Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

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


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.


An App for Microbiology

📥  Uncategorized


I've just heard that we will be updating the educational content of the app 'Introduction to Microbiology'. Although released as an Android app last year, we encountered some difficulties distributing to students.  However, in November 2013 we did manage to trial with a small selection of first-year students (n~15). The evaluation results indicate:

  • 93% find the app useful
  • 93% find the app easy-to-use
  • 100% would use the app for private study

The main news today is that I now have an official method to distribute apps to staff and students within the university. It can best be described as a private App Store. This is all thanks to the Digital Team who provided invaluable assistance in my quest to exploit BYOD for teaching and learning. Basically, the upshot is that I can now easily distribute both Android and iOS apps.

So, in October, we will be releasing the second version of the Microbiology app to the entire first-year cohort of pharmacy students, and it will be really interesting to see how it is received.

Many thanks to Julie Letchford and Albert Bolhuis, who have provided the academic content for this undergraduate unit.

micro landscape3 micro landscape1 micro landscape5 micro portrait2


A Triumph for Student Digital Literacy

📥  digital literacy, student

Steph Shale, a fourth year MPharm student has produced an engaging You-Tube video to accompany her Health Psychology coursework:

This builds upon skills gained from the 'Building Bridges' digital literacy project (

Sometimes our students amaze me. Steph came to my office a few weeks ago to borrow a Wacom digital tablet, and she went away and produced this video, on her own, with virtually no academic input except encouragement from myself and Dr. Hannah Family. It just shows how some students can fly, if you give them wings.

What will she do next? I simply can't wait.


Socrative a success with students

📥  Uncategorized


We recently piloted an audience feedback system called Socrative which uses students' own mobile devices instead of clickers.  As an observer, at the back of the room, I watched as Hannah Family stopped the lecture about half-way for a few minutes to pose 4 questions to the audience. The students responded on their phone or tablet, and an overall summary subsequently displayed for all to see.

The end result was a seamless integration of student feedback. Although this was our first time with Socrative, the whole process went so smoothly it certainly looked and felt like something we had been using every day. There were no glitches: None of the students had been primed to use their mobile devices, yet almost 75% students responded in the lecture. The process was extremely simple and involved the student visiting a URL and entering a 'Room Number' that Hannah displayed on screen immediately prior to the questions. The overall impression was that this was quick, easy and resonated with the audience. The students really seemed to enjoy this intervention, and were disappointed when the quiz ended.

No doubt there is a element of novelty for the students that may pass with time. However, the ease with which Socrative can be configured, and the fact that the system works well on students' own devices does provides a simple and effective solution. Later this month we will try the system with a larger cohort and collect student evaluation.

In addition, there are apps for Socrative for both iOS and Android which obviates the need to open a URL in a browser. By priming the students beforehand, it is anticipated that an even greater response rate can be achieved.


Dr Hannah Family

Keith Brown

Keith Brown


A World of Opportunities

📥  Second Life, Virtual Worlds

Right now, sitting alone in my office (in the real world), I am also immersed and engaged in a virtual world inside 'Second Life' (SL). Following a meeting with Professor Liz Falconer on Tuesday, I have been inspired to put some serious thought into how SL can help with teaching and learning, and I am now starting to investigate how to build objects and getting them to respond to mouse clicks, for use in a simulation.

Liz is Director of the Education Innovation Centre (EIC) at the University of the West of England, and has been involved with SL for several years. She is also is the driving force behind the introduction of an MA in Education in Virtual Worlds.  This is a world first, both real and virtual!

Liz gave me an interesting run through of work her work in SL, and the potential that it offers. For example, within SL it is possible to implement:

  • a hospital ward complete with virtual patients on beds, for training nurses and other health-care professionals
  • premises for a fictional company that is the subject of an accident and can be used for accident investigation training
  • a simulated food-poisoning outbreak for environmental health students
  • an open-access auditorium with projection facilities to enable academics to hold symposia with students
  • a simulation of the 'Dragons Den' that provides a opportunity for students to practice their presentation skills

Here is an example of a medical simulation in Second Life:


SL seems to provide a world of opportunities for student engagement that have not been fully explored or exploited for undergraduate teaching, and I am now very keen to build my own 3D simulations of clinical scenarios for training and assessing Pharmacy students. I can only say a big thanks to Liz for opening my eyes to the possibilities.

For further information about Liz and the EIC please see:

Here is an example from New Zealand of the type of simulation 'space' that I am looking at implementing:

I am also intrigued at how SL might impact on Widening Participation:

My avatar on Second Life is called Brinnov - if you see me, please say hello!

Apps for 6th Formers

📥  Apps, Mobile

We have just been given the go-ahead for the following project which is funded by the Faculty of Science Teaching Development Fund. The reviewers commented as follows:

"A great idea to get students to develop learning material for other students. A strong link with recruitment/school’s liaison."
"A wonderful idea that is advantageous to both sides of the application process. The links to NSS and WP are clear and well thought-out."

"A great idea to get students to develop learning material for other students. A strong link with recruitment/school’s liaison."

"A wonderful idea that is advantageous to both sides of the application process. The links to NSS and WP are clear and well thought-out."

Development of Learning Materials for Prospective Students

The project leaders are myself and Fran Laughton from the Physics department. The diagram below is a mock-up of the two apps that we are aiming to build:


Summary of Project

A recent survey has indicated that 6th Form students would like some example learning material to try-out in an App. This project aims to exploit an in-house system to build two apps for beta-testing at local 6th Form colleges with a view to the future possibilities of wider release.

A key aspect is that the content is created by first-year undergraduates, who should be empathetic with the requirements of the target audience. As such, this project provides a chance for these students to gain creative skills in digital technologies, and improve their presentational skills. One aspect of the project is the use of competitions eligible to first year students (Pharmacy, Pharmacology and Physics only) with a monetary prize for the best educational content - in the form of slides, quizzes, video, and a presentation. The idea is to encourage creativity and incorporate the best content into an app that is suitable for distribution on the main app-stores.

Two departments are involved:

  • Pharmacy and Pharmacology
  • Physics

We would like to thank all the people involved in the bid. In particular, a big thank-you to the Students Union and the Widening Participation Office for their support.