Alex's app development

Updates and news on the development of Lecture Companion

Thank you

📥  app development

This summer was a fantastic experience for me. I learned a lot about the process of how an idea for an app is developed, and had a lot of fun doing it. The design sprint in Manchester was really interesting as it provided an opportunity to learn more about other ideas as well as refining my own. I'd like to thank Paul Bailey and everyone at Jisc for making the event possible and Keith Brown at the University of Bath for encouraging me to enter, as well as his feedback throughout the process.

The competition was a great way of exploring how app development works, from the initial idea right the way through to pitching it to a panel of experts, developing wireframe prototypes along the way. It extended beyond just the technical side of how an app would work and into the real world - would people use my idea?

My time working on the idea has come to a close now as I start back at university for my final year, but the concept of Lecture Companion has allowed me to explore the finer details of technology in education, combining two of my favourite things. One day I hope to revisit this fantastic field, and I will continue to seek out new things to help improve when it comes to the learning experience.

If you are reading this and considering taking part in this fantastic process, do it! I met many great people with innovative ideas, gained a lot of skills and most importantly had a fantastic time.


JD0065_SOSI_LectureCompanionProject_AlexDavies.pdf copy



📥  app development

The first part of the app design process is one which I am already fairly familiar with. This is 'wireframing', the production of a blueprint for how the app will look and behave when in use. At this point the design is not functional, but is instead a series of images of how the app could look at the end of the process. This is important as it helps to show the purpose of the app as well as become a reference for how the final product should look. The original designs were somewhat quickly produced and now I have a lot more time to work on something with a more user-friendly feel to it.

app idea1 small

The original design of Lecture Companion uses a list with nested subsections. This is something I am keen to carry over to the final design.

There are many different styles used in apps, some more intuitive than others. Despite the original mock design, I have made the decision to try to create something consistent with apps already present and used by people every day. There are two main reasons why this makes for a better user experience. Firstly, nobody likes to have to become accustomed to a new interface when they were perfectly happy with what they were already using. By using a design people are familiar with, the app can be downloaded and used straight away. Secondly, it's a fair assumption to make that if many apps use a certain design, it is because the users like it. By going with a design that is already popular, people will be more likely to want to use the app thanks to a user interface that they like.

So, a combination of familiarity with the design and actually liking this design (since the two do not always come hand in hand) will make for a better-designed app. Now the decision to be made is, what design should be used? It will be very difficult to please everyone at this stage as there are two common options; Android-style app design, or iOS-style app design. The former, with the current Material Design specification from Google, tends to focus more on simple, functional and flat design. The latter, using Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, appears more complex, variable and stylish.

The average from the past 12 months of monthly sales shares of smartphones in the UK, according to Kantar, are as follows:


I've combined the data from the past 12 months to find averages, since the various product launches will affect sales share from month to month throughout the year. It is clear that the majority of smartphones purchased over the past year were running Android, but this is not the whole picture. I was unable to find data for tablets, a sector of the market which is likely to have a greater sway towards devices running iOS and of course these data are from all sales, not sales to students. The split, in my experience, is more even between Android and iOS among students. It is often difficult to gauge the overall choice of device because Apple devices all look very similar to each other so are more noticeable than Android devices, which can vary hugely in size, colour, materials, etc., leading to an apparent greater popularity of iOS than Android.

The app itself will be targeted to both Android and iOS, and assuming a roughly 50:50 split of users, the choice of one operating system's native design over another will appeal more to about 50% of students. My personal choice is Material Design, as this is something I am far more comfortable with as a user of Android devices. Additionally, Material Design is meant to be universal, with Google themselves releasing apps for iOS while the same cannot be so easily said for Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, which are very much aimed exclusively at iOS users.

As a result, Material Design presents itself as a more appealing choice for the initial wireframing process because of its ubiquity. This decision is of course not final and I intend to explore as many options as possible to find one which suits the goal of Lecture Companion best. Material Design is simple, allowing students to focus primarily on their lectures, making it an obvious choice for the production of the first wireframe.

My current plan now is to start work on making some wireframes to demonstrate the functionality of Lecture Companion as these will be the centre of any future design-related decisions.


The next stage

📥  app development

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone! There was no way that I would have progressed to the next stage of the competition without your votes and support. Lecture Companion has successfully been selected by Jisc as one of the ten entries to the Student Ideas category be carried forward for further development.

This is a very exciting time because I am now one step closer to turning the idea into an app, with the help of Jisc. Later on this summer I will be travelling to a planning course for the app in Manchester, then pitching the idea to Jisc in London to hopefully progress further and develop the app fully into a real product. The goal has always been to develop something that everyone will be able to use every day at university to enhance the learning experience, and this is now becoming more possible.

I am sure things will soon start to pick up speed as work starts on turning the app from just an idea to a working prototype. This will be entirely new to me, as I have never developed anything close to an app before - the closest thing to this being tinkering with Rainmeter skins for use on computers. Hopefully the development of Lecture Companion will be a great learning experience with an even better outcome, benefiting students across the country.


Lecture Companion: the idea

📥  app development

Every day, every student will go to lectures and take notes, but the way people do this varies greatly. Some people annotate printed handouts of slides while others rely on just writing down the key facts, but a method which is increasingly popular is the use of tablets and other mobile devices. With this, however, there are many difficulties due to the lack of a universally used file type, the requirement to log into Moodle to download these slides and the need to do this for every lecture, manually.

I have entered the Jisc Student Ideas Competition with my idea for an app, Lecture Companion (click the link to view my entry, and add your vote). This idea will, if carried forward to the next stage of the competition, will be developed into a working app for students everywhere to use. I hope to be able to use this competition, which was recommended to me by Keith Brown at the university, as an opportunity to change the way students make notes.

Lecture Companion

The front page of the app, showing a list of a student's units and the lectures within them.

My hope is to be able to offer a system which automatically downloads and organises lecture slides on students' mobile devices, cutting out the middle man of Moodle, and negate the need to have multiple other apps installed for editing the different file types used by different lecturers. In addition to this, the lecture slides can be annotated by students in whichever way they prefer.

Lecture Companion

The lecture slides in use on the app, allowing annotation or the addition of text to accompany provided notes.

The option to annotate or type will give students the choice to make notes in the way that they are most comfortable. By bringing together lecture slides for students, Lecture Companion makes it much easier to focus on the important part of lectures, the lectures themselves!

If developed into an app, Lecture Companion has the potential to completely change how students make notes, by offering a way to make notes exactly how students want.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first (short) blog post on the development of Lecture Companion from an idea to a real app available to all students. If you haven't done so already, it takes just a few clicks and your email address to register your vote. A direct link to do this can be found here, voting closes on Tuesday the 26th of May.