Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

Topic: Peer Assisted Learning

Study-Space App

📥  Apps, Community, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, Peer Support, social media, student

Study-Space is a small-scale experimental social-media type app, implemented as a forum, but with a few extra features.


Based on previous experience with Facebook groups and the input and encouragement from students, an app was implemented for iOS and Android.

An over-riding issue for students was convenience:

‘if you make it easy enough, then we will use it’

The internal nature of the app alleviates some issues privacy that have caused some concern amongst students in previous studies using mainstream public social media. [1]

In a nutshell, the work is an experiment to determine if a homegrown app could be a viable platform to support a closed community of students helping each other. The closed context provides a secure area for users to experiment in the course of their learning, and does not directly impact on an individual's public or mainstream online identity.

The trial

The pilot ran mid-February to mid-May 2016 with a cohort of around 140 pharmacy students.

Some of the key features of the app include:

  • Private – only available to a small cohort of 140 students
  • Focussed - one programme unit
  • Anonymity – most students have chosen to post anonymously
  • Quick and convenient – it is available as an iOS or android app, or a web-site
  • Simple – a forum of text posts combined with some special types of posts for academics:
  • Voting competitions
  • Questions/Surveys in MCQ format

What happened

Although the app is an optional supplement to the unit, is has been used by around 60% of the cohort. There has been a good level of activity, mostly based around various questions and answers posted by students such as shown below:

Study Space running in a web-browser

An example of a student answering a question from another student

We have yet to properly evaluate the app because the students are revising and taking exams right now. However, the feedback so far:

The Academic View

Dr Albert Bolhuis

As convenor for PA20024, the Study-Space app has provided a convenient way to engage with students outside of lectures, and enables staff to monitor how well students have understood the material that was taught. The app is easy to use and the workload is minimal. Importantly, students are not only asking, but also answering questions that have been posted, and the app thus facilitates a lively peer support community for the unit.

Dr Julie Letchford

As an academic delivering lectures, practicals and workshops on this unit, I’m always keen to obtain student feedback. The voting element built into this App provides a really useful way of easily achieving this immediately after the session.

The Students View

Student comments from the end of unit evaluation include:

Feedback via StudySpace has been very useful.

The app was a great idea for getting feedback to us.

I think the app has been a very good improvement to this unit and the lecturers are always there to answer questions as well as us

I think the idea of the Study Space app is good!

... and the app has been very useful as people can ask questions and get replies extremely quickly

The studyspace app which was trialed during this unit is really useful and I feel it would benefit being used in other units too

Study Space App is really helpful; I hope it can be rolled out in other units (it would have been of even more use in 242/Drug Met perhaps?)

Future Development

Based on the evidence so far and interest from academics, it now seems likely that further trials will take place across the university in the next semester. In particular, one area for exploration that hasn’t been tried yet is synchronous use during lectures.

Please let me know if you are interested



  1. The role of social media in undergraduate pharmacy education

Alyson Brown @alyjbrown and Brian Addison @BrianAddison75 –
Robert Gordon University

Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference 2015


Placements App

📥  Alumni Assisted Learning, App Factory, Apps, Peer Assisted Learning, student

A new app has been completed for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Created by recent alumni Adam Norman, the target users are students in every year of the pharmacy degree course. It aims to to provide comprehensive information about getting the most out of practice-based learning in the degree and work experience, in order to help the student successfully apply for (and complete) the pre-registration year.


The app is the first output from the App-Factory Alumni Fund project, and incorporates slideshows, videos and quizzes. It covers topics such as:

  • Preparing for a placement
  • Personal skills, attributes and values
  • Communication, teamwork and leadership
  • Professionalism and ethics

The app is currently undergoing quality checks by academics, and initial feedback is very positive. My colleague Julie Letchford commented that 'there's loads of detail here which will be very useful to students going on any placement in pharmacy or indeed any subject area'

It is hoped to release the app in the near future, and to evaluate with students from each year group of the MPharm degreee.

placements2 placements3 placements4 Alumni Fund LOGO Long Dark-on-Light




PAL Apps Student Evaluation

📥  Apps, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, student

Student Evaluation of 4 Peer Assisted Learning Apps



The evaluation results for four Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) apps have now been collected. Undergraduates in my department were able to download and install the apps on their Android and iOS devices from October onwards, and many have used the apps for revision prior to their January exams.

These apps were created by two final year students after graduation in 2014, and tackle specific areas in the syllabus that had been identified as difficult for students. These really are apps by students for students.

For me, the evaluation results are overwhelmingly positive and indicate that apps seem to strike a chord with students in a big way. It was beyond my expectations:

Taking an overview of the student surveys across all 4 PAL apps, there is a broad consistency:

  • 90% want to use their phones or tablets for teaching and learning
  • Almost 100% find the PAL app(s) useful
  • Almost 100% find the PAL app(s) easy-to-use
  • The PAL apps were predominantly used for Private Study or Revision

The free text student responses are shown below. These are in response to the question 'Please write any feedback you have about the app'.

Obviously there are one or two issues related to quality-control that we need to check and rectify, but overall this is really positive outcome.  Given this data-set, all I can say, is that apps for teaching and learning do seem to have a lot of untapped potential!

Individual Student Responses

Kidney and Diuretics App

  • Brilliant app, good lectures and videos, quizzes brilliant to bring g all the learning together, brilliant app for the unit!
  • Very easy to use
  • Was very good but I think there was a mistake with one of the questions
  • It's perfect
  • It's really good and should be used for other units as well
  • Good to see the notes written differently to the lecture notes
  • Very concise and easy to read through the topics - quiz was also a useful aspect!
  • It was so simple to use, nicely divided into appropriate sections, with clear diagrams and speaking. It was good to have the video at the end as well, and I felt it progressed at a good speed. On the loop diuretics quiz, the 'Loop diuretics act by inhibiting the:' answer does not match the information given previously nor does the 'The overall effect of potassium-sparing diuretics leads to:' answer on the potassium-sparing drugs quiz. I used the web app.
  • Very easy to use
  • Simple and easy to use. Used most on journeys when laptops are just too big.
  • Quite interactive, good how there are quizzes to do as well.
  • would like more interactive activities and more exam style questions
  • More quiz questions and more challenges. Create different levels like a game to make it more interesting.
  • I like the animations and the quizzes. Could be improved by including more academic content.
  • There is a problem with an answer in the loop-diuretic quiz. Loop diuretics act by inhibiting the luminal Na+/K+/2Cl-cotransporter, yet the answer given is different. (Q7) Otherwise, great app!
  •  I liked how the topic was broken down into appropriate subsections and how clear and concise the information was. Being a visual learner, I found that the video and animations really enhanced my understanding of the topic.
  • Good content, forced to answer quiz in 1 go, randomise question order, app fits the full window of phone
  • I like how it is clear and easy to use, and supplements lecture notes when doing revision. Easily accessed at home
  • I like that it has lots of animation, it enables you to visualise things easier.
  • Nice and colourful. Sometimes in the slides, the back button in the top right hand corner covers some content which can be annoying.
  • i felt the quizzes was too easy or maybe that's just me Q7 I think is wrong on the loop diuretics quiz I believe it acts on luminal na/k/2cl cotransporters

Clinical Quiz App

  • Really good app especially as a revision aid
  • The app covers a lot of topics, and the questions are very reasonable. Nice layout and colours too.
  • really really good, like the quizzes, very useful for revision, might have been nice if all the right answers had an explanation about why it was right, but not completely necessary, also nice design and easy to use
  • I like that you can also do the quizzes on the computer. They are much better than normal Moodle quizzes because they are faster and don't have loading times. The feedback underneath the question is also useful.
  • Very good, quick quizzes
  • I think the App is really really good, and it's such a good opportunity to test your knowledge when you have a spare few minutes - wherever you are! The only way to improve it would be to add more questions,
  • Really like the app, lots of topics and questions.
  • I like that all of the topics covered in the PA30243 module are in the app and separated out in an easy to find format. The quizzes are hard but that is good as it pushes you to learn more around your topic.
  • I like the app but there could be more questions similar to the actual exam, and maybe a few clinical cases to study
  • Really useful practice for the exam
  • Really helpful app especially for revision. Would be useful to have more explanations under the options once you have chosen your answer.
  • The questions can focus less on number memorizing stuff, for eg what is the normal range of albumin. Instead more questions can be asked on the application of clinical knowledge

Digoxin App

  • Good content which is easily displayed and useful for revision
  • Easy to use and very good for revision
  • Very good
  • It wad very easy to follow and topic was easier rob understand
  • Good to consolidate facts learnt from the lectures
  • I enjoyed using the web app on my laptop. It split up the topic well and there was a good use of diagrams and videos. I think it would be good to include the reason why an increased calcium concentration is beneficial in the video or prior to it.
  • Easy to use and work through the different sections. On phones the screen size isn't great, only small when phone held vertical and then if turned on side the app doesn't fit the screen properly - could be something to adjust
  • Very easy to use, very clear information given
  • Good to use to sum up the different lectures in which digoxin is associated with.
  • It's just great that there if all the information needed without the hassle of opening Web pages, logging in etc.
  • Animations are excellent. Could be improved by adding more quizzes to test your knowledge.
  • Fit phone video, randomise question order
  • I like the extra detail which enhances understanding of the drugs which helps with revision.
  • I like the animation

OTC Remedies App

  • I really liked this app and was really easy to use. good revision aid
  • Simple to use and helps test my knowledge. The layout and colours are nice too.
  • the design wasn't as neat as it could have been , didn't work particularly well on phone screen, but overall not a massive problem. they were very good for RTS exam revision, particularly for journeys or times when it's not possible to have notes with you.
  • Questions are too easy
  • More questions please, very helpful!
  • I think the app has been really useful as I could use it as a boost to my revision before the test and I learnt things from it that I hadn't previously known about.
  • The app is good but I dislike the layout of the teaching note - they are in an unnecessary presentation format. However the questions are quite useful. Maybe a few more topics could be included?
  • The back button in the top left corner covers some of the writing in the quizzes. Not really necessary for the info parts to be videos but would make more sense just to read the text. But very useful revision too

Response Rates

Finally, the response rates for each survey:

Kidney and Diuretics App - 23%

34 students out of a total of 151

Clinical Quiz App - 15%

18 students out of a total of 117

Digoxin App - 14%

21 students out of a total of 151

OTC Remedies App - 16 %

19 students out of a total of 117


Alumni Funding for App Factory

📥  Alumni Assisted Learning, App Factory, App-Store, Apps, Peer Assisted Learning, student


We've secured funding from the Alumni Fund to further develop and roll-out a student-driven app ecosystem. This builds on previous work that was funded by two Teaching Development Fund (TDF) grants that have resulted in the prototype App-Factory software, which is at the heart of the ecosystem.

The aim is to exploit the increasing familiarity and popularity of apps to enable undergraduates, postgraduates, staff and alumni to create and share apps. These can be used to support Peer Assisted Learning (PAL), Peer Mentoring (PM), Alumni-Assisted Learning (AAL) and for a whole range of other purposes such as apps for research, clubs, societies, bus timetables, fresher’s guides or anything else that enhances creativity, life and learning at the university.

Undergraduates already create and share digital material such as collections of multiple-choice questions for revision, notes taken during a lecture, and simple animations. Students have indicated that the creation of such items in itself is a good way of learning, and, apart from simply sharing resources with peers, small groups of students often congregate for informal learning such as an exam simulation using past-papers. It seems that there is plenty happening which is possibly unknown or off-radar to academics, yet should be encouraged and supported by the university.

Previous grants from the TDF have created a working prototype of an app authoring system (App-Factory), and an alpha version of a distribution facility (App-Centre) which is currently used by students solely within Pharmacy & Pharmacology. The grant from the Alumni Fund means that we can:

  • Develop app sharing facilities for students
  • Expand the distribution capacity of the system to the wider University with the addition of further hardware and software resources
  • Create a number of student-authored exemplar apps that showcase the capabilities of the system
  • Publicise and promote this system which has recently been selected as a case-study for the JISC Mobile Learning Infokit 2015

Alumni-Assisted Learning (AAL):

PAL and PM are the corner-stones of the project, and we intend to enhance current activities and introduce the concept of Alumni-Assisted Learning (AAL) for final year students. Currently, only final year students are lacking a peer support group and there is an opportunity for recent graduates to participate by remotely creating apps (using the App-Factory) for final year students

Cristina Dumitru, recent alumni and winner of the Chancellors Prize in 2014, has already created apps for her peers and wishes to develop AAL apps for areas that final year students find problematic. One of the motivating factors for alumni is that these types of activities are valid for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and can be used in their official CPD professional portfolio.

Project Leader:

Keith Brown, eLearning Co-ordinator, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

Deputy Leaders:

Julie Letchford, Senior Teaching Fellow and Department Lead for Peer Mentoring and Peer Assisted Learning

Cristina Dumitru, Recent Alumni and Royal Pharmaceutical Society Student of the Year 2014



Digoxin App

📥  App Factory, App-Store, Apps, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, student

I'm pleased to announce another Peer-Assisted Learning app for Pharmacy and Pharmacology undergraduates...


This is a small app about the drug Digoxin, which is covered in the second year programme unit 'PA20016 : Cardiovascular, Renal and PNS Pharmacology'. It is now available to students to install on their Android and iOS devices. Although we are mainly aiming for students to use this as a native app, a web-app (a mobile web-site) is also available if required.

It is yet another triumph for recent alumni Cristina Dumitru who created most of the material shortly after graduation in the summer. Although Cristina is now in her pre-registration year, somehow she managed to find the time to finish this over the last few months. Thank-you Cristina! The first app for Alumni-Assisted Learning perhaps?

The material includes an animation, slide-shows and a quiz, and was created using the App-Factory.

A big thanks to Dr Sergey Smirnov for feedback and assistance with the app.


Student App - Quizbank

📥  App Factory, App-Store, Apps, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, student

Another student app. I wasn't expecting to release this one until September but the questions were already done, so I changed my mind. I also wanted to see how long it would take me to make native apps for both iOS and Android using my prototype App Factory.

The app is a collection of quizzes

The app is a collection of quizzes

This is a different kind of beast to previous apps and comprises of a collection of quizzes - a Quizbank.  The package is intended as a revision aid for clinical pharmacy undergraduates in the third year of our MPharm degree. Many thanks to Stephanie Shale, a recent graduate who authored the bank of questions. Once again, the overall intention is to exploit the existing knowledge of a student  to produce a learning aid that will benefit other students.

The App Creation Process

It had taken Steph quite a few hours to devise the questions in an MCQ type format. In total there are about 130 questions spread across 9 quizzes. The quizzes had been entered into our VLE and available in an xml format. So basically I started off with 9 xml files, and started the timer:

As it turned out, the app creation process was fairly quick.  It took me about an hour and a half to create the apps for iOS and Android, and comprised the following steps:

  1. Drag-and-dropping the xml files to the prototype 'App-Factory' web-site
  2. Choosing a colour scheme for the app
  3. Selecting a background image and icon from stock photos, adjusting these to suit the colour scheme
  4. Clicking on the 'Make App' button on the App-Factory to create the source files
  5. Copying the source files to my Mac and compiling for iOS and Android to produce the native apps
  6. Uploading these to the distribution site for the university

In the future, I am hoping to make the process even quicker by automatically provisioning the apps to the distribution site, following the click on the 'Make App' button. This will eliminate steps 5 and 6. However, this is a work in progress and not likely to finished for a few more months. But when it is, the App-Factory will be unleashed on staff and students to see what happens! I'm looking forward to that.

A screen-shot of the App Factory, taken during the process of app creation

A screen-shot of the App Factory, taken during the process of app creation. At this stage, the quizzes have been added and a background has been chosen, but I haven't added the main title.




Student App - How drugs work: Kidneys and Diuretics

📥  Apps, digital literacy, Peer Assisted Learning, student


kidney portraitCristina Dumitru is an exceptional student. She has won various awards during her 4 years as an undergraduate, culminating in the university's top student prize 'the Chancellor's Award' in July 2014 (details here). She also achieved a first-class MPharm degree in July 2014.

A few months ago, I asked Cristina to develop an app.  The aim was to target students studying Kidneys and Diuretics, an area that my colleague Dr Sergey Smirnov had identified as somewhat challenging for undergraduates. One of the key aims was to produce animations that explain the mechanisms involved.

Although both myself and Sergey have provided some feedback and guidance, everything in this app has been created by Cristina, right down to the logo.  The app has a professional feel, and it will be available to staff and students in the near future from the 'App Centre' - something that I will cover in a future post. For now, I am just happy that it is finished, and that the idea of student-authored apps is viable. I'm looking forward to our students doing a whole load more of these!

The other reason for some satisfaction is that it turns out that Cristina really, really enjoyed developing digital media: The creative skills involved in authoring video and graphics is both a contrast and a complement to the skills she gained during her degree course. In the future, I hope that more students will have the opportunities to gain the extra-curricular skills that are needed in the competitive jobs market.

Here is the app description from Cristina:

This educational package is aimed at students and also non-professionals to increase their knowledge and understanding of the basic physiology and pharmacology of the renal system.  The mechanisms of action of loop diuretics, thiazides and potassium-sparing diuretics are discussed in short narrated animated videos that make it easy to understand the difference between the mode of action of each class of drugs.

In this app you will find:

  • Narrated animated video explaining the basic structure and function of the kidneys;
  • Narrated animated videos explaining the mechanisms of action of loop diuretics, thiazides and potassium-sparing diuretics;
  • Additional written content relating to the functioning of the kidneys and the pharmacokinetic properties and clinical uses of diuretics drugs.
  • Written explanation and animated video about the functioning of the ATPase, a common transporter essential for the action of diuretics;
  • Multiple choice quizzes to aid your understanding of the principles covered.

This is Cristina, in her own words, describing the experience of developing the app:

Part of becoming a pharmacist represents mastering the ability to communicate with patients clearly and to offer them advice about medicines without the use of technical jargon. I think that the ability to take complex terminology and weave it into an engaging narrative is an integral part of a career as a healthcare professional or as a scientist.

Throughout my academic studies I found that I've always been more drawn into subjects that used dynamic ways of interacting with students. So slowly I became interested in exploring alternative mediums to deliver a scientific message: visual graphics and short film animations. An animated video is certainly the most vivid way of communicating a complex scientific concept. Animated videos are much more than just enriching the text; they are highly effective means of presenting the information in a way that everyone can understand it. Working with Keith on creating mobile applications has given me access to the tools and software that I needed in order to explore my interest for science communication. It has been greatly rewarding to use my experience and knowledge of the Bath MPharm in designing educational materials for other students. I hope these will be beneficial for students and help them learn more effectively. I have also gained immensity by developing skills in organising and planning learning activities and I hope to continue to be involved in designing educational materials as a future pharmacist.

Cristina Dumitru accepts the Chancellors Award from His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex

Cristina Dumitru accepts the Chancellors Award from His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex in July 2014

Here are some images from the app:

kidney landscape kidney landscape2 kidney landscape3


OTC Remedies App

📥  Apps, Peer Assisted Learning

In a previous post I mentioned our amazing students. The story continues. Steph Shale has been utilising her video drawing skills to good effect with a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) app for 'Over the Counter (OTC) Remedies'.

About 5 weeks ago, I asked Steph to think about areas of the degree course that students might find a little tricky. As a recent first-class graduate, there was an opportunity to bring-together her knowledge of pharmacy and creative skills: I've been impressed with Steph's previous draw-my-life style videos (see details) and wanted to release a PAL app that could be used as supplement or revision aid to the degree programme.

Apart from some minor tidying, the app is Steph's own work.  The video animations were created using a Cintiq tablet and Camtasia software. The videos were incorporated into Powerpoint presentations, which were then imported into my App-Factory. The end result is an integrated learning package containing over 50 videos, associated learning materials and some quizzes too. The following image shows one of the videos running on a tablet:


Here are Steph's personal thoughts towards the app. These are her own words:

Having had limited community pharmacy experience before starting my degree, I personally struggled with the responding to symptoms part of the course. One of the main issues was struggling to recognise product names and branded packaging.   I am a visual learner and believe I would have benefited hugely from an app such as the one I have created.

 The benefits from a project such as this is two-way: although I hope that this app will benefit future students, I also found that developing it helped me refresh my knowledge on perhaps the more community-based aspects of the course which may not be covered in so much depth in a hospital-pre registration programme (I am about to start my pre registration year at Kings College London hospital).

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Keith to create the OTC app. Not only did it enable me to my refresh my memory on the knowledge I have gained throughout the degree but I was also able to further develop computer programming and video editing skills. I hope that future pharmacy students at Bath will utilise this unique way of learning and find the resource useful and informative.

This is Steph's description of the app:

The app aims to supplement knowledge learnt in the 'Responding to Symptoms' part of the undergraduate pharmacy course. Embedded videos aim to help individuals visualise the treatment options available over the counter for minor ailments and also provide information on general lifestyle measures that can be taken to alleviate symptoms. There are case studies and MCQs at the end of each section which enables the individuals to apply what they have learnt from the OTC app, therefore further consolidate their understanding.

This app is aimed at undergraduate pharmacy students at all stages of the degree. It is particularly useful for those who prefer to learn from an interactive, visual and electronic-based approach.

Thanks Steph.  With the upcoming facility to release apps across the university, I am aiming to distribute this to our students in September for use on their iOS and Android devices. Will apps be the way to go? I, for one, think so, and I am looking forward to the evaluation.

Stephanie Shale in July 2014


Peer Assisted Learning Apps

📥  Apps, digital literacy, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning

The main-menu of a PAL app created by Steph Shales

The main-menu of a PAL app created by Steph Shale who recently graduated with a first class MPharm

I really like the idea of learning materials developed by students for students. I understand that the HEA seem pretty hot on this idea too, referring to it as 'Student Partnerships'. I have two apps being developed by students (Steph and Cristina) and which are now nearing completion.  I will cover these in detail in another blog. However, after reflecting on Peer Assisted Learning (PAL), maybe I am missing something, but it seems to be a win-win situation:

Student Authors - By creating new media, students authors gain extra-curricular digital skills, get a bit of money and it serves as excellent revision. There has also been a high level of motivation. This seems to be due to the fact that an app is being developed. The app-factor has been an important over-arching consideration for both Steph and Cristina.

Target Audience - student consumers of the app are able to access materials designed specifically for them. They place a high value on material that has been implemented by their peers. Although I have yet to evaluate, I would anticipate that apps will be well received.

Academic Staff - there is an opportunity for academics to understand possible short-comings with existing material, leading to creativity and hopefully unlocking new approaches to teaching and learning - CPD!

The Department - in P&P there are roughly 60 competences that are required by the regulator for the MPharm degree. These competencies are referred to as the 'Standard 10 Outcomes'. PAL is an important ingredient that will enable us to meet some of these expected outcomes very effectively.

In P&P we have a cohort of roughly 150 students per year. Over 90% of these have a smart-phone, and are increasingly part of the 'App Culture' that is prevalent in young people. As such, App-Store type apps seem a good way to engage our students. However, it is important to note that we will also be releasing these as web-apps (really just a web-site designed for mobile devices). This means that we can also reach those few students who do not have a smart-phone.

I'm looking forward to releasing the two new apps over the next few days, and evaluating with students later this year.