Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

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



Survey of Microbiology App

📥  Apps, Mobile, student

I have recently collected the survey results for the Microbiology App released at the end of October (previous post). We had an amazing 30% response rate to the survey by our first year students.  So that was 54 out of a total of 177 undergraduates studying Pharmacy or Pharmacology.  Previously, I have considered a 10% response rate as doing very well, but this completely surpasses any survey that I have done before.

In addition, the actual data is staggeringly positive:

  • 100% find the app useful
  • 96% find the app easy-to-use or very easy-to-use
  • 83% would use the app for private study
  • 85% would use the app for revision
  • 46% would use the app prior to a lecture

It seems that native apps really do strike a chord with students!

Also, in terms of where the students would use the app:

  • On campus - 83%
  • At home - 76%
  • On a journey - 65%

And here are all the free text responses from students, in response to the question 'Please write any feedback you have about the app':

  • Far more useful than I had originally anticipated.
  • The app makes it extremely easy to access lecture notes wherever you are. Its definitely the future of leaning tools.
  • Good, easy to use, useful addition to the course. Especially the quizzes. Quiz apps should be more widely available in subjects.
  • I find it very easy to use and it is useful to have especially when the lecture slides are not available on Moodle before the lecture so then I can just use the app instead.
  • I think it is very helpful as I can go through microbiology notes anytime with my phone
  • It's acts a very convenient means of accessing lecture notes quickly. This is especially useful if there's a small point that you want to look up.
  • I love how easy it is to access, the design is simple. The only thing I wish was there would be Panopto recording.
  • The app is easy to use and navigate, unlike moodle. The layout is a little odd as some pages are only half screen and this can make them difficult to read. It's nice to be able to have access to power points and quizzes, even when on the move.
  • It would be useful to have pages from textbook included in the app.
  • Really easy to use and very helpful during lectures and to aid revision.
  • Sometimes accidently click on the arrow on the top rhs corner which is annoying as it boots me out of the PowerPoint I'm viewing. Perhaps only make the arrow available when you touch the screen.
  • great I love it!
  • It has been a great tool that I have been able to use to prepare myself for lectures whilst on the move, easy and helpful to use whilst on bus journeys too!

It is a fantastic result. I also note that there were a total of 98 installations (iOS and Android combined) of the Microbiology app, which includes installations by both staff and students.


The App Awards

📥  Apps, Awards, Prospective Students, student


The App Awards have been announced. The overall aim is to encourage creativity and incorporate the best student-generated content into apps that are suitable for distribution on the main app-stores.

The App Awards comprise of three separate competitions that are being trialled in the following departments at the University of Bath:

Pharmacy & Pharmacology

In total, there are £1500 in prizes to be won by students. Although the rules vary slightly between department, each is looking to create an app that is suitable for 6th Formers who might be considering applying to the University of Bath  No programming skills are required - all entries are submitted as Powerpoint files or YouTube videos. The winning entries will be incorporated into iOS and Android apps, and evaluated with year 12 and year 13 students in local schools, in collaboration with the Widening Participation Office.

The project builds upon a pilot app for year 12 and 13 students:  At the request of theDean of Science, both myself and Fran Laughton from Physics developed an app suitable for prospective students.  The app was trialled with about 25 students from Ralph Allen school, who were introduced to the app as part of an organised day. Informal evaluation indicated that the students liked the idea of accessing information in this way. The following is a brief summary of the main issues arising from this study:

  • The content of the app was appropriate for this type of user.
  • Expectations for quality of content are high
  • Expectation of a unique experience over information already available on the web-site

A summary of the evaluation data is here:



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.


App for Prospective Students - Preview Version

📥  App Factory, App-Store, Apps, Mobile, student

Yesterday I created an app for prospective students using the App-Factory. It uses exactly the same powerpoint and video materials from an app that I manually-coded in 2013. The main difference is that this time it took ten minutes to create the app and about ten minutes to provision it in the App-Centre.  The process is getting more-and-more automated, and quicker-and-quicker. Compare this to several hours that I spent last year to achieve the same thing.


The app is a preview available internally at the University of Bath, and has been provided as a reference for the 'App Awards' competition that I will be running in a couple of weeks, where students will have the opportunity to submit materials for inclusion in apps designed to appeal to 6th Formers. Eventually, the apps will be made available in the public app stores, so it was important to include appropriate branding and visual identity. In this case, it is for the Physics department which is represented by the dark blue areas at the top and right of the screens, as shown below.

The plan is that the finished apps will be evaluated in local colleges in collaboration with the Widening Participation Office.

physics-landscape1 physics-landscape2


Responsive Design Hits Academia!

📥  Mobile, Responsive Design

Most web designers will be familiar with the concept of Responsive Design to display content correctly for a range of screen-sizes for phone/tablet/desktop.  It is standard practice and done for obvious reasons.

This is in stark contrast to academic lecture material such as lecture slides which are often designed on and for delivery on a desktop computer. This makes perfect sense when delivered by a projector in a lecture theatre, but is useless when students download the Powerpoint file and try to view this file on a mobile phone. Often the text and diagrams are far small to be legible.

Yet, in a recent survey it was found that there are almost as many students with a smart-phone as with a desktop (92% v 99%) [1] This is a compelling reason to consider future-proofing lecture slides for viewing on a range of devices. Especially for phones, which students carry on their person, are able to use at any time and anywhere. It could be argued that we are not currently maximising the opportunities for learning.

As part of one of my projects, I ended-up reformatting the Powerpoint lecture slides for the PA10282 unit. This involved changing the format from an old-fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio to wide-screen, and making the font bigger so that it is legible on a phone. Sometimes it was necessary to split content onto more than one slide.  The actual content remains the same across all devices.

This is a very simple form of Responsive Design and works well.  If the students chooses to download the Powerpoint files from our VLE, these also display well on tablets and phones:

It is easy to reformat Powerpoint slides for delivery on all devices

It is easy to reformat Powerpoint slides for delivery on all devices

So, come on all academics, this is a golden opportunity to raise your game and update your materials to maximise the potential for learning.  Let the students learn where and how they want. It is time that Responsive Design hit Academia!

[1] MeLT All Student Survey November 2013


Microbiology App Released

📥  App Factory, App-Store, Apps, student

The second version of the PA10282 Microbiology app is released. Last year, a similar app was trialled with a small number of students with encouraging evaluation results (see previous blog). On this basis it was decided to roll-out a revised app to our entire first year cohort starting in October 2014. It is now available in the App-Centre, which allows our students to install apps directly onto iOS or Android devices:-


The Microbiology app shown in the App Centre

It took just ten minutes for Dr. Julie Letchford, the course convenor, to create the Microbiology app using an early version of the App-Factory  (see recent blog).

I'm hoping that apps can be a viable delivery method for teaching and learning.  Every year, the student cohort seem to be increasingly savvy and comfortable using apps on their devices. The same is probably not true of academics. It will be interesting to find out how the app is received by both.


App Factory First Trial

📥  App Factory, Apps, Mobile, student

The App-Factory in action

The App-Factory in action

First time that an academic has tried the App-Factory. I asked Dr. Julie Letchford to create the new Microbiology app using the updated powerpoint files that had been previously prepared by herself and Albert Bolhuis. This is an app to accompany the PA10282 unit in readiness for the first lecture that commences in a couple of weeks.

In the end, it took  about 10 minutes to complete the task with Julie sitting at PC, and myself providing some guidance. The user-interface worked-out well, although I do need to make a few minor adjustments. Interestingly, Julie mentioned that it was a lot quicker, and involved less steps, than uploading the same files to our VLE.

I thought that ten minutes was pretty good.  Julie's computer skills are pretty much the same as any other academic, so this seems like a reasonable test.

Although Julie's work was finished in ten minutes, the next step is for me to manually copy the files generated by the App-Factory to my Mac, compile for iOS and Android, and publish these on the App-Centre so that students can install them on their devices. This will probably take about an hour and twenty minutes. However, this is the main part of the process that I will be looking to automate over the next few months.

But, just imagine how this will work when the automation is complete - an app created and available throughout the university within minutes!

The possibilities also get interesting. How about giving students access to this? Not only could the App-Factory be used to create apps as deliverables for projects, it also enables apps for peer-mentoring/peer assisted learning, societies, clubs, revision aids, quizzes, bus timetables or whatever - a kind-of digital eco-system for students to create and share apps. It could get exciting!

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