display the correct order of bells. This is vital to the many teachers/tower captain who struggle to put learners right.
  4. Bob can start part-way through a method, allowing repeated practice of a difficult bit.
  5. Bob can call bobs and singles, to allow practice at ringing touches without having a human conductor available.

Landmark performances posted on BellBoard by Open Practice attendees include the first all-human touch on Ding (5th April 2020, Grandsire Doubles), followed by 12 successful quarter peals on buttons (Jul to Dec), and one so far, on ropes (Dec). Of these, method firsts include: 1st inside (Plain Bob Minor and Plain Bob Major), 1st in method (Kent Minor), 1st as conductor (Plain Bob Minor) and 1st quarter peal (treble to Cambridge Minor in 51 min). Three UK-Italy handbell quarters of Bob Minimus have been reported including 1st as conductor in 24 min, i.e. normal ringing speed. In addition to quarter peal firsts, there have been numerous other method firsts, including 12 in a single Open Practice. Solo practice with Bob has contributed to this success.

In internet ringing, progress can be hampered by poor internet performance. Ding provides “Ping” times which continually monitor each ringer's internet delay. Experience shows Ping times in excess of 100ms start to be noticable. There are practical things ringers can do to improve ping times, and nominees have helped with this to keep everyone included.

A highlight has been the enthusiasm David and Giles have inspired in others, including learners, to contribute to this project. Thus, as well as the on-going collaboration between Giles and David, virtual Trowbridge/Open Practice ringers have tested pre-release versions of Ding, and provided feedback to improve the user interface (e.g. the treble's sally is now a different colour so it stands out). Other more technical discussions included the complex problem of achieving a realistic rope speed. In addition, a learner wrote a program (DingMon) in Java software to monitor the order the bells are actually rung in, and their timing. This sparked a competition to see which of two teams was best on ropes.

Members of the Dumbbell Society have been able to link their software to Ding. For now however, dumbbell ringers can only ring by ear, not by ropesight, due to the position of the dumbbell sensor. There is an aspiration to use a Ding-dumbbell system as a ropesight trainer using Augmented Reality. Unity Ding has the graphics environment to make this possible.

The simplicity of the button format, the excitement of the ropes, the quality of the bell sounds and the range of platforms offers possibilities for recruitment for all age groups. Two (or more) people can ring on the same computer, one on mouse and one on keyboard, for example. Thus parents can ring with their children at a lower age than possible in towers. Ding can be used interactively for tower open days. There is even potential for Ding to be used as a game to introduce non-ringers to the art.

Future plans include:

  • Augmented Reality (AR). To enable the ringer to practice a method with a dumbbell while viewing the other ropes in Ding through an AR headset. By the time they attempt the method on real bells they will have the necessary ropesight. This will require expenditure to acquire an AR headset.
  • Implement Ding Unity for ipad/iphone. This is 95% complete but requires some expenditure on Apple equipment and registration, or a collaborator who already possesses these things. Once complete, no-one should be excluded.
  • Upgrade Bob to provide even greater assistance to learners, such as a real-time Striking Indicator.

Sponsored by John Taylor & Co. and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers

Winner: Bryn Reinstadler and Leland Kusmer

Runner Up: Graham John

Runner Up: Simon Gay, Tim Hart, Graham John and Ben Johnson

Highly Commended: David Norman and Giles Wood

Nominated by: Louise Gay