Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

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.

Infrared Photos of the University

📥  Photos

I was looking for some photos to use as a background for an android app that I am creating for prospective students, and came across these infrared photos. These were taken about 5 years ago in Spring when the campus was green and verdant.  They were mostly taken in the environs of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, but there are also some taken around the lake. With infrared the bright green leaves show as brilliant white. Absolutely amazing - all credit to Dr. Andy Thompson who took the photos and who has given me permission to use them here:

100_0028 (2) 100_0030 (2) 100_0034 (2) 100_0035 (2) 100_0037 (2) 100_0038 (2) 100_0039 100_0041 (2) 100_0043 (2) 100_0044 100_0046 100_0049


Technical Scams

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📥  Uncategorized

I recently got fined 120 Euros in Austria for driving without displaying a motorway permit. I wasn't the only one - the Austrian police were pulling about one car per minute. Although they claim that there were clear signs that indicate drivers must have a valid permit, I didn't see those signs. Nor did a lot of other people. This seems to be an example of a government scam. I would have bought the windscreen permit for a few Euros if I had known.

It seems to me that there are other scams going on. Technical type scams. This is where a bug has been purposefully introduced. For example:

  • If you have tried embedding (not linking) a YouTube video in a PowerPoint presentation, it is almost impossible. An example of Microsoft making things difficult for Google.
  • On Chrome for Android, mp4 videos only work when there is no password protection on the web-site.  I tried putting an mp4 on an open web-site, works fine in Android Chrome. As soon as the site involves some kind of authentication, then the exact same video doesn't play.  An example of Google making things difficult for sites hosted on IIS (Microsoft).

Lastly, I noted that putting rounded-corners (using CSS border-radius) on a video in Android Firefox makes the video transparent. This isn't a scam, just annoying. But it illustrates just how difficult things can be for developers in the wonderful world of HTML5 video. In the end it is the developers who pick-up the tab for all these type of issues with hours of wasted time courtesy of wars between the big players.


Rise of Windows Phone?

📥  Apps, Mobile

I try to keep an eye on the latest statistics for mobile phones, with a view to delivering apps for the most commonly available mobile operating systems. This is usually restricted to Android and iOS. With a take-up of around 2 or 3% Windows Phone has been largely discounted (see StatCounter on

However, last Friday, an app that I created was tested with secondary school students from Ralph Allen school. The app itself was intended for prospective students thinking of studying Physics at Bath:


The predominance of Windows phone was startling:

iOS: 36%
Blackberry: 7%
Windows: 43%

This is very different to what I expected using the UK data from StatCounter:

iOS: 46%
Blackberry: 20%
Windows: 3%

I hope this is just a blip due to the small sample size (n=14) or demographic group. However, I have met quite a few people recently with a Window Phone that say they really like the phone, and would not consider using another.

For myself, I am ambivalent about the hardware platform and don’t have a strong preference for any of the main mobile operating systems. However, having another platform to support  is a bit of a pain from a development view-point. Previously, it looked like Android and iOS were the main contenders. Although I am hoping this is just a blip, it is just possible that there is something else going-on, and this is a wake-up call. In the future I may be looking to deliver to 3 platforms rather than 2.

For further information about the Physics App, please see:

Some screendumps from the Physics App:


Pig Hackers

📥  Hacking

I came across this video on the Janet web-site whilst renewing an SSL certificate. It shows pigs learning to steal authentication credentials. Just shows that you don't have to be human to be a hacker:

And another one about how humans can actually steal your authentication credentials: